Track of the Day: 'Creep' by Prince

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Prince was notoriously wary of the Internet. He sued YouTube and eBay over unauthorized use of his content and—as people lamented on the day of his death—he pulled his catalogs from all streaming services except the Jay Z-led Tidal. This aversion to digitization of his performances led to an unusual spat with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in 2008.

That year, Prince played Coachella. He glided onstage, almost ephemeral in the evening light, and blew the audience away with a soaring rendition of “Creep,” imbuing the Radiohead song with the gravitas and sensuality only Prince could. The crunching guitars before the chorus are softened by synthesizers, and he builds to a roaring guitar solo and then into a delicate falsetto interlude before returning to the solo, reminding all in attendance why he is a musical icon. The lyrics played perfectly into Prince’s otherworldly persona, with the occasional pronoun flipped around for further personalization of the song’s intensely inward gaze. It was a transcendent experience to behold.

But then, in standard fashion, Prince issued takedown notices to all YouTube videos of the performance. “Really? He’s blocked it?,” a confused Thom Yorke said. “Well, tell him to unblock it. It’s our... song.”

Prince didn’t. And it wasn’t until 2015 that his version was made available online. Oddly, it was Prince himself who released the recording, via a tweet linking directly to the video. The video title includes a nod to this controversy, stating that the recording is “Uploaded via Permission from Radiohead & NPG Music Publishing.” Whatever his reasoning for the change in heart, music fans everywhere are better off for it.

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