THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 2)

SWC has provided some outstanding entertainment over the past few months but it is now time for Sundays to be returned to its traditional slot of looking at the UK singles released over the years by a singer or band.  The spotlight was most recently shone on The Auteurs/Luke Haines, while previous efforts have included Simple Minds, Marc Almond, Paul Haig, Grinderman, New Order, XTC, Undertones, Buzzcocks, Cinerama, The Clash, The Style Council, The Jam, Altered Images, and James.

It’s fair to say that some efforts have been better received than others and a few suffered from fatigue in that they covered too long a period and/or some 45s were pretty sub-standard.  There’s a chance that by deciding to go with R.E.M. that something similar will happen, but hopefully not for a long while.  This will, all being well, run for over a year…..

And the reason it is kicking off with Part 2 is all down to the fact that Radio Free Europe, featured, very recently, as part of the great debut singles feature.

The Hib-Tone version of Radio Free Europe was released in July 1981 and was a USA-only release.  The same was true for the next piece of vinyl, the Chronic Town EP in August 1982.  A year later, the band re-recorded the debut single for inclusion on the LP Murmur, and new label, IRS, decided to issue it as a single.  It charted at #78 at home but didn’t do anything in the UK.  For the sake of completeness, and to bring this long and rambling into to a merciful conclusion, here is its b-side:-

mp3: R.E.M. – There She Goes Again

It’s a rather perfunctory cover of The Velvet Underground song.  This was one of the first songs I ever heard by R.E.M. and I thought it was so dismal that it put me off them for a long time – it would take until the release of Document in 1987 before I began to pay proper interest.

Let’s quickly move on to November 1983.

IRS issued Talk About The Passion as a promo-only 12″ single in the USA with the two b-sides, Catapult, and Sitting Still, similarly taken from Murmur.  Here in the UK, the track was given a proper, if somewhat limited release, on 12″ vinyl with Shaking Through, also from Murmur, included while the flip-side offered up two of the tracks from the otherwise unavailable Chronic Town EP:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Talk About The Passion
mp3: R.E.M. – Shaking Through
mp3: R.E.M. – Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)
mp3: R.E.M. – 1,000,000

I can now totally understand why the early singles and debut album had such an impact on those who picked up on the band at the very beginning, but I still feel that ‘Passion’, after an amazing instrumental opening and initially mesmeric vocal delivery, folds in on itself after about two minutes and becomes repetitive and I find myself switching off.

The b-sides are all reasonable enough without really setting any heather on fire.  I certainly don’t think they were, or are, as memorable and timeless as many of the UK singles from indie-guitar bands that I was more familiar with back in 1983.

Bring on the brickbats………

JC

12 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 2)

  1. I think everything you say is true JC…I think a lot of REM’s success was timing and then consistency 1987-1995. For example Echo and the B would be making greater songs in the early 80’s but they couldn’t keep up the quality. I too only really got into REM through Document and then Green blew me away. Incidentally listened to Out of Time again recently and whilst it has some great tracks it isn’t as good as I originally remember it…..

  2. I was in early with R.E.M due principally to a friend who was besotted by them. I’m in his debt. The time spent at record fares searching for fan club singles etc. … happy days.

    I thoroughly enjoy Talk About The Passion and all of the associated b-sides – I think that may be down to nostalgia rather than song quality.

    I am looking forward to this series. Recently a friend introduced me to Discogs collection and when adding R.E.M I just had to listen to each release. Ahhhh….

  3. As you know I’ve written about R.E.M. an awful lot so I won’t repeat myself here. I missed your Radio Free Europe piece originally though. I’m glad you pointed out that the so-called “Original Hib-Tone Version” actually wasn’t. To be honest, there’s not a great deal of difference between them to the untrained ear.

    I found myself discovering R.E.M. through Document and worked backwards. Murmur still sounds incredible, but I don’t think Talk About The Passion was the best choice for a single. That would have been Pilgrimage, Sitting Still or Perfect Circle IMO. I do have the 12″ though, one of many finds in second-hand record shops and record fairs over the years.

    Looking forward to hearing what you think about the other singles, and also interested in what singles you actually feature as they often released different tracks in different territories.

  4. Cheers Rob

    The plan is just to feature the singles released in the UK, that way I shouldn’t gey myself tied up in knots. You are more than very welcome to contribute guest postings to the series if you wanted.

  5. Good choice. I always liked Dead Letter Office, so I have fondness for their oddities and throw aways. But some really are throw aways. Looking forward to their BIG period when the CD singles seemed to come in box sets and there was some really good stuff on there (particularly live). And my favourite track is a B-side version of So. Central Rain. So thanks – looking forward to it.

  6. For me, R.E.M.’s early appeal in the colleges and universities of the US is something that I’d call ‘Aerosmith syndrome’. Aerosmith’s early appeal in the US was to fans of Led Zep, Deep Purple and such weren’t always there but Aerosmith were always in a town somewhere.
    US touring music in the mid 80s were the likes of RATT, Van Halen and Poison. All the big ‘campus bands’ like the Bunnymen were from the UK. If you wanted to see a jangley guitar band then you were fucked…. so when R.E.M. arrived it must have been a big relief. Here was an indie band that good songs (in some cases great songs) that you could see….

  7. Excited for this series. Shaking Through is my current favorite song from Murmur, although that changes every year. I regard the song as underrated. This music sounded otherworldly when heard as a kid in California. They sounded like a hobo cult of young train jumpers.

  8. R.E.M. started “college rock” right when I started college, so I was lucky with timing and got into them from the beginning. I got to see the Life’s Rich Pageant and Document tours, by which time they hadn’t released anything that wasn’t outstanding. I’m psyched for this series because I don’t know much at all about the band’s middle and later career. Like the Cure, they were a little band I really liked that went hyper mainstream and I couldn’t abide sharing them with the masses.

  9. Well brother JTFL, I am coming to the comments on this one from the exact same space. WNYU-FM played the hell out of Radio Free Europe every single afternoon between 4pm and 7pm. I enjoyed Murmer when it came out, but there was something much more “Southern” about their sound than say B-52s or Pylon which I took more time for me to process. I would be fully onboard by Life’s Rich Pageant though.
    The beauty of Talk About The Passion is Stipe’s vocals. Also, having slaved through 5 years of Junior and Senior High School French, the line “combien de temps.” made me smile…

  10. I did not have the good fortune of access to a WNYU or other college radio station, but I did hear R.E.M in the early days. I used to record Late Night With David Letterman every night on the same VHS tape night after night. I was too young to stay up, and this exercise was mostly for the musical guests which often tended to be ahead of the curve in the early ’80s. R.E.M. performed Radio Free Europe and S. Central Rain in the fall of ’83. I got Murmur for Christmas that year. I still think highly of Chronic Town, Murmur and Reckoning. I put Fables of the Reconstruction and Life’s Rich Pageant a step behind the first two albums but still quite good. Similar to JTFL’s sentiments, by Document there were kids around school I didn’t particularly like “sporting” R.E.M. T-shirts. The same thing with the Cure. That was the end of the road for me with both bands. Like JTFL, I didn’t want to share with the cool kids. I have never heard an R.E.M album that had the Warner Bros. label on it.

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