Creation Records, the Label History Loves to Overlook

Through all the mess, the music of Alan McGee’s brainchild remains vital and influential. (See: Oasis.) Photo: Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Image

“Weirdos who love melody.” That’s how a close friend of mine once described Creation Records, the London label founded by Alan McGee, Joe Foster, and Dick Green that operated from 1983 to 1999. McGee called the label a random collection of misfits, drug addicts, and sociopaths. He was talking about himself, too: an obsessive yet convincing Scottish know-it-all and Johnny Rotten believer who became the Malcolm McLaren of indie rock and shoegaze. After falling in love with club music (and its drugs) heading into 1988, McGee then championed Manchester’s burgeoning acid-house scene that blurred the lines between rock, psychedelia, and dance. All those bands he first signed, who then tried to make the next Loveless or Screamadelica, were made obsolete by a later Creation band that played one of the largest shows in U.K. history at the height of Britpop: Oasis. And then it all collapsed just as the label’s flagship band, Primal Scream, released the first great album of the 21st century — picture if the musicians who made Kid A could kick your ass.

The label’s history is a lot. It’s also mostly great, or at the very least serves as a fascinating case study of an industry outsider that snuck past the gates. You won’t hear any of these songs in The Crown, yet Creation’s musical and cultural impact on the U.K. and beyond is vast and undeniable — it challenged the idea of what “indie” could be, for better or worse. Hindsight makes the label’s flaws all the more glaring as well; McGee’s hands-on approach to running a very white and very male rock and roll label now reads as more harmful than aspirational. (His famous management philosophy: Take as many drugs as the band.)

By now, this version of the Creation story (sometimes myth) has become established folklore. It’s been told and retold countless times, even by McGee himself in his 2013 autobiography, Creation Stories, which serves as the basis for director Nick Moran’s new biopic of the same name on the label and its unconventional leader, released this month in the U.K. (A deal for U.S. distribution is in the works.) Written by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh and produced by much of the same crew behind Trainspotting (Ewen Bremner, a.k.a. Spud, plays McGee), including Danny Boyle, the film is more accurate in spirit than truth-telling. “Fifty percent of this film is absolute nonsense,” McGee told the Guardian earlier this month, “but I let it all go in.” Which, really, he could be talking about the label itself. In honor of the latest Creation Stories, here’s a beginner’s guide to all the music and history of Creation Records. Through all the mess, the music remains vital and influential.

The Classics

Primal Scream, XTRMNTR (2000)

In music journalist Paolo Hewitt’s 2000 oral history of the label, McGee predicted that Primal Scream’s just-released XTRMNTR — Creation’s final release — would become a generation’s seminal and forgotten cult classic. He was wrong. The LP went to No. 3 in the U.K. and was well-received by critics, then and now. Yet McGee was onto something. Over the years, the abrasive, warlike XTRMNTR (see: “Exterminator”) has overtaken the acid-house classic Screamadelica as Bobby Gillespie’s masterpiece. It’s like skipping Sgt. Pepper’s for The Velvet Underground & Nico, the former beloved by those who were around for its sunny possibilities but the latter still sounding fresh today. XTRMNTR’s all-caps assault on modern life primed a new generation for yelling at strangers online, and it finally, truly killed off the Britpop era that Creation helped create.

Honorable Mention: Very much sounding like a product of its time, Screamadelica still earns its place in history for bringing acid house to the rock mainstream.

My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)

“I’ve spent a quarter of a million pounds, and I can’t hear the vocals.” This was McGee’s alleged response to first hearing Loveless, a painstaking labor by guitarist Kevin Shields trying to turn his thoughts into sugar. It took two and a half years to make, nearly bankrupted Creation, and destroyed McGee and the band’s already icy relationship. (“I had to go and borrow money from my father — money from my mum’s life-insurance policy — to complete the album,” McGee recalled in his book.) It also is the single most stunning guitar album ever made. In 2010, Gillespie called Loveless the last great rock record that went somewhere new. It’s hard to disagree.

Honorable Mention: If Loveless never came out, My Bloody Valentine would still be on this list for their debut Isn’t Anything. 2012’s EP’s 1988–1991 collection also is worth checking out for how well it captures the band’s pre-Loveless Creation EPs, right when they turned from good to great.

Oasis, Definitely Maybe (1994)

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is the better album, to be clear. Track by track, Morning Glory has a stronger range and sense of timelessness, and very few classic records have this many excellent non-single tracks. It’s the quiet morning after, and Definitely Maybe is the ridiculous night out before. What a hell of a night, though. Definitely Maybe — perhaps more so than any album on this list — best embodies the spirit of Creation during Britpop or any era. Rock and roll at its most bratty and parka-wearing glory. Also, “Supersonic.”
Honorable Mention: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, specifically the 2014 reissue that features the album’s B-sides and Noel Gallagher’s stunning acoustic demos that make up the third (or fourth) best Oasis album.

Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque (1991)

Just as America had The Replacements, Scotland had Teenage Fanclub to carry the torch for rewriting Alex Chilton songs in skinny jeans. Bandwagonesque might be the easiest album on this list to like, 12 nearly perfect songs that make sad nostalgia sound like the sun. It’s such a nice and unassuming listen that it’s hard to stay mad at it for famously beating out Nevermind as Spin’s 1991 album of the year. (Creation’s other two 1991 masterpieces Screamadelica and Loveless didn’t even make the list.)

Honorable Mention: Bandwagonesque is rightfully beloved, but 1995’s Grand Prix is the better album.

The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Upside Down” (1984)

McGee technically had his first breakthrough from discovering and managing The Jesus and Mary Chain throughout the ’80s; this era briefly featured a young Gillespie on drums. The Chain paved the way for Creation and all its following bands with “Upside Down,” the first single to make the label any actual money. The Scottish band would be featured more prominently on this list, but technically their famous debut Psychocandy was released on Warner subsidiary Blanco y Negro. It’s rightfully hailed as a classic, and if you’re tired of associating it with Bill Murray, “Upside Down” and its B-side cover of Syd Barrett’s “Vegetable Man” are arguably the best things the band ever released. In 1998, The Chain story came full circle as Creation re-signed them to release Munki.

Honorable Mention: In the beginning, it was The Jesus and Mary Chain and Alive in The Living Room, Creation’s first official album release. (The label’s first overall release was a 1983 single by The Legend! doing a bad Gang of Four parody called “’73 in ’83.”) Alive in The Living Room is a poorly recorded and exciting snapshot of Creation’s earliest era that featured The Jasmine Minks (who did an impeccable impression of The Jam), The Pastels, The Loft, and other early prominent McGee-approved bands performing at the London club, The Living Room, that he ran before starting Creation. This LP is pretty much an excuse to talk about McGee’s favorite band at the time, Television Personalities.

McGee. Photo: Sunday Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

The Deep Cuts

Though, depending who you ask, “deep cuts” might be misleading. Many of the following albums were well-known and beloved in the U.K. and, to an extent, in the States. But you get the idea.

Slowdive, Souvlaki (1993)

It’s a testament to Creation’s track record that Slowdive is even considered a deep cut, a group of self-described goths in an indie band who worshipped Bowie’s Berlin era and brought shoegaze down to its most minimal. Souvlaki is the band’s peak, and it had the worst timing. It was released in 1993, just as McGee and the British press were shifting their attention to the Britpop wars that would make bands like Slowdive feel outdated. Decades later, the still-influential Souvlaki got the last laugh.

Honorable Mention: Another band more beloved than known, though not as well-known as Slowdive, was Adorable. Their two Creation records were both worthy additions to the shoegaze canon, and like Souvlaki, they mostly got lost in the Britpop shuffle. Both LPs are due for a revisit.

The House of Love, The House of Love (1988)

The closest thing Creation got to its own Smiths. Like Oasis later, The House of Love “saved” the label by making the much-needed hit that pulled McGee out of financial ruin. It’s hard to trace its direct musical impact — you’ve heard this kind of indie-rock record a million times — yet the band’s self-titled debut remains one of the most compelling examples of what Creation guitars sounded like in the mid-’80s. It was perhaps the last big band that could also have been signed to Rough Trade before My Bloody Valentine’s debut, released that same year, took Creation into a different universe.

Honorable Mention: The Weather Prophets are another cult Creation band that wasn’t necessarily influential, but rather very, very good at what they did. It also was Peter Astor’s second Creation band following The Loft and before starting a solo career on the same label.

Sugar, Copper Blue (1992)

Bob Mould’s follow-up to Hüsker Dü allowed the usually abrasive Mould to show off a more uplifting kind of tortured tenderness, one that was more suitable for Creation. Copper Blue was NME’s 1992 album of the year and remains the most consistently fun Sugar album among many good ones.

Honorable Mention: Velvet Crushs 1994 Creation LP Teenage Symphonies to God was produced by early R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter and was well-regarded in its time. Today, this power-pop gem feels like the album that opened the door for Fountains of Wayne to make the best power-pop record of the 2000s. Like Sugar, it’s all fun and deceiving.

Felt, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word (1986)

Your favorite twee songwriter’s favorite record, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word is a sad flash of mononymous Felt mastermind Lawrence’s vocal and songwriting skills that managed to turn a ballpark organ into the loneliest instrument. Quinn Moreland’s Pitchfork Sunday Review captures the mood: Too bookish and restrained for mainstream pop, too neurotic for punk, and too bright and structured for post-punk. It might not click with you right away. When it does, it absolutely hits.

Honorable Mention: Speaking of underappreciated, McGee has consistently picked Trashmonk’s Mona Lisa Overdrive as Creation’s last great album.

