After a two-week hiatus during which The Robster has more than capably filled in for me, I’m back with the latest chronological installment of the R.E.M. singles, as released here in the UK.
It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that while myself and The Robster came to R.E.M. at similar times with Document being the first album we both picked up on, he very quickly looked to discover the back catalogue which I chose not to do on the ground of it being expensive (it was an era of CDs being stupidly priced and vinyl was no longer an option on the grounds of lack of storage space in a small flat).
This means that the early material and the posts I’m pulling together are written from the perspective of a being a very late arrival to the party and hearing the songs for the first time many years after their release. It also means the two of us pulling this series together (independently of one another as we don’t share the pieces until they are ready to be published) will likely come at some things from different angles. It might even mean that we disagree on some things…which I know from an e-mail exchange is certainly the case in terms of the songs on offer today!
As was mentioned by The Robster just last week, IRS had a bizarre habit of making strange choices as singles and I’ll add my opinion that further evidence to back this up emerged in October 1985.
One of the many books written about the band is Adventures In Hi-Fi : The Complete R.E.M. in which authors Rob Jovanovic and Tim Abbott provide an incredible amount of factual detail including the setlists from all the show of which there were a great many in 1985. Using their work, along with the info available on the online setlist.fm website, it can be seen where previous single Cant Get There From Here was aired at just about every one of the 115 shows that year, the closing track from the new album Fables of The Reconstruction was played just three times.
Wendell Gee was not one of the band’s favourite collective moments and it wasn’t a track they shared with the enthusiastic crowds who were coming in increasing numbers to their gigs at home and in Europe. And yet, this is the one that IRS decided to issue as the band’s sixth UK single, a decision made even more baffling by the fact it wasn’t released as a stand-alone 45 in the USA.
It might work well enough as a downbeat and slow-paced number to close off an album, albeit my own view is that it is the dullest and among the least memorable of the songs on Fables. It certainly has nothing going for it as a 45 – especially from a band still searching for that elusive breakthrough hit.
mp3: R.E.M – Wendell Gee
It was released in 7″ and 12″ form (with the blue background on the cover as shown at the top of this posting) along with a special as a 2×7″ release which came with the same photo but with a light green background.
One song was common to all three releases:-
mp3: R.E.M. – Crazy
A cover of a song by Pylon, another band to emerge out of Athens, GA in the late 70s/early 80s and who were very much at the heart of the scene when the four members of R.E.M. all found themselves in the town there for one reason or another. There’s a few folk out there who are fans of the band, and if anyone wants to write up any sort of appreciative post, then please feel free to do so. On the evidence of this underwhelming cover version, I haven’t been the least bit interested in seeking out anything else they have recorded.
The 12″ and double pack one song in common
mp3: R.E.M. – Driver 8 (live)
This was taken from a show at Music Hall, Seattle on 27 June 1984. The reasonably high-quality production reflects that the gig was taped for a radio broadcast. It’s a rendition of a song that I’ve long thought could have provided a breakthrough hit for the band, especially if it had been released in the summer of 85 when they were headlining their own tour of the UK as well as appearing on the bill of a large one-day festival in Milton Keynes at which U2 headlined and from which footage was broadcast on Channel 4.
Two previously unreleased tracks formed the second piece of vinyl in the double pack:-
mp3: R.E.M. – Ages of You
mp3: R.E.M. – Burning Down
As the sleevenotes on the compilation Dead Letter Office would later reveal, the two songs are in fact kissing cousins.
Ages Of You is one of the first band compositions, dating back to 1980, rising from the ashes of an existing song called Burning Down.
Peter Buck offers these thoughts:-
When we got tired of Burning Down, we kept the two pieces that we liked and rewrote the rest to come up with Ages of You. We got tired of that one, also.”
There had been some thought to include Ages of You on the Chronic Town EP back in 1982 but it was removed at a fairly late-stage on the basis of there not being a lot of love for it among the band or the new bosses at IRS Records in the process, with Wolves, Lower brought on board as its replacement. Both the versions on show today are taken from Dead Letter Office (a collection of b-sides and outtakes) rather than the single itself.
The Robster is back next week with Part 7.