Label executives attribute the success of Radiohead in America, as evidenced by the performances of its Capitol Records debut album, "Pablo Honey," and "Creep" single, directly to the band's U.K. setup.
"The music, video and whole thing had been available for almost a year in England, and they did a great job over there press-wise," notes Tom Corson, Capitol's VP, international, who was the label's marketing VP during Radiohead's initial U.S. effort. "'Creep' was also properly imaged to give us a jump start here, and we took a long time setting it up at college and retail--especially the alternative tastemaking stores near campuses."
Importing the overseas press vibe, Corson adds that "CMJ-type" trade and consumer press was targeted. Then an "ideally timed" tour of alternative-oriented markets was booked and heavily marketed some eight weeks after the album release in late April, 12 weeks after the single.
"The baby on the album cover was great imaging, and we put out a limited number of CDs with a yellow jewel box to show people it was a special project without any hype--to give us the opportunity to be the underdog, which college-alternative people like."
Earlier, Capitol had sent out import "Creep" singles six months prior to release, first to college radio, then commercial alternative. "KROQ put it on in Los Angeles right off the import and got Top 5 phones almost immediately," says senior VP of promotion John Fagot. "Its program director spread the word to all the programmers he knew around the country, and the rest of the commercial alternatives came on board."
Gene Sandbloom, music director at KROQ, recalls hearing "Creep" on an advance album cassette. "It was one of those rare songs that was so good you didn't need CD quality to know it would be massive," he says. "We just needed an airable version because of the language on the album version. When Capitol serviced it, we put it straight on the air and it became the second-biggest song of the year for us, behind Stone Temple Pilots' 'Plush.'"
Luckily, notes Fagot, this was at a time when Top 40 was paying attention to crossover alternative records. "When MTV added the video to Buzz Bin rotation, it was the catalyst to really break it at Top 40. Once we got it on the air, the public reacted."