Why does Radiohead’s song “Creep” credit Albert Hammond Sr?
An alt-rock track is rarely so punchy that it manages to cross over into the mainstream, becoming adored by those who wouldn’t typically be interested in the nerve-wracking sounds of a band of guitars. However, some songs have been so successful that they are no longer owned by the band, morphing into something completely different. The ultimate example of this was Nirvana’s 1991 single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, with Radiohead’s seminal track “Creep” closing in on the No. 2 spot.
The discourse around “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is both ample and relatively simple. By contrast, Radiohead‘s relationship to their 1992 hit is more complicated, and it’s become such a leviathan that even Vladimir Putin has gotten into it. The band downright hated the song for a long time, with frontman Thom Yorke openly discussing his disdain for it. He said in 1993: “I wasn’t very happy with the lyrics; I thought they were pretty dumb.
When the song exploded in America, the band started to really despise it. People kept showing up shouting for it to be played, and once the Oxford quintet finally got into it, said audience member would get up and leave. Naturally, after a while it became disheartening, with Yorke once describing the situation, “It’s like it’s not our song anymore… It’s like we’re doing a cover.”
Elsewhere, the frontman would explain that the band felt suffocated as they were judged by one piece, a situation that threatened to bury their hopes of longevity. Echoing Yorke’s thoughts, guitarist Ed O’Brien recalled that formative period, saying, “We seemed to go through the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again. It was incredibly mind-numbing.
Notably, the band hated “Creep” so much that they didn’t include it in their title track at Reading and Leeds in 2009. However, they would eventually return to it in 2016, but not really by choice. While on tour in support of A moon-shaped swimming pool, one night a fan spent the entire show screaming for ‘Creep’. Since it had been a while, they played it to “see what the reaction is, just to see how it feels”.
As a result, they then included it as part of their title at Glastonbury 2016, and it garnered a thunderous reaction. Then, in an interview the following year, O’Brien offered a revisionist view of their relationship with the track. “It’s nice to play for the right reasons. People love it and want to hear it,” he said. “We’re wrong not to play it because you don’t want it to look like show business.”
In the same chat, Yorke counted, “It can be cool sometimes, but other times I want to stop halfway and say, ‘No, it’s not happening. “”
While Radiohead’s relationship with ‘Creep’ is special, for a time it was made even more complicated by the issue of copyright infringement being raised. Some claimed it wasn’t even an original, as the chord progression and melody is similar to Albert Hammond Sr. and Mike Hazelwood’s 1972 ballad “The Air That I Breathe”, which has become more later a hit for The Hollies in 1974.
Rondor Music, the song’s publisher, sued, with Hammond and Hazelwood receiving co-writing credits and reduced royalties. Later, however, Hammond explained that Radiohead was honest about their track’s relationship to “The Air That I Breathe”. Therefore, he and Hazelwood were content to receive only a small amount of royalties.
“I only own the writer’s ending,” Hammond revealed. “The song’s publisher, Rondor Music, felt [‘Creep’] was a steal from ‘The Air That I Breathe’, and he sued Radiohead, and they agreed.
He continued, “Because they were honest, they weren’t chased to the point of saying ‘we want it all’. So we ended up getting a little piece of it.
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