Why does Radiohead song ‘Creep’ credit Albert Hammond Sr?

An alternative rock track is rarely so impactful that it manages to cross over into the mainstream, becoming adored by those who wouldn’t usually be interested in the angsty sounds of a guitar band. However, some songs have been so successful that they are no longer the band’s possession, metamorphosing into something completely different altogether. The ultimate example of this is Nirvana’s 1991 single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, with Radiohead‘s breakout track, ‘Creep’, coming close in second place.

The discourse around ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is both ample and relatively straightforward. In contrast, Radiohead’s relationship with their 1992 hit is more complicated, and it has become such a leviathan that even Vladimir Putin has had a crack at it. The band outright hated the song for a long period, 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 crap.”

When the song blew up in America, the band started to really despise it. People would show up incessantly shouting for it to be played, and after the Oxford quintet finally got around to it, the said audience member would up and leave. Understandably, after a while, this became disheartening, with Yorke once describing the situation: “It’s like it’s not our song anymore… It feels like we’re doing a cover.”

Elsewhere, the frontman would explain that the band felt stifled as they were being judged by just one piece, a situation which threatened to bury their hopes of longevity. Echoing Yorke’s thoughts, guitarist Ed O’Brien recalled that formative period, saying: “We seemed to be living out the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again. It was incredibly stultifying.”

Notably, the band hated ‘Creep’ so much that they didn’t include it in their headline set at Reading and Leeds in 2009. However, they would eventually return to it in 2016, but not really by their choice. When on tour in support of A Moon Shaped Pool, one night, a fan spent the whole show screaming for ‘Creep’. As 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 headline set at Glastonbury 2016, and it was met with a thunderous reaction. Then, in an interview the following year, O’Brien offered a revisionist take on their relationship with the track. “It’s nice to play for the right reasons. People like it and want to hear it,” he said. “We do err towards not playing it because you don’t want it to feel like show business.”

In the same discussion, Yorke counted: “It can be cool sometimes, but other times I want to stop halfway through and be like, ‘Nah, this isn’t happening.’”

Whilst Radiohead’s relationship with ‘Creep’ is a peculiar one, for a period, 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 are similar to Albert Hammond Sr. and Mike Hazelwood’s 1972 ballad ‘The Air That I Breathe’, which later became a hit for The Hollies in 1974.

Rondor Music, the song’s publisher, took legal action, with Hammond and Hazelwood receiving co-writing credits and a cut of the royalties. Later, though, Hammond explained that Radiohead was honest about their track’s relation to ‘The Air That I Breathe’. Hence, he and Hazelwood were happy with receiving only a small amount of royalties.

“I only own the writer’s end,” Hammond revealed. “The publisher of the song, 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 sued to the point of saying ‘we want the whole thing’. So we ended up just getting a little piece of it.”

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