Ride, Nowhere (1990)

Ride was either a boy band that played shoegaze or the Creation shoegazers that acted the most like a boy band. Nowhere was McGee’s first top-20 LP and the album that properly kicked off the ’90s and shoegaze’s brief time in the sun. This album would be on the classics list if it originally included “Today,” a stunner from the band’s 1991 Today Forever EP that was later tacked onto Nowhere’s 2001 reissue.
Honorable Mention: Nowhere is Ride’s most consistent album, though its follow-up Going Blank Again has one of the greatest album openers and was Creation’s first top-10 hit, the epic eight-minute “Leave Them All Behind.”

Slaughter Joe, The Pied Piper of Feedback (1990)

Fellow Creation co-founder and Television Personalities member Joe Foster might be more well-known as the label’s house producer; in a 2008 essay for the Guardian, McGee credited Foster with creating Creation’s “Phil Spector on a budget” sound. Like McGee, Foster was a vital (and manic) driving force, and he released music on the label under the name Slaughter Joe. His only official LP under that moniker, The Pied Piper of Feedback, is the best example of how close Creation got to sounding like The Velvet Underground. If you take McGee’s 2013 autobiography as truth, then it was McGee who actually wrote “She’s So Out of Touch.”

Honorable Mention: McGee himself played in a series of bands that released LPs on the label, most consistently for Biff Bang Pow!, which featured all three Creation founders. “Love’s Going Out of Fashion” was included on NME’s influential C86 cassettes, featuring other Creation veterans Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Weather Prophets, and BMX Bandits. (Ed Ball, another employee and longtime presence at Creation, also released several records under his own name and with Television Personalities, The Times, Teenage Filmstars, ‘O’ Level, The Love Corporation, and more.)

The Underrated

Swervedriver, Mezcal Head (1993)

Pitchfork’s 2016 list of the top 10 shoegaze albums of all time included seven Creation albums: two albums each by Slowdive, Ride, and My Bloody Valentine. There’s also Mezcal Head, released in 1993 by the Creation band that most proudly showed off their love of heavier American indie bands like Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü. “Muscular” is rarely used to describe anything liked by McGee, but it absolutely fits for Swervedriver.

Honorable Mention: Another word not usually associated with Creation: emo. 3 Colours Red didn’t carry any emo clout back when they released their pair of Creation LPs in the late ’90s. Now, those records sound like the kind of emo pop considered authentic by 2021 standards. If Jimmy Eat World gets a classic-rock pass these days, it’s time to give “Paralyse” and “This Is My Time” another spin.

Super Furry Animals, Fuzzy Logic (1996)

Everyone at Creation, including Super Furry Animals, seemed to understand that Fuzzy Logic was a transparent attempt to create a Welsh Blur. It didn’t work, and that lack of pressure or self-righteousness actually benefited everyone. Of all the hit LPs during Britpop, Fuzzy Logic is still the most lizard-brain fun and the only one that made the drugs sound fun.
Honorable Mention: If Super Furry Animals channeled Blur’s imperial era, Ruby’s Salt Peter went for Blur’s seedier, more remix-friendly post-“Song 2” era that birthed Gorillaz … except that this LP came first.

The Boo Radleys, Wake Up! (1995)

The Counting Crows of Creation. Easy listening, impossibly earnest, responsible for more hits than you remember. Giant Steps was NME’s 1993 album of the year, but Wake Up! has aged slightly better. They’re also one of indie rock’s strongest greatest-hits bands. (This is a compliment.)

Honorable Mention: If that Counting Crows comparison didn’t scare you off, what if I told you that Creation had its own Jack Johnson à la Mishka.

Who to Check Out Next

Arnold: Hillside is one of the most buried treasures of 1998, a good year for Creation that also included Bernard Butler, Saint Etienne, Nick Heyward, Ivor Cutler, and Oasis’s The Masterplan.

Bill Drummond: The future co-founder of The KLF released a country-folk record as sincere as his soon-to-be-famous day job was … not.

The Cramps: The beloved CBGB psychobilly pioneers released one album on Creation.

The Creation: McGee named Creation after this pioneering British Invasion band (they were on the Rushmore soundtrack) and in 1994 released their very fun LP Power Surge.

Fluke: Like many albums on this list, The Techno Rose of Blighty feels like it should be way more famous.

Guided by Voices: A.k.a. the one Creation album they released that has that one song you heard once on Scrubs.

Hurricane #1: The underrated band that Andy Bell founded in the time between leaving Ride and joining Oasis.

Idha: Troublemaker was the most Creation ever got to sounding like Elton John.

Kevin Rowland: That album cover.

Momus: The rare Creation artist who actually made dance music.

Ronnie Spector: Remember when Spector released a Creation EP of late-career Ramones and Beach Boys covers produced by Joey Ramone? Now you will.

A special thanks to Isolation Records for being an invaluable resource.

Creation Records, the Label History Loves to Overlook