Why did Radiohead hate Creep? The story of the band's biggest song

21 September 2023, 18:31 | Updated: 18 December 2023, 17:22

Thom Yorke performs in Radiohead's Creep video
Thom Yorke performs in Radiohead's Creep video. Picture: YouTube/Radiohead

By Jenny Mensah

The band's iconic Creep single was released on 21st September 1992, but what was it inspired by and why did they not like it so much?

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Creep by Radiohead is officially 31 years old.

The single, which was released on the 21st September 1992 was the first track to be taken from the band's debut album Pablo Honey, which came out the following year.

Despite the band's uneasy relationship with it, Creep was Radiohead's breakthrough track, and remains their most well-known single to date.

Radiohead - Creep

The self-loathing track, sung by frontman Thom Yorke, sees the narrator obsessed by the object of his affection, while also defining himself as a "creep" and "weirdo" who doesn't deserve to be in her presence.

Yorke was often resistant to talking about the track and in this famous interview clip in 1993 he teased: "Creep's about... No... It's gone."

Thom Yorke Explains The Story Behind The Song Creep - 120 Minutes, 1993

However, there is a well-known history surrounding the single, which he hasn't denied.

What is Creep by Radiohead about?

According to folklore, Creep was inspired by a beautiful girl who Thom Yorke encountered at Exeter University (some reports claim he actually saw her in the band's native Oxford) during the 80s.

In the song, we hear about her angel-like presence and her skin which moves him to tears, but not as it appears to any action.

When you were here before
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry

- Creep - Radiohead

Thom could never bring himself to talk to the young woman, resorting only to following her around like a "creep" instead...

But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doin' here?
I don't belong here

- Creep - Radiohead

Jonny Greenwood said the woman in question went on to attend a Radiohead performance, which apparently their frontman was mortified about.

The frontman often kept tight-lipped about the woman behind the single, but asked in an early interview in 1992 if it was based on an actual person, who made him feel like the song's title, he told Ian Fortnam: "Hmm… I’ll now just say yes to that, because I’ll get into trouble. Yeah. It was a pretty strange period in my life. When I was at college and stuff and I was really f***ed up and wanted to leave and do proper things with my life like be in a rock band. (Laughs)”.

Creep went on to be Radiohead's biggest single of all time, making it to the Top 10 of the UK's singles chart when it was reissued in 1993, but why did the band hate it so much?

Why did Radiohead hate Creep?

Stylistically, Creep is pretty different from most of Radiohead's sound, and (an their 1993 debut Pablo Honey as well as most of their subsequent discography) you'd be hard pressed to find anything like it. When the band released it as their debut single, they didn't feel it truly represented them or where they wanted to go as a band... and yet it was all people wanted to hear or talk about at the time.

On top of that, Radiohead didn't actually think Creep was very good. Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine in 1993, Yorke said: "I wasn’t very happy with the lyrics; I thought they were pretty crap."

Plus, when it comes to that iconic twitch Greenwood does on the guitar ahead of the chorus. It turns out it was a complete fluke. The frontman revealed: "That nervous twitch he does, that’s just his way of checking that the guitar is working, that it’s loud enough, and he ended up doing it while we were recording. And while we were listening to it, it was like ‘Hey, what the fuck was that? Keep that! Do that!'”

If it wasn't enough that Radiohead didn't believe Creep was their best work, it also landed them in legal trouble as the song became the focus of a plagiarism case. After legal action, the 90s rock ballad was found to have taken elements from The Hollies' 1972 single The Air That I Breathe, meaning Albert Hammond (Yes, the father of The Strokes' guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.) and Mike Hazlewood had to be credited as cowriters.

On top of all this, despite going on to have an illustrious career filled with seminal album after seminal album, the existence of Creep means much of the world think of Radiohead as a one hit wonder band, which obviously couldn't be further from the truth.

When you consider all of the above, is it really a surprise that the band don't love playing the song live?

They did, however, make an exception when they headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival 2017, giving the crowds what they wanted and much much more.

Radiohead play Creep at Glastonbury 2017

Ahead of their Glasto set, things were pretty touch and go, with the band's ambivalence about the track clearly still showing.

"It's a good song," O'Brien told Rolling Stone. "It's nice to play for the right reasons. People like it and want to hear it. We do err towards not playing it because you don't want it feel like showbusiness. But we started throwing it in last year." 

We only did it once or twice this year," added the frontman. "The first time I'm feeling the fakes we'll stop. It can be cool sometimes, but other times I want to stop halfway through and be like, 'Nah, this isn't happening.'"

31 years on and Creep still features in multiple music lists of its era, plus is quite possibly one of the most covered alternative songs of its time.

It may have marked a milestone in Radiohead's career and brought them into the mainstream, but luckily it didn't cause them to stay there.

Radiohead have gone onto release eight more studio albums so far - The Bends (1995), OK Computer (1997), Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001), Hail to the Thief (2003), In Rainbows (2007), The King of Limbs (2011) and A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) - almost all of which have achieved critical acclaim and seminal status.

Thanks to Thom Yorke and co's experimentation with their sound, Radiohead haven't let themselves be defined by the single and have arguably gone on to outlive many of their contemporaries as a result.

And as for their loyal fans attitude to the track? Most of us like it, but as ever... are much more excited to see what the band do next. Hint hint, Radiohead...

Nothing But Thieves cover Radiohead's Creep - Radio X's Phone Covers

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