Thursday, September 22, 2011

R.E.M. - Radio Free Europe

Yesterday (September 21, 2011), R.E.M. decided to call it quits as a band.  Although the band had some great successes in the 1990's, I think of them as the prototypical 1980's college rock band.  In fact, they were hugely influential in defining the category.  With their final act now written, it seemed like a good time to put them on the blog.

Loved by critics, it took the band a while to find its audience.  Though the first four albums all went gold, none broke the top 20, and it took until 1987's Document for R.E.M. to have a platinum album.  Similarly, while their videos were shown on MTV, their sound was too alternative, and the videos too strange to go into heavy rotation for most of the 80s.

I chose their first single, "Radio Free Europe" as their representative here.  Originally recorded in 1981, the video uses the 1983 I.R.S. version of the song.  Many critics, including your humble author, prefer the original version, which is faster, less polished, and just sounds more R.E.M.-ish.  In fact, on their 1988 compilation album, Eponymous, they went back to the original version, with the comment, "Mike [Mills, bass player] and Jefferson [Holt, the band's manager] think this one crushes the other one like a grape."

While Michael Stipe's lyrics can be challenging to understand under the best of circumstances, he intentionally garbled "Radio Free Europe," going more for a cool sound that any meaning.  In a later interview, Stipe confirmed that the lyrics are "complete babbling."

Godspeed, gentlemen, and thanks for the great music.

Also note that "Fall on Me" was posted on ERV in September 2014.

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