Creep (Radiohead song)

"Creep" is the debut single by English alternative rock band Radiohead, released on 21 September 1992. It appeared on their debut studio album, Pablo Honey (1993). "Creep" was not initially a chart success, but it became a worldwide hit after being re-released in 1993. Radiohead took elements from the Hollies' 1972 song "The Air That I Breathe"; following legal action, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood are credited as cowriters.

Radiohead original creep cover.jpg
Single by Radiohead
from the album Pablo Honey
Released21 September 1992
StudioChipping Norton Recording Studios in Oxfordshire, England
Radiohead singles chronology
"Anyone Can Play Guitar"
Audio sample

"Creep" remains Radiohead's most successful single. The members of Radiohead grew weary of the song in later years and refused to perform it for some time.

Writing and recordingEdit

Singer Thom Yorke wrote "Creep" while studying at Exeter University in the late 1980s.[3] Guitarist Jonny Greenwood said the song was inspired by a girl that Yorke had followed around and who unexpectedly attended a Radiohead performance.[4]

In 1992, during rehearsals for their first album, Pablo Honey, with producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, Radiohead spontaneously performed "Creep". Yorke jokingly described the song as the band's "Scott Walker song", which Slade and Kolderie mistook to mean the song was a cover.[5] After some failed attempts to record other songs, Slade and Kolderie suggested Radiohead play "Creep" again. They recorded it in a single take; after the performance everyone in the room burst into applause. After Radiohead assured Kolderie that "Creep" was an original song, he called EMI to tell them to consider it as the band's first single.[6] While the recording had minimal overdubs and the band had not intended to release it, the producers were impressed.[3][7]

The middle eight originally featured a guitar solo from Greenwood. When guitarist Ed O'Brien pointed out that the chord progression was the same as "The Air That I Breathe", a 1972 song by the Hollies, Yorke wrote a new middle eight, using that song's vocal melody. According to Greenwood, "It was funny to us in a way, sort of feeding something like that into [it]. It's a bit of change."[8]

The version issued for radio play replaces the line "so fucking special" with "so very special". Radiohead worried that issuing a censored version would be selling out, but decided it was acceptable since their idols Sonic Youth had done the same thing; nonetheless, Jonny Greenwood noted the British press "weren't impressed".[4] During the recording session for the censored lyrics, Kolderie convinced Yorke to rewrite the first verse, telling him he thought Yorke could do better.[9]

Composition and lyricsEdit

Ostinato from Radiohead's "Creep" features modal mixture, common tones between adjacent triads (B between G & B, C and G between C & Cm, see: chord letters), and an emphasis on subdominant harmony (IV = C in G major).[10] Play 

The G–B–C–Cm chord progression is repeated throughout the song, only alternating between arpeggiated chords in the verses and last chorus and loud power chords during the first two choruses. In G major, these may be interpreted as "I–V7/vi–IV–iv".[10] According to Guy Capuzzo, the ostinato musically portrays "the song's obsessive lyrics, which depict the 'self-lacerating rage of an unsuccessful crush'." For example, the "highest pitches of the ostinato form a prominent chromatic line that 'creeps' up, then down, involving scale degrees     ....[while] ascend[ing], the lyrics strain towards optimism...descend[ing], the subject sinks back into the throes of self-pity ... The guitarist's fretting hand mirrors this contour".[11]

When the song shifts from the verse to the chorus, Jonny Greenwood plays three blasts of guitar noise ("dead notes" played by releasing fret-hand pressure and picking the strings). Greenwood said he did this because he did not like how quiet the song was; he explained: "So I hit the guitar hard—really hard".[4] O'Brien said: "That's the sound of Jonny trying to fuck the song up. He really didn't like it the first time we played it, so he tried spoiling it. And it made the song."[12] During the song's outro, Jonny Greenwood plays a piano figure. Kolderie forgot to add the piano part during the final mix until the end of the song, but the band approved of the result.[13]

According to Yorke, "Creep" tells the tale of an inebriated man who tries to get the attention of a woman to whom he is attracted by following her around. In the end, he lacks the self-confidence to face her and feels he subconsciously is her. When asked about "Creep" in 1993, 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."[14] Jonny Greenwood said the song was in fact a happy song about "recognizing what you are".[4] According to Guardian critic Alexis Petridis, "Creep" has an "almost complete lack of resemblance to the music [Radiohead] went on to make".[15]

