Perhaps one of the reasons we Picky Bastards rarely agree on anything is that we simply don’t remember things in the same way. In this series, we’re going to take some classic songs and talk about the recollections they provoke. Today we look back to ‘Creep’ by Radiohead. Let us know in the comments what you think about when you remember that song.
Fran Slater: Anyone who listens to the Picky Bastards Podcast will have heard me being told I talk about Radiohead too much. I do. I even have a tattoo of one of their album sleeves at the top of my right arm, so you can probably imagine the amount of salivating I do over this band. Yes. I am that person. But I was only nine years old when ‘Creep’ came out and, while I did have it on single, I can’t say that thinking back to its release sparks any particularly strong recollections.
My Radiohead obsession began with The Bends a few years later, and it has never left me. They’re the best band in the world. But there are a weird amount of factions among their fanbase; those who think they died when they stopped being a rock band, those who will only listen to the electronic albums, those who pretend to be cool by saying they don’t like The King of Limbs. There is a sad thing that seems to bind all of those groups together though; an almost universal urge to dismiss Creep as not representative of the band they adore.
I am not one of those fans. I unashamedly adore ‘Creep’ and recognise it as the song that launched one of the most important bands to ever grace a stage. By the time I was old enough to get out there and see bands, though, Radiohead had seemed to side with all those fans who wanted to dismiss the song. It was almost totally gone from their setlists. Until 2016. I saw them four times on the A Moon Shaped Pool tour and had seen plenty of videos of them playing ‘Creep’, but it wasn’t until the second to last song of their set in Berlin that I got to witness them performing their oldest and biggest hit live in concert. It was a glorious thing. And now, whenever I hear those drums and that amazing little riff, I am taken back to my place in that crowd. To the tingle down my spine and to the hairs that stood up on my arm. And to the faces of all the people around me, the rabid Radiohead fans who have tried to pretend they don’t love ‘Creep’ because they don’t like admitting they love something popular. The smiles on their faces revealing each one of them as a liar…
Nick Parker: ‘Creep’ has been played on Spotify (which wasn’t even around for decades after its release) over half a billion times. It’s really a 3 minute song that was all about a couple of five second “da da” guitar strikes.
But my experience of hearing ‘Creep’ when it came out in ‘93 is actually one of the first moments I knew when I “grew up” that I wanted to have more than just the power of a guitarist like Jonny.
The unspeakably massive electric guitar strikes at the start of each chorus were still the attraction (like for so many, I’m sure), but that wasn’t just a casual choice Jonny alone had made, nor something he alone could control. ‘Creep’ showed me that lots of the power of studio albums comes from the nuanced work of studio producers.
For some reason I just couldn’t believe that Radiohead had been able alone to make that sound. The dynamics and the crispness of the quiet drums that rolled through the verses, the cavernous reverb that dressed the enormous chunks of guitar, and the completely even chords that followed them didn’t sound like anything I had heard from the overloaded mess that Dinosaur Jr had been enchanting me with until then. It sounded, well, professionally produced.
Of course, like most 17 year olds, I was also in love with the angsty hopelessness of Thom’s lyrics. Listening to the song now, it sounds rather trite and childish, to be honest, but even then it’s fair to say that ‘Creep’ taught me something that changed my life. If I’m honest I’ve spent decades playing (and struggling) with sounds more or less like that song.
Tom Burrows: As I’ve mentioned once or twice, I started properly listening to Radiohead in January 2005 after reading Q Magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Albums Ever’ issue. So it’s fair to say I discovered them the wrong way around by starting with OK Computer and working backwards, then forwards. For me then, discovering ‘Creep’ was more like retracing your steps after getting lost to work out how the hell you got there.
‘Creep’ is from Pablo Honey, their total anomaly of a debut album, from a time when they merely sounded like one of a thousand grunge soundalikes. But despite having entered their world after they’d proven themselves to be one of the most accomplished bands in popular music history, I won’t be that Radiohead fan that pours scorn on those that like ‘Creep’ – I just won’t.
Matt Paul: The song ‘Creep’ reminds me of Reading 2009. I think it was maybe my 3rd year in a row at the festival. Though there were a bunch of good bands, our group was most excited about Radiohead. But we had to wait until Sunday as they were closing the festival.
We arrived early and hit the weekend hard. Too hard. By the time we got to Sunday night I could barely walk. As Radiohead hit the stage, our group was loosely strewn on the ground, nowhere near our usual spot along the front barriers.
They were obviously fantastic. We were very lethargic. Half way through the set they played ‘Creep’. It was a big surprise. At the time they apparently never played it live and the crowd went wild. But, we mostly just lay there unable to move. They played for over 2 hours, and we just wanted it to end. It’s the only time I have seen Radiohead.
Will Collins: Slightly too young to experience Radiohead’s ascent as it happened, my introduction to the band was late and misleading. Hearing ‘High & Dry’ on a CD called The Best Rock Ballads In the World… Ever! 2 (what a title), I filed them away as acoustic balladeers in the vein of Del Amitri, Dad-friendly and slightly dull.
Fast forward a few years to secondary school and my second introduction to the band changed all that. A boy in my year, the type of lad who was into ‘proper music’ and had the Jeff Buckley and Incubus CDs to prove it, played me Creep. I think it was on a minidisc player, but I may be embellishing! It blew me away. The hallucinatory, grungy verses and Thom Yorke’s pained singing drew me in – I couldn’t believe it was the work of the same band. But it was the cathartic, noisy arrival of the first chorus, signalled by that famous chugging, fretted guitar, that really transported me. If the music, claustrophobic, confrontational and just a bit strange to my ears, provided a powerful connection, the lyrics were the real revelation. To the portly, virginal 14 year old I was, desperately lacking a confident sense of self, the lyrics seemed unbearably profound. Here was a band that could be added to the illustrious company of Linkin Park and Papa Roach in their ability to convey the same unease and dislocation that I felt. I have memories of writing words to this effect in a letter, like a less funny and self-aware Adrian Mole.
I rarely listen to early Radiohead these days, but when I hear Creep I’m instantly transported back to being that awkward teenager. It makes me cringe and smile wryly. I think that’s probably healthy.