Radiohead would suddenly find themselves on the road to superstardom after the release of their debut album, “Pablo Honey,” which was released on this day in 1993!
Radiohead were college radio darlings on the verge of achieving worldwide success, thanks to a little song called “Creep.” The video first started receiving airplay in April on MTV’s “120 Minutes,” a two-hour block of programming that would showcase the biggest songs on alternative radio and music charts.
The band’s legacy would be greatly shaped by the single, and its inclusion on “Pablo Honey” helped make the record one of the most memorable alternative albums of all time.
Thom Yorke, Jonny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brian, and Phillip Selway would gradually cross beyond the threshold of indie rock and by “OK Computer” released four years later, Radiohead would be setting the precedent for how to make innovative, decade-defining music.
Radiohead Released Their Debut Album ‘Pablo Honey’ On February 22nd, 1993
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The band was two years away from their first career-defining album, “The Bends,” when “Pablo Honey” was released, and they were already feeling pretty ambitious.
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In a 1993 Melody Maker interview, Yorke cheekily proclaimed Radiohead was “going to change pop music” with “Pablo Honey”s release; Yorke had complicated feelings with the alternative boom of the early ’90s. Sub Pop, the record label home of Nirvana and other grunge pioneers and the current home for musicians like Orville Peck and Weyes Blood.
“I’d love to be on Sub Pop,” Yorke said in the interview. “Wouldn’t that just be great? I wouldn’t bother having to write any songs then, just give myself a couple of Marshall stacks and some pedals, and I’d be well away, huh? He would later go on to share he thought Sub Pop artists “have no personality, they have hair.”
Even though the band seemed to be reluctant at the time to make the same strides as some of their counterparts in alternative music at the time, Johnny Greenwood had enough perspective about his own desire to one day grow up and become a musician; “Pablo Honey”s “Anyone Can Play Guitar” was about one of Greenwood’s first exposures to music as a child.
“…Me and my grandfather would play showtunes together, you see?,” Greenwood said of the early songs he learned to play, with his grandfather’s guidance. “He’d sit with me on his knee when I was three, and teach me how to play the banjo. And I remember saying one day, ‘Enough of My Fair Lady!’, and that’s how rock and roll was born,” Greenwood would explain. (per Melody Maker)
Although Yorke seemed to have strong opinions about the music of his counterparts at the time, the desire to play music was one he’d always had.
Speaking to Select Magazine at the time of “Pablo Honey”s release, Yorke explained a bit about his childhood desire to be a musician.
“First of all, I wanted to be Brian May [of Queen], I went into a guitar lesson when I was eight, and said ‘I want to be a pop star…” He would later go on to add, “I never really wanted to do anything else. Before that it was Lego.”
About That Song: ‘Creep’ Goes On To Become One Of Radiohead’s Definitive Songs
Radiohead would have a definitive career song in “Creep,” the second track on “Pablo Honey.”
“Creep” would turn out to be the track that would help the album’s producers warm up to the record. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade weren’t feeling the record label’s preferences for stand-out tracks, but once “Creep” was out in the ether during a rehearsal, its potential to be a standout track had been felt after one take.
“At the end, everyone in the place was silent for a moment and they burst into applause. I’d never had that happen before,” Kolderie shared.
Yorke’s tale of unrequited love would go on to be a mixed blessing for Radiohead’s legacy. Yes, they would have a career-defining song that resonated with listeners, but they were unhappy with the resulting ‘sad boy’ nature of “Creep” that would affect them for a long time.
“Creep” is rarely played live nowadays; the times the song has been played live in recent years have been so few, to the point where it makes headlines.
“I wasn’t very happy with the lyrics,” Yorke explained to Rolling Stone. “When we play it, it feels like we’re playing a cover.” He would tell Melody Maker, “Because [“Creep”] took off in other places, we realized its potential, but we were shocked people picked up on it so heavily. We thought it was a good song- but you don’t sit around at the end of a recording session and say, ‘Hey, this is going to be a big hit in America, Guys!” (per Ultimate Classic Rock)
A big hit, indeed! Happy anniversary, “Pablo Honey!”