First of all….a really big thanks to everyone who has come in on the back of each of the previous postings with thoughts, observations and comments. It’s always appreciated and I do hope of all, or at least most of you, will stick with us on this epic journey which is likely to last the best part of a year all told.
The Robster was right with his assessment that July 1986 saw the release of one of R.E.M.’s best-ever singles.
Fall On Me was everything you would expect from a band who were being increasingly put forward, in the USA at least, as the saviours of guitar-pop with an independent bent. The subsequent album hit the stores two weeks later, and ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ continued the happy trend of each new album initially selling more copies than its predecessor.
September – November 1986 saw the band out on the road in North America playing 64 shows in 82 days, in ever-increasing sized venues, leaving no real opportunity for any promotional activities around any follow-up single, of which there were three or four strong candidates, especially from the first side of the latest album which was as strong and consistent as anything they had ever released to this point.
The second side of LRP, however, was a pointer to the fact that the band had almost exhausted itself of material with two tracks from 1980 being resurrected in the studio along with the decision to add an obscure cover to take the number of songs on the album up to twelve with a running time short of 40 minutes. IRS was, nevertheless, determined to make sure there was some new product to coincide with the tour and on 4 November, in the same week as the band was set to play two sell-out shows in New York, they released a second single from LRP in the shape of Superman.
The same single would then receive a UK release in March 1987.
On the face of it, releasing a second single from an album isn’t really a crime. IRS, however, was quite perverse in going with Superman as it was the cover version that had been tagged onto the end of the album to prevent any fans feeling they were being short-changed. It was also a track on which Mike Mills and not Michael Stipe sang lead vocals……..
Superman dates from 1969, released as a b-side by The Clique, a pop band hailing from Houston, Texas. Its introduction to the R.E.M. canon can be traced back to early 1986 when, having come off a gruelling tour the previous year, the band took some time away to do their own projects. In the case of the rhythm section, Mike Mills and Bill Berry hooked up with three friends to form The Corn Cob Webs, a covers band whose aim was to play in small venues around their home town of Athens. In the end, there was just the one show, but among the tunes they rolled out was Superman, with Mike taking lead vocal duties as he was the only one who knew the words.
Fast forward a few months and everyone is in the studio recording songs for the new album and possible b-sides. A run-through of Superman confirms that it would make for a decent enough b-side in the near or far future. They get to the mixing stage and there’s a late change of plan to now add it to the album, but as something of a hidden track that wouldn’t be listed on the sleeve. It was also decided to give it a quirky introduction by recording a Japanese toy Godzilla….
I think all of the above indicates that having the song issued as a bonafide single was the last thing on the band’s collective minds.
mp3: R.E.M. – Superman
The single flopped on release in the USA. Unsurprisingly, it did the same in the UK come March 1987.
Here’s the b-sides
mp3: R.E.M. – White Tornado
mp3: R.E.M. – Femme Fatale
The latter was only available on the 12″ release. It sees the band, for the third time, offer a take on a Velvet Underground song. The recording dated back to 1984 from the same semi-drunken sessions as Pale Blue Eyes which had, if you recall, been used a b-side to So. Central Rain.
But it was the song on the reverse of the 7″ as well as the 12″ that was the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped.
White Tornado is a throwaway surf-style instrumental that dated back to the very beginning of the band, written at the same time as songs such as Radio Free Europe. The version offered up on Superman was from a session recorded in April 1981.
The relationship with IRS was souring and work was about to get underway on the songs for the fifth studio album, after which the band would be free to go elsewhere. R.E.M. could now put themselves into a shop window if they so chose.