David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 255: Radiohead (Creep)

May 30, 2023

I understand why so many artists hate that one big song that makes them popular. For Radiohead, I am exactly the kind of creep that makes them wish they had never released "Creep."

My son's a big Radiohead fan, and so I have heard The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid A and can fully appreciate the aural landscapes that Radiohead carved out after their debut album. Lyrically, OK Computer conveys so much about cultural zeitgeist that it could be a punk lecture all in itself. However, none of that changes the fact that if I have one Radiohead song to listen to, it is still probably "Creep." 

Part of my appreciation is because there is a different kind of cultural zeitgeist I can connect with in the lyrics, a sense of not belonging with the in-crowd when younger, of not being "special" and wishing beautiful girls missed me when I wasn't around. Rock and Roll, in general, appeals to those in the margins, and of course punk and grunge, within which "Creep" tends to be characterized, certainly played to that theme even more.

The problem is that grunge and punk did tend to turn the volume, or at least the clarity, of vocals down while the volume on the instruments went well past 11. It's almost impossible to even make out Thom Yorke's vocals in the bridge of "Creep" until the overwhelming "Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnn" before segueing back to the quieter music of the chorus.

This is why I love isolated tracks, the ability to hear just one piece of a song with everything else out stripped away. You look up isolated tracks for vocals, and they tend to focus, justifiably, on Freddie Mercury, or Robert Plant, or Roger Daltry, or Merry Clayton's background vocals on "Gimme Shelter." Yet, the one for Thom Yorke's vocals on "Creep" is pretty f*ing special. (Link is provided below along with the full recorded track.)

With the instrumentation pulled out, Yorke's end-of-line enunciations ring so much louder, providing an emotional depth that bubbles way over the assumed end punctuation of each line. "I'm a weirdooooooOOooooooo." Hear how special his "special" is. And that ain't nothing for how creepy his "creep" is. Then finally to hear that "ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnnnnn" twice! Shivers will run down the spine.

And yet, when we pull back to the full song, and listen to everything, subtle little elements of the instrumentation fit so well. Between verse and chorus, Jonny Greenwood attacks his guitar (the best way I can describe it; Wikipedia describes the effect as "dead notes"1) as a way to set up the aggressive change in the song. Rumor has it, he did it because the audience would hate it. If there is any truth to that, Jonny guessed way wrong.

The other little effect I love is the tinkling of a piano, not evident at all in the song until the last 30 seconds. What the hell is that doing here? Yorke's final "I don't belong here" could be the piano. Apparently, the piano was a bit of an afterthought.2

All in all, "Creep" is mighty fine hum and thrash, but I get how the band doesn't want to be covered with that Grunge crud the rest of their existence. I know songs like "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Paranoid Android" showcase Radiohead much better than "Creep." There is still some hum and thrash, but a lot of rattle, falsetto, and "the crackle of pigskin" to provide a deeper aural landscape. With "Paranoid Android," Yorke seems to have settled on calling out the other creeps: "ambition makes you look pretty ugly/kicking and squealing little piggy." Even then, it's nice to see the loser coming out on top.

1"Creep (Radiohead Song)". Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creep_(Radiohead_song).  Retrieved 22 May 2023.

2Daly, Rhiann. Radiohead:10 Geeky Facts About "Creep." New Musical Express. April 8, 2015. https://www.nme.com/list/radiohead-10-geeky-facts-about-creep-757425?amp

Radiohead. "Creep." Pablo Honey. Capitol, 1993. Final recording here. Isolated vocal here.

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