There comes a time in every Radiohead fan’s life when, having mainlined their fix of immersive headphone moments and forensic lyrical analyses, they crave some prime nerd trivia to take the relationship to the next level. Here, then, are ten lesser-known facts about the 1992 hit to fuel your obsession.
10 ‘My Iron Lung’
When ‘Creep’ skyrocketed in popularity, the band – who’ve become notoriously cagey about the track – commenced their personal backlash, starting by privately renaming it ‘Crap’. In public, their disavowal took a subtler form: ‘My Iron Lung’, the crucial lead single to ‘The Bends’, was a double-edged paean to ‘Creep’s lucrative success. Lyrics like “We are grateful for our iron lung” are undercut with a sarcastic sneer that hints Thom’s true feelings about its “life-support”.
9 Killer fans
As ‘Creep’ became ubiquitous across pop culture, it drew a smattering of unwelcome attention, notably from a British murderer. From prison, he wrote an aptly creepy letter identifying with the song’s character, explains Thom. “He said, ‘I’m the creep in that song. I killed this bloke. They made me do it. It wasn’t me, it was the words in my head.’ I felt like someone had walked over my grave.”
8 Cringe-inducing covers
The most harrowing side-effects of the band’s sudden fame came when ‘Creep’ took off Stateside. Not only did America’s heftiest celebs declare their support – hello, Jon Bon Jovi and Arnold Schwarzenegger – the track also received overblown covers by everyone from Korn to Pearl Jam and more. No pop song is sacred, but equally, nobody needed Moby’s soaring strings and DJ squiggles making this song any geekier than it already was.
On its first UK release, ‘Creep’ barely made a ripple in the UK (it later hit Number 7 on rerelease). But an unlikely Middle Eastern market fell hard for the alienated anthem: after relentless radio play on army radio, Israeli fans were so into the track that, when Thom and crew rolled up to promote it, fans mobbed the group and ripped clumps from Thom’s hair.
6 The Hollies
Eagle-eared record collectors had long spoken in hushed tones of the striking similarities between ‘Creep’ and The Hollies’ 1973 song ‘The Air That I Breathe’. Eventually, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood of the group cottoned on, successfully suing Radiohead for copyright infringement. As a result, the ‘Pablo Honey’ inlay now credits Hammond and Hazlewood as ‘Creep’ co-writers, with the pair of Hollies taking a split of royalties.
5 Beavis & Butt Head ad
Struggling to promote ‘Pablo Honey’ in the States, US label Capitol tapped into the youth’s fondness for Beavis and Butthead. A subsequent ad for the record read: “Radiohead – better than Butt-head! Oxford England’s rowdiest new band. Huh-huh-huh, music that doesn’t suck. Featuring the self-loathing anthem ‘Creep’.”
4 Scott Walker
Radiohead’s first ‘Pablo Honey’ session, with American producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, bore little fruit, right up until Thom muttered something about playing their “Scott Walker song” and launched into a breathtaking ‘Creep’. Confused, the producers assumed they’d covered an obscure tune from the cult crooner’s repertoire. It wasn’t until the next session, when they suggested the band play their Scott Walker cover to boost morale, that they clocked the error.
3 ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’
‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ might not have seen the light of day until 2000, but it was actually written eight years earlier, the same day as ‘Creep’. Unlike ‘Creep’, which stuck tight to its four-chord rock guns, the mournful track went through multiple rewrites before surfacing from the bootleg basement in its resplendent, organ-led form on ‘Kid A’.
2 Alanis Morissette
1996 saw the band conquer America as Alanis Morissette’s opening act. “We were a hindrance,” Jonny said humbly, “frightening away some of the audience before she came on.” Still, anyone using the Oxford boys’ set for an extended loo break got their medicine in the headline set, as Morissette and her band would perform a bombastic, drumstick-twirling ‘Creep’ to close every show.
1 Jonny’s secret weapons
There’s a whiff of urban legend to the story that Jonny Greenwood, unimpressed by the formulaic track, added his famous, pre-chorus guitar slashes as an act of sabotage. A more reliable story goes that producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, who’d been unimpressed by the song’s reflective outro, heard someone noodling jazz piano one day during studio downtime; upon discovering that Jonny was the culprit, they immediately persuaded him to close out ‘Creep’ with some vaguely cheesy rock-piano. He was all too happy to oblige.