Tag Archives: R.E.M.

Fall Mix

I made a Fall mix for my girlfriend (she’s just starting blogging so check out her site) and here’s what I came up.

Old Habits Die Hard – Mick Jagger & Dave Stewart

Nobody Told Me – John Lennon

Born in Time – Bob Dylan

Lost in the Supermarket – The Clash

Pretty (Ugly Before) – Elliot Smith

Into the Fire – Bruce Springsteen

Easy Plateau – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – The Beatles

The Unforgetable Fire – U2

Vito’s Ordination Song – Sufjan Stevens

Strange Boat – The Waterboys

Society- Eddie Vedder

Sprawl II – Arcade Fire

Heaven – Talking Heads

Perfect Circle – R.E.M.

Cold Desert – Kings of Leon

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Song of the Day – “Stumble” – R.E.M.

If you listen closely with your headphones at the very beginning of R.E.M.’s “Stumble” (off their debut EP Chronic Town) you can hear Michael Stipe laughing into the microphone.  He then mumbles the word “teeth” and begins clicking his mouth together several times as Peter Buck begins the jangled arpeggio guitar line that begins the song.  Bill Berry bangs his drums a few times in reply, and the song officially begins with a quick bass slap by Mike Mills.

Up until “Leave” off of New Adventures in Hi Fi in 1996, “Stumble” was R.E.M.’s longest song at just 6 minutes.   Like most of the songs of Chronic Town, “Stumble” is a mixture between R.E.M.’s love of post-punk, chiming guitars, and art-rock. Buck’s guitar line is hypnotic but it’s really the rhythm section of Mike Mills and Bill Berry that drives the song, like much of R.E.M.’s early work.  Berry holds the beat tightly as Stipe repeats the lines “we’ll stumble through the yard, we’ll stumble through the a-p-t” but explodes during the pre-chorus and chorus, which is a rarity for R.E.M.’s usually constrained songwriting.  Even as Stipe loudly wails “ball and chain” on the chorus, it’s still indecipherable.  For a long time, I was convinced he was singing “by chance”.

There’s a small fast-break down between the second and third verse, but it’s after the 3 chorus that things really weird.  “Stumble”  lo-fi production is broken by a bunch of tape loops sounding like wind and Berry’s wild drumming.  Over this wall of sound, Stipe recites a barely audible poem where the only phrase to be heard is “it’s round about midnight”.  Buck repeats the guitar line heard at the beginning of the beginning of the song, and it’s one more run through of the verse.

“Stumble” isn’t usually mentioned in the list of great R.E.M. songs from the beginning of their career.  It’s too weird to have made an impact like other songs of the period such as “Radio Free Europe”, “Gardening at Night” or “So. Central Rain”.   But it’s has a distinct sound containing many of R.E.M.’s early trademarks.

“Stumble” is one of the first songs I listened to over and over as a teenager with my headphones on.  At a family trip to the beach one year,  I borrowed my older brother’s walkman and copy of Chronic Town and listened to the tape constantly.  “Stumble” might have been long and repetitive, but it pulls you along and Berry’s drumming creates just enough tension to keep things interesting.  It became an obsession to kept to figure out what the hell Michael Stipe was saying as he recited the poem.  I never did figure it out, and at this point the fact that I can’t understand it only adds to the beauty of the song.

Check out “Stumble” from Chronic Town:

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R.E.M.’s “Fables Of The Reconstruction” To Be Re-Issued

On July 13h, R.E.M. will rerelease the third album Fables of the Reconstruction as a deluxe edition which includes a bonus disc full of rarities and demos.  Unlike the previous reissues of Murmur and Reckoning, the Fables edition does not include a live disc culled from that era.  Those live discs were a fantastic memoir of showcasing how good a live band in the early 80’s R.E.M. was.   The songs from those albums were written on the road and meant to be played live.

Fables, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. R.E.M. has previously ventured in Americana on Reckoning, but with Fables they truly embraced the southern-gothic myth making their  most American album, and perhaps the 80’s as well.  (The irony, being the album was actually recorded in London.)  R.E.M.’s version of Americana isn’t the deep blues of the South, but rather American folk.  Combining it with their post-punk ethics and Michael Stipe’s  sparse imagery and mumbled delivery, R.E.M. created an album that exists its own time-frame.  As guitarist Peter Buck states on R.E.M.’s web-site about the album – “No one but R.E.M. could have made that album.”

“Driver 8” is perhaps the best known song from the album.  The song contain numerous references to trains, and musically the song feels like a train ride across the South.  It’s not as anthemic as “Born to Run”, but “Driver 8” is R.E.M.’s version of that song – the possibilities of the open-road – grabbing everything and making a run for it.  Where “Born to Run”‘s narrator desperately tried to get Wendy to come with him in a car and just leave,  the narrator in “Driver 8” is stuck on the train. But he likes it that way. He’s just observing the power-lines that have floaters, and being an eves-dropper on the argument between the train conductor and the infamous Driver 8.   “Driver 8” brings you back to a world that’s gone, never to be seen again.

“Can’t Get There From Here”, while it doesn’t have the same feel as the rest of the album, retains the spirit of the American-journey about being at a cross-roads.  It has a soul/funk feel – jangled pop R.E.M. style.  I read about R.E.M. a few years ago that called this song one of their worst songs.  “Can’t Get There From Here” is unlike R.E.M. song for sure, but it’s fun and R.E.M. isn’t exactly a light-hearted band.  By the title, you could easily be mistaken that “Live and How To Live It” would be a preachy – but then this is R.E.M. in the 80’s and not U2 in the 80’s.  A live recording of this song included on the bonus disc of the 80’s collection And I Feel Fine, begins with a monologue by Stipe.  Stipe begins with a story about an old man who wrote hundreds of books, had them published, never gave one away and the title of the book was Life And How To Live It. Whether the story was true or not (you can never tell with Michael Stipe) it provides background for one of my favorite R.E.M. songs.  “Keep these books well stacked and take your happy home,” Stipe sings in the first verse.  If “Driver 8” was about escaping on an open-train, “Life and How to Live It” shows a person’s enjoyment of solitude and connection through books.

“Wendell Gee” the closer on Fables finds R.E.M. channeling their inner-Band and Gram Parsons.  Unlike the rest of the album which found R.E.M. exploring Americana through their post-punk influence, “Wendell Gee” is a tune ripped straight from the southern Appalachian mountains.  It’s a slow lament to an old man, propelled by Buck’s banjo.  It’s a perfect end to an album where R.E.M. discovered themselves, tapped into their Southern roots, and created something truly original.

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Eddie Vedder – The Best Surprise Guest?

No matter what you think of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder can sing.  And he also happens to be one hell of a performer.  He’s also an avid fan of music in general.  Pearl Jam sets are known just as much for their wide variety of covers as much as anything else.  It’s little wonder that he’s performed with dozens of bands and artists.  So he’s a few of my favorite Eddie Vedder guest appearances:

Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band: No Surrender (2004)

R.E.M. & Eddie Vedder: Man on the Moon (2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Introduction)

Pete Townshend & Eddie Vedder – Heart to Hang Onto (Letterman 1999).  Vedder has played numerous times with The Who and Townshend, but this has always been one of my favorites since I watched it when it aired.

My Morning Jacket & Eddie Vedder: It Makes No Difference (2006? Maybe?)

U2 & Eddie Vedder: Old Man River (2oo5)

Kings of Leon & Eddie Vedder – Slow Night, So Long (2007). Best version of this song ever.  Also, if you only know Kings of Leon by way of “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” they tear it up on this one.)

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Earth Day & “Cuyahoga”

After watching a video on Earth Day today I had no idea that the event was sparked by the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River.  While almost every knows of Earth Day, no as many people know about the burning of the Cuyahoga River.  I only know about it because of R.E.M.

R.E.M. chronicled the disaster in their 1986 song, “Cuyahoga”.  When I first heard the song when I was about 5 (I was a huge R.E.M. fan as a kid believe it or not)I had no idea about the Cuyahoga, or any idea of what the song meant.  I also thought  the chorus was “Puyahoga” instead of “Cuyahoga”  I asked one of my older brothers what the song was about.  When he told me, the idea that a river could actually burn stuck with me.  Even now, I’m slightly afraid if someone flicks their cigarette butt into the Chesapeke Bay it could end up like the Cuyahoga.  Hyperbole, I know.

The song begins with a memorable bass riff played by Mike Mills before the rest of the band kicks in.  “Let’s put our heads together start a new country up,” Michael Stipe announces.  Peter Buck sticks to his trademark chimes during the verses, but alternates between those and power-chords during the pre-chorus.  The song sounds like it starts out as a normal R.E.M. circa 1986, but the chorus turns into one arena friendly rock with its plaintive shouts of “Cuyahoga!” during the chorus.  Like a lot of R.E.M. songs, Michael Stipe alternates between glimpses of old memories (“We knee skinned that river you and me, We knee-skinned that river red”) and harsh reality (“Rewrite the book, and rule the pages, secured in faith.  Bury, burn the waste.”)  “Cuyahoga” is one of R.E.M.’s forgotten gems, but more than that, it’s also an important reminder of a piece of history.

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Great Follow Ups to Debut Albums

I recently heard MGMT’s new album Congratulations and was unimpressed.  Oracular Spectacular was a fascinating debut filled with some great songs (“Kids” and “Time to Pretend”).  Sometimes it’s hard to follow up great debuts with another great record.  Here’s a list of some of my favorites.

Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model. Boosted by the Attractions on the follow-up to My Aim is True, the music finally matches Costello’s nastiness.

R.E.M. – Reckoning. Reckoning takes away the murkiness of Murmur resulting in an album full of Byrds fueled college rock.

The Band – The Band. Another terrific set songs on the follow-up to Music from Big Pink. Doesn’t contain the “big hit” (ie – “The Weight”) but “Rag Mama Rag” and “King Harvest Has Surely Come” are undisputed classics.

Ryan Adams – Gold.  Heartbreaker Ryan Adam tried to be a modern Gram Parsons.  (Emmylou Harris even guests on one of the tracks.)  On Gold he attempted to take on The Rolling Stones circa Exile, and despite his prolific tendency, he’s never bettered Gold.

The Pogues – Rum Sodomy & The Lash. Red Roses For Me is good rowdy fun, Rum Sodomy & The Lash proved the Pogues were more than just Irish folk music on speed.

What are your favorite follow-ups?

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R.E.M. at 30

April 5 marks the 30th anniversary of R.E.M.’s first show in Athens, Georgia.   R.E.M. is a band whose importance on my life cannot be measured.  Although I don’t listen to them now as much as I used to, for a good portion of my childhood and teenage years they were the soundtrack of my life.   R.E.M.’s albums were the first tapes and CDs I had. 

Unlike a lot of other artists I listen to now, I cannot remember when I first heard R.E.M.  They were always there.  As the youngest of five, my older siblings were always playing whatever music that peaked their interest at the time.  Since my older sister and one of my brothers were in college during the mid 80’s, naturally they listened to R.E.M.  It didn’t matter if I couldn’t understand what Michael Stipe was singing about  (in fact on a good portion of the songs, I still can’t).  At this young age of of about 5 or 6 I wanted to be like my older siblings, and that meant if they liked R.E.M., I would too.  

In grade school and middle school, I used to scribble the names of R.E.M. songs and what I thought were lyrics on my binder, much to the chagrin of my classmates.  Looking back, it’s no wonder they thought I was weird.  One year, on the last day of school we were allowed to bring a tape of our favorite musical artists. I was so proud to bring my copy of Green to class, eager to show my classmates my obsession. For the life of me, I can’t remember what everyone else had (but it was mostly likely whatever was on the radio.)  When we finally got around to putting on Green, my classmates liked the first two songs (the bouncy pop of Pop Song 89 and singalong of Get Up) but the beauty of the mandolin-driven You Are The Everything was lost on them, and I had to turn it off.  

Every kid has their favorite movie growing up and one of mine happened to be R.E.M.’s concert film of their 1989 tour, aptly titled Tourfilm.  I used to beg my mom to let me watch it on Friday nights.  I had yet to attend an actual concert, so this was as close as I could come.  The live versions of the songs I had known since I was practically an infant were not drastically different from their album counterparts, but they were thrilling in their execution.  And even at the age of 10, I found Michael Stipe to be a charismatic performer.  One scene had him calling out a fan for littering on stage -“That better not be styrofoam, pal!”  I haven’t watched it in years, and I’m not sure I want to – I have such fond memories of it.  

When I was 13 I began to branch out and actually listen to the radio and listen to other musical artists.  I really liked Green Day because they sang about masturbation and being lazy, something every 13 year boy  can relate to.  But R.E.M. was still my first love.  I became obsessed with trying to listen into when WHFS would play the latest single What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?  Due to lots of static and various other factors, I always seemed to miss it.  I finally heard the song it when my brother Paul bought Monster. I listened to it non-stop.  To me, it might as well have been a gift from Heaven.  It was filled with loud guitars, distortion and sexual references I finally understood. I had never listened to guitarists like Clapton or Hendrix, so I thought the backwards solo on Kenneth was the most intricate piece of guitar work ever put on an album.  Circus Envy was the heaviest song I had ever heard with its crackling and fuzz sound effects layered throughout the entire song.  

October 31st 1997 was a day that is ingrained in my memory forever.  R.E.M.’s drummer Bill Berry left the band, due to a brain aneurism he  had two years previously while on tour.  To me this was like the Paul McCartney announcing that he had left the Beatles – I was devastated.  How could he do this to me?  I remember telling a friend of mine that “today was a shitty day” and I was quickly put in my place.  After Berry’s departure, I tried (like a lot of fans) to really accept the “new” R.E.M., but Up, Reveal, and the god-awful Around the Sun never struck a chord with me.  I bought them all because of a feeling of solidarity but it was never the same.   I moved on and discovered lots of artists to obsesses over.  Some of them eclipsed my love of R.E.M. (Bob Dylan, The Clash and Van Morrison among them).  

It wasn’t until 2008 that R.E.M. finally remembered that they were R.E.M. again with Accelerate.   It was short, tight and well constructed songs of vintage R.E.M. but played with experience of men in their late 40s.  When I saw them that summer, it was one of the greatest songs I’ve ever seen.  It wasn’t so much because it was a mind-blowing performance, but they pulled songs from their entire catalogue that had never been performed live, or very rarely.  If you had told me years earlier that I would see R.E.M. perform Driver 8, Little America, or These Days I would have  never believed you.   And the fact that I saw it with my older brother who had passed his love of R.E.M. onto me, it made that much sweeter.  

Driver 8 from 2008:


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