Songs in the Key of Creep

Ever notice that certain words pop up more often in songs than in real life? I’ve long thought of “creep” as one of those words.

I first encountered it with Social Distortion’s “The Creeps” (1982). On the surface it’s like the soundtrack to a low budget horror film, but underneath is the fundamental punk rock need to make the mainstream feel uncomfortable. In this case, “creeps” is a physical sensation akin to spine-tingling fear or revulsion. The word was used in a similar way at the dawn of Seattle’s grunge scene with Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” (1989). Of course, other bands used the word “creep” in the 80s. One of my favorites is That Petrol Emotions’ “Creeping To The Cross” (1987). And Luther Vandross got in on the action with “Creepin'” (1985). In both instances, the word “creep” is used as a physical act similar to skulking, prowling or sneaking.

But it wasn’t until the 90s that we reached peak “creep” with Radiohead’s 1992 classic. Although the word “creep” is used in a similar way to their punk and grunge predecessors, Thom Yorke’s professed “creepiness” is delivered as more of a lament about loneliness and isolation. Stone Temple Pilots followed a year later with their song “Creep,” and pop trio TLC released a song with the same title in 1994. But it wasn’t just mainstream acts that waved a “creep” flag in the 90s. Guided By Voices got in on the movement with their lo-fi “Fantasy Creeps,” while Blue Meanies gave “creep” the ska-core treatment with “Creepy.” White Zombie even used the word in their 1995 album title, Astro-Creep 2000.

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