If there’s one vocal that is dripping in alienated isolation it is Thom Yorke’s on the 1992 Radiohead alt-rock anthem ‘Creep’. The band’s debut single would see them become champions of the outsider from their very inception.
We’re taking a look back at the alienated vocal of Thom Yorke by closely inspecting his isolated vocal track in more detail. When we do this, we find the essence of the song and the essence of Radiohead’s stratospheric success.
Appearing on their first album, Pablo Honey, ‘Creep’ was not initially a chart success but became a worldwide hit after being rereleased in 1993, lending itself to its own lyrical notions. For the track, Radiohead took elements from the 1972 song ‘The Air That I Breathe’, which, after legal action, saw Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood credited as co-writers.
Known to Yorke as the band’s ‘Scott Walker Song‘ ‘Creep’ soon became an anthemic moment for the disillusioned Gen-X and all those who felt alienated by the modern world. Written by Yorke at university in the eighties, the song is a tale of a drunken man following an attractive woman, trying to catch her attention—In the end, he lacks the self-confidence to face her and feels he subconsciously is her.
When asked about ‘Creep’ in 1993 for The Boston Globe, Yorke said: “I have a real problem being a man in the ’90s… Any man with any sensitivity or conscience toward the opposite sex would have a problem. To actually assert yourself in a masculine way without looking like you’re in a hard-rock band is a very difficult thing to do… It comes back to the music we write, which is not effeminate, but it’s not brutal in its arrogance. It is one of the things I’m always trying: To assert a sexual persona and on the other hand trying desperately to negate it.”
It is this juxtaposition of both desperately wanting normality and resenting those who walk through it with ease that is so perfectly represented in Yorke’s vocal. With the isolated track below you can hear the depleting sadness of threadbare self-esteem and the desperation for affection with every drawn and dragged out note.
While Jonny Greenwood’s guitar is raw and raucous, Yorke’s vocal is reeling in pity and sadness, it’s a moment of genius. It would be the moment that Radiohead would stake its claim as one of the most intelligent and socially engaged artists in the world. ‘Creep’ would be the defining starting gun of their career but Thom Yorke’s vocal pulled the trigger.