THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 9)

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength,
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Six o’clock, T.V. hour, don’t get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
I feel fine (I feel fine)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

The other night I drifted nice continental drift divide
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck, right, right

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

And when played live, the audience to a man, woman and child take great delight in chanting, on cue and in time, ‘Leonard Bernstein’.

A song that has always been one of the most-loved and most popular in the entire back catalogue. It appealed immediately to the fans of old (or so I understand from reading contemporary reviews) and it has always found favour with those who would discover R.E.M. in later years. And it’s the song that got me interested in the band.

I wasn’t doing much in terms of music in 1987. My personal life had been falling to bits in some ways and my drastic solution was to look to settle down and get married. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight it was doomed from the outset as we had, outside of a similar sense of humour, not a great deal in common – and most obviously when it came to music. So, I was going through a period of trying to fit in with the mainstream and not paying attention to what was happening out there – the subsequent gaps in my education would later be filled by the efforts of a few people, but mainly Jacques the Kipper, a work colleague at the time and now a lifelong and valued friend.

The radio was playing in the kitchen of Sunday evening when I was sitting in the house where my fiance lived with her parents – everyone else was watching a TV drama and I was catching up on some reading of papers for a meeting at work the following day. All of a sudden, I’m distracted by an upbeat tune accompanied by the delivery of a nonsensical lyric at breakneck speed. The DJ, Annie Nightingale, then said she had just played the new single by R.E.M. that had been requested by someone from somewhere I’ve forgotten. I hadn’t quite caught the name of the song but assumed it was called And I Feel Fine.

A couple of months later and I hear another song by R.E.M. on the radio. It’s a love song, of that I’m sure, but it’s played again at a breakneck speed with a memorable guitar riff and solo. I’m not buying much in the way of new music but I decide I’m going to get my hands on the new album, which I’ve seen in the shops, but as it’s now not that long till Christmas, I decide to wait and add it to the list of presents from Santa.

25 December 1987. The first time I ever owned anything by R.E.M. You never forget your first time which is why Document will always be my favourite album of theirs, without question.

Years later, I’m long divorced, re-married (happily!!) and I’ve got this new music blog going that has rekindled a love for vinyl. I’m constantly in and out of second-hand shops seeking out, in the main, the sort of stuff I missed out on in the late 80s. Any R.E.M. singles, especially on 12″ are grabbed without hesitation – and that’s why I have a number of them now sitting proudly in the cupboard (all the while kicking myself that I went down the CD singles route in the early 90s for the later releases).

It was still a huge thrill to get my hands on the vinyl and I couldn’t wait to get home and give it a spin. It was originally released in the UK in August 1987 but once again proved to be a failure in terms of sales. I don’t think anyone at IRS was too worried as the different single that had been released over in the USA in August 1987 was proving to be a monster hit and was making stars out of the band members – and that’s me setting up the scenario for the next installment of this series!! But let’s return to today, as there’s still quite a back story to be told.

It’s The End Of The World.……was issued in 7″ and 12″ format. It wasn’t changed or edited from the album version.

mp3: R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

The b-side of the 7″ had one live song and the 12″ had two-live songs, both taken from an acoustic set played at Mccabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica on 24 May 1987. This particular show happened while the new album was being mixed in Los Angeles (it has been recorded in Nashville); it was seen, at the time, as a one-off, organised to raise funds for a friend who was fighting a costly legal battle. R.E.M were billed at the top but it was very much a collective effort involving a number of kindred spirits and friends – Steve Wynn and Kendra Smith (The Dream Syndicate), Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), Jenny Homer (Downey Mildew), Peter Case (ex-The Nerves) and David Roback (The Rain Parade, and later, Mazzy Star). Indeed, it was Steve Wynn who opened the show, playing his own material and covers, followed by Natalie Merchant and eventually one or more of Stipe, Mills or Buck would join the revolving cast- being an acoustic show in a tiny venue, Bill Berry’s talents weren’t able to be utilised.

