Radiohead’s 2006 Bonnaroo Festival set for free on YouTube
(Credit: JS)

The Story Behind The Song: Radiohead’s unwanted hit, ‘Creep’

Radiohead anthem ‘Creep’, a song which is unquestionably the band’s biggest hit, remains a repeated source of anguish for the group. Given their plethora of masterpieces created over a 35-year career, the fact that this one song is often the focus of people’s attention is a repeated frustration.

When the track was re-released in 1993, it catapulted the band from being a relatively obscure act known and respected as part of the alternative music scene in Britain, to a ‘one-hit-wonder’ with international fame. As the years progressed, however, Radiohead has of course proven that they are anything but that label. The release of the single was initially met with some hostility, a topic centred around the radio version replacing the line ‘so fucking special’ with ‘so very special’. The decision would lead to the band concerned accusations of selling out, which was the reception from some quarters.

‘Creep’ became an underground hit for the band in the United States, one which can be traced back to one Californian college who added the song to a radio playlist in San Francisco. A censored version of the number was then released to radio stations and, gradually, it became an American alt-rock anthem.

Over the next couple of years of touring, the band began to lose patience with the track and the sort of clientele it attracted to their concerts. “We seemed to be living out the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again. It was incredibly stultifying,” Johnny Greenwood said on those early tours, even recalling how audience members would scream for ‘Creep’ and then leave immediately after it was performed.

During those string of live dates for Radiohead’s third album OK Computer, Yorke became hostile when ‘Creep’ was mentioned in interviews and then, in the weeks after, began to refuse requests to play it live. One night in Montréal, things escalated when Yorke shouted at the audience, “Fuck off, we’re tired of it.”

The lead singer even dismissed fans demanding to hear it as “anally retarded”. This tour would be the last time that Radiohead would entertain the idea playing the track until the encore of their 2001, a homecoming concert at South Park, Oxford, after an equipment failure halted a performance of another song and they performed an impromptu rendition of ‘Creep’.

Radiohead then placed the song in hiding for eight years until they surprisingly unleashed ‘Creep’ as the opening song of their iconic headline performance at Reading Festival in 2009. The song once again returned from the shadows until their 2017 tour for A Moon Shaped Pool when a fan spent the majority of a concert shouting for it and, subsequently, the band decided to treat the audience to “see what the reaction is, just to see how it feels”.

With a bit of renewed vigour, they again brought out ‘Creep’ again during the encore of their headline performance at the Glastonbury Festival later that year. Following that performance, Ed O’Brien said, “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 to feel like show business.”

In the same interview, Yorke said: “It can be cool sometimes, but other times I want to stop halfway through and be like, ‘Nah, this isn’t happening’.” Admittedly, this acceptance is something that has come with age. As the years have gone by, Radiohead started to release and understand how fortunate they are to have a song as universally loved as ‘Creep’ but, importantly, they are still unwilling to be defined by it.

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