Release and receptionEdit

EMI released "Creep" as a single in September 1992,[16] when it reached number 78 on the UK Singles Chart, selling 6,000 copies.[17] Radio 1 found the song "too depressing" and refrained from playing it.[18] Radiohead moved to a second single, "Anyone Can Play Guitar", to promote Pablo Honey, and released a non-album single, "Pop Is Dead".[citation needed]

Towards the end of 1992, DJ Yoav Kutner played "Creep" often on Israeli radio, having been introduced to the song by an EMI representative, and it became a national hit. Radiohead quickly set up tour dates in the country to capitalise on the success.[19][20] "Creep" had similar success in New Zealand, Spain, and Scandinavia.[21] In the US, "Creep" became an underground hit in California after it was added to a college radio playlist in San Francisco. A censored version of the song was released to radio stations.[3] By mid-1993, Creep had become an American alt-rock hit, a "slacker anthem" in the vein of ''Smells Like Teen Spirit'' by Nirvana and ''Loser" by Beck.[3] By the time Radiohead went to the United States, they were surprised by the success of the song. Yorke told Melody Maker in 1993 that many journalists misunderstood the song, asking him if it was a joke.[18]

Radiohead initially did not want to reissue "Creep" in the UK, but relented; bassist Colin Greenwood said that "after doing so well in America, there was this tremendous pressure from radio people, the press, the record company, even our fans, to put it out".[22] The 1993 reissue reached number seven on the UK Singles Chart.[23] The release was bolstered by a September 1993 Top of the Pops performance, which drew criticism from the music press and artists including Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher.[4][24] In the US, "Creep" was aided by its appearance in a 1994 episode of the MTV animated series Beavis and Butt-Head; Capitol, Radiohead's US label, used the endorsement in a marketing campaign with the slogan "Beavis and Butt-Head Say [Radiohead] Don't Suck".[25]

According to journalist Alex Ross, "What set 'Creep' apart from the grunge of the early nineties was the grandeur of its chords—in particular, its regal turn from G major to B major. No matter how many times you hear the song, the second chord still sails beautifully out of the blue. The lyrics may be saying, 'I'm a creep,' but the music is saying, 'I am majestic.'[26]


Following the release of Pablo Honey, Radiohead spent two years touring in support of Belly and PJ Harvey. They performed "Creep" at every show, and came to resent it. O'Brien recalled: "We seemed to be living out the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again. It was incredibly stultifying."[25] During Radiohead's first American tour, audience members would scream for "Creep", then leave after it was performed.[3]

Yorke said Radiohead felt they were being judged on a single song and had to move on.[25] Drummer Philip Selway said that the success of "Creep" had given Radiohead more freedom with their record company, but that they had had "other ideas" they wanted to explore.[27] John Leckie, who produced Radiohead's second album, The Bends (1995), recalled: "My impression is that they were being asked to do something even better than 'Creep' ... where they didn't even know what was good about it in the first place."[28]

The Bends track "My Iron Lung" was written in response to the reaction to "Creep"; it contains the lines: "This is our new song / just like the last one / a total waste of time".[25] Yorke said in 1995: "People have defined our emotional range with that one song, 'Creep'. I saw reviews of "My Iron Lung' that said it was just like 'Creep'. When you're up against things like that, it's like: 'Fuck you.' These people are never going to listen."[29]

Radiohead singer Thom Yorke in 1998

During the tour for Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), Yorke became hostile when "Creep" was mentioned in interviews and refused requests to play it, telling a Montréal audience: "Fuck off, we're tired of it."[30] He dismissed fans demanding to hear it as "anally retarded".[30] After the tour, Radiohead did not perform "Creep" until the encore of their 2001 homecoming concert at South Park, Oxford, after an equipment failure halted a performance of another song.[31]

In a surprise move, Radiohead performed "Creep" as the opening song of their headline performance at the 2009 Reading Festival.[32] They did not perform it again until 2016, when they played it several times on tour for their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool. After a fan spent the majority of a concert shouting for it, the band decided to play it to "see what the reaction is, just to see how it feels".[33] They performed "Creep" again during the encore of their headline performance at the Glastonbury Festival that year; according to Guardian critic Alexis Petridis, "Given Radiohead’s famously fractious relationship with their first big hit ... the performance of 'Creep' [was] greeted with something approaching astonished delight."[15]

In 2017, 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."[34] 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'."[34]

In 2007, VH1 ranked "Creep" the 31st greatest song of the 1990s.[35] In 2020, The Guardian named "Creep" the 34th greatest Radiohead song, writing: "In the end, the band’s disavowal of the song sent its credibility full circle. Nowadays, 'Creep' is a joke, but we’re all blissfully in on it."[36] In June 2008, "Creep" re-entered the UK Singles Chart at number 37 after its inclusion on Radiohead: The Best Of.[37] As of April 2019, in the UK, it was the most streamed song released in 1992, with 10.1 million streams.[38] It remains Radiohead's most successful single.[36]

Cover versionsEdit

In April 2008, American musician Prince covered "Creep" at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. A bootleg recording was shared online, but removed at Prince's request; after being informed of the situation in an interview, Yorke said: "Well, tell him to unblock it. It's our song."[39][40] "Creep" has also been covered by artists including Frank Bennett,[41] Postmodern Jukebox,[42] the Pretenders[43], Kelly Clarkson[43], Tears for Fears[44], Arlo Parks[45], the Scala & Kolacny Brothers[46], R3hab[47] and Mónica Naranjo.[48]

Copyright infringementEdit

The chord progression and melody in "Creep" is similar to that of the 1972 song "The Air That I Breathe", written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood.[49] Rondor Music, the publisher of "The Air That I Breathe", sued Radiohead, and Hammond and Hazlewood received cowriting credits and a percentage of the royalties. Hammond said Radiohead were "honest" about having reused the composition, and so the songwriters agreed to take only "a little piece" of the royalties.[50]

In January 2018, American singer Lana Del Rey said on Twitter that Radiohead were taking legal action against her for allegedly plagiarising "Creep" on her 2017 track "Get Free", and had asked for 100% of publishing royalties instead of Del Rey's offer of 40%. She denied that "Creep" had inspired "Get Free".[51] Radiohead's publisher Warner/Chappell Music confirmed it was seeking songwriting credit for "all writers" of "Creep", but denied that a lawsuit had been brought or that Radiohead had demanded 100% of royalties.[52] In March, Del Rey told an audience that "my lawsuit's over, I guess I can sing that song any time I want".[53] The writing credits for "Get Free" were not updated on the database of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.[53]

Track listingEdit

Original UK release
  1. "Creep" – 3:55
  2. "Lurgee" – 3:07
  3. "Inside My Head" – 3:12
  4. "Million Dollar Question" – 3:18
(Cassette – Promo)
  1. "Creep" – 3:56
  2. "Faithless, the Wonder Boy" – 4:10
UK re-release (CD)
  1. "Creep" (album version) – 3:58
  2. "Yes I Am" – 4:25
  3. "Blow Out" (remix) – 4:00
  4. "Inside My Head" (live) – 3:07
UK re-release (12" vinyl)
  1. "Creep" (acoustic) – 4:19
  2. "You" (live) – 3:39
  3. "Vegetable" (live) – 3:07
  4. "Killer Cars" (live) – 2:17
Dutch release (CD)
  1. "Creep" (Album Version) – 3:59
  2. "Yes I Am" – 4:26
  3. "Inside My Head" (live) – 3:07
  4. "Creep" (live) – 4:19
  • Note: All tracks recorded live at the Metro in Chicago by JBTV on June 30, 1993, except A1 recorded live for KROQ Radio on July 13, 1993.
  1. "Creep" – 3:56
Digital re-release
  1. "Creep" 3:56
  2. "Inside My Head" 3:12
  3. "Million Dollar Question" 3:18
  4. "Yes I Am" 4:26
  5. "Blow Out (Remix)" 4:19

The original versions of "Lurgee", "Blow Out", "You" and "Vegetable" are taken from the album Pablo Honey.


  • Thom Yorke – lead vocals
  • Colin Greenwood – bass guitar
  • Jonny Greenwood – lead guitar, piano
  • Ed O'Brien – rhythm guitar
  • Philip Selway – drums



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[79] Gold 35,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[80] 2× Platinum 160,000 
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[81] Gold 45,000*
Italy (FIMI)[82] 2× Platinum 100,000 
United Kingdom (BPI)[83] Platinum 600,000 

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
 sales+streaming figures based on certification alone


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External linksEdit