The show was bootlegged and cassette copies were soon readily available. The band liked what they heard and decided that part of it should be given an official release via b-sides, which happened on both sides of the Atlantic, thereby creating an unusual situation that the b-sides were the same but the a-sides were different!

mp3: R.E.M. – This One Goes Out (live – McCabe’s Record Shop)
mp3: R.E.M. – Maps and Legends (live – McCabe’s Record Shop)

Yup, the first of the songs was carrying that title in May 1987 – it would become The One I Love later on in the process as the band completed the mixing and began to pull the artwork together. It was the seventh song to be aired at McCabes and the first in which Michael Stipe took lead vocal. Oh, and the guitar part is not the work of Peter Buck, but is played by Geoff Gans who was the art department boss at I.R.S. Records who, prior to establishing himself in graphics, had played guitar with local bands in LA.

It was the only song on which Gans played at the show, with Buck coming on board right after.

Here’s the other thing worth mentioning – McCabes was actually two sets in the one show. The first set closed with the ensemble getting together for a bunch of covers played back-to-back, and following an interval, a second set followed a similar format with Steve Wynn opening proceedings in advance of the members of R.E.M. taking to the stage. I only mention this as this new song. This One Goes Out, was aired again during the second set but this time with Peter Buck on guitar – and yet, the decision was taken to go with the version from the first set.

Maps and Legends was aired during the first set with just Stipe and Buck on stage at the time.

Apologies for the length of today’s post, but there was just so much to write about in connection with this particular single, both from a personal standpoint and from the fact that this, at the time, unheralded live show in a guitar shop, would point the way for R.E.M. in later years.

It’s me again next week with some thoughts on The One I Love.

JC

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

  1. Document – me too! It isn’t necessarily the best REM album but it was the first one I really loved. I was at uni in London 1987-1990 and I used to walk to uni each morning and on my Walkman Document was the constant in my ears (Julian H Cope a close second). I also remember being so stoked up when Green was about to come out that I bought the LP in Tower Records and got it home and the needle jumped!
    Now i’m 5 ft 4 and mild mannered but when the manager said he wouldn’t get me a new copy I nearly chinned him…that’s how much REM meant to me in the late 80’s…

  2. My recollection is that this became ‘big’ (more common place) following the success of The One I Love video promo? Here I go again … I thought this would be the ‘hit’. It wasn’t. Like other singles it later became an absolute floor filler at indie club nights 88/89 as it filtered through and the success of Green kicked in – even the psychobillies slammed to it.

  3. I think what End Of The World proves is that chart positions do not dictate whether or not a song is a “hit”. It’s how people react to a song that makes it so. Most people who listen to popular music will know this song, even if it’s not their preferred genre, whatever their age. That’s what makes it a hit.

    I once played a solo version of this, as a last-minute support act for my old band (I’d quit a few months before and they were desperate – like, REALLY desperate). I played to about 6 people, three of whom were the band, and I’m sure it was excruciating to listen to. But everyone there sang the chorus and screamed “LEONARD BERNSTEIN”!

    Sadly, it’s another song I’m pretty tired of now.

  4. Tired of it! I thought I felt the same having heard it so many times over he past 30+ years. Than I put Document on last week (yes, as a result of/ preparation for this blog) and found myself leaping around and loving “It’s the End of the World” as much as I had on first hearing. The sheer joy of the chorus (and Mike Mills bleating “time I had some time alone” – Oh the irony at the moment) remains uplifting.
    As to the b-sides – I bought the 12″ on release and “This One Goes Out” did strike an immediate chord. For a long time I preferred it to the album version. Now that I haven’t really listened to it for many years, I’m not so sure. Best go and search it out…
    Thanks for the background info about the McCabe’s gig, JC.

  5. Never apologise for writing a longer post JC.
    Document was my entry point too and this song as everyone has said is a fan favourite, one thats truck all the right chords. Stipe’s lyrics are great, nonsense but nonsense you can now hear, and his delivery is superb. Mike Mills’ counterpoint mentioned above- ