THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 3)

Since coming back to vinyl, inspired by taking up this blogging nonsense back in 2006, I’ve picked up some second-hand early singles by R.E.M., all for nothing more than £1 or £2 as that was back in the days when folk were still looking to clear homes of what they regarded as useless junk. Besides, all the tracks, including b-sides could be found on compilation CDs as IRS did everything they could think of to cash in on the world-wide fame that had come in the early 9os with the albums on Warner Bros.

The band’s third UK 45, from March 1984, is my oldest single. It’s the lead-off from the sophomore album, Reckoning, which was released the following month (not that I was paying attention at the time – I was obsessed with The Smiths)

mp3: R.E.M. – So. Central Rain

A song so timeless and enduring that the band was performing it as part of the live sets until almost the very end. It’s hard to imagine, but the very distinctive and memorable opening few notes were only added at a very late stage in the recording process. The band knew they had a classic on their hands but as Peter Buck would later explain:-

“[Producers] Mitch Easter and Don Dixon had the idea that the intro was weak — which it was. They came in early one day, and Don took a little guitar hook out of the chorus and stuck it on the front of the song. In those days, you physically had to cut the tapes up and splice them back into a new position, so it wasn’t quite as simple as it is now. When we came in, they played it to us, and we went, ‘Wow! That’s great!’ ”

It’s a song whose title doesn’t appear in the lyric, and this the reason why the sleeve advised that the name of the track was So.Central Rain (I’m Sorry), just in case any unassuming would-be purchaser wasn’t entirely sure of what they were trying to track down.

The 7″ and 12″ releases came with different b-sides, and again there was a reliance on cover versions:

7″

mp3: R.E.M. – Walter’s Theme/King Of The Road

The former is a short, 90-second long instrumental, aside from a couple of spoken/sung lines and yelps from Michael Stipe that leads immediately into a country-band style cover of the Roger Miller classic that seems to be been captured live in the studio, possibly from a jam. Worth mentioning that the 7″ refers to it as being just the one song:-

12″

mp3: R.E.M. – Pale Blue Eyes

Voice of Harold features the same tune as 7 Chinese Bros., the second track on Reckoning. I’m not sure if it is an earlier effort with the tune or it was just the band having a bit of fun in the studio as the lyric on the b-side is Stipe simply reading out, in time with the tune, the notes that appear on the back of The Joy Of Knowing Jesus by The Revelaires, a gospel album that happened to be in the studio in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The second track is another Velvet Underground cover, not quite as shambolic as There She Goes Again, but again, it’s nothing all that special.

JC

9 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 3)

  1. Without any hesitation, I can say So. Central Rain is far and away my favorite R.E.M. song. That guitar hook that opens the song makes you stop and pay attention. There’s a real vulnerability in the lyrics and Stipe’s confident, yet emotional and haunting performance. The guitar and bass are everything that can be pointed to being classic R.E.M. From the first time I heard So. Central Rain, I had the image of a man singing the song looking out the window of a Southern railway car as it sped through gray wet skies and rural landscapes.

  2. I won my copy of Reckoning (and this single as a bonus) in a Smash Hits competition and this was when I really started to get into R.E.M. The single was amazing (to my young years) and I still feel the same way nearly 40 years on.

  3. I actually really like the version of Pale Blue Eyes, however rough it might sound. I know it was a fovourite of the band too and surprised they never had another, more polished go at it.

  4. I was mildly disappointed by Reckoning on its release (ccompared with Murmur anyway) and So. Central Rain didn’t particularly stand out. Then I went to see them on the Fables tour at the Hammersmith Palais. The performance of the song with just Stipe and Buck, slowed down and stripped back was the highlight (apart from Stipe splitting his trousers and my girlfriend recognising Radar Love from its opening bars) of an extraordinary night. Since that point it has, even in the album version, been a favourite. A live version much like the one I recall is on the b-side of a Document (?) era single I think. Well worth seeking out.

  5. According to a recent book on REM’s early years, Stipe was blocked and depressed in the studio and couldn’t find a vocal path for 7 Chinese Bros. Easter and Dixon had him read the back of the record to just have fun and take the pressure off. “Voice of Harold” is Stipe doing the unstuck and getting his mojo back. We get to see the vocal melody coming together like watching a tailor chalk-up a suit.

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