With its chiming guitar and near-whispered vocal, the song begins meekly, almost anonymously. Addressing some love object, the singer observes: “You’re just like an angel/Your skin makes me cry.” Naturally, the singer doesn’t feel he measures up: “I wish I was special/You’re so very special.” We think we know what’s going on, but out of nowhere, another guitar intrudes with sick bursts of hacking-cough noise; the singer spits, “But I’m a CREEP!” and all hell breaks loose. Shimmering walls of distortion-soaked axes transform this wistful little idyll into a cyclone of self-loathing.
The English band Radiohead’s “Creep” (from its debut album, Pablo Honey) has to be the most audacious pop move since the Police scored a Number One single with a song more or less about stalking (“Every Breath You Take”) back in 1983. But Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s lead singer and intermittent guitarist, describes the song as a “freak” success and is somewhat taken aback by the slow build it’s been getting stateside (aided and abetted by its video’s status as an MTV Buzz Clip): “Over here, most singles have a shelf life of about three weeks.”
The song was hardly conceived as a band breaker; it was actually recorded as a warm-up for another number. While Yorke is reluctant to describe its origins (“I wrote it at college” is about as specific as he’ll get), he readily admits, “I wasn’t very happy with the lyrics; I thought they were pretty crap.” And as it turns out, those noises leading into the chorus were guitarist Jon Greenwood’s way of trying to ball the thing up: “That nervous twitch he does, that’s just his way of checking that the guitar is working, that it’s loud enough, and he ended up doing it while we were recording. And while we were listening to it, it was like ‘Hey, what the fuck was that? Keep that! Do that!'”
Yorke isn’t sure what to make of the deep chord “Creep” has struck in certain listeners – “We’ve had some strange letters” – and already feels a bit removed from the song: “It’s like it’s not our song anymore; when we play it, it feels like we’re doing a cover.” Like it or not, though, “Creep” will get Radiohead their loudest cheers when the band goes on tour with Belly later this year.
This story is from the September 16, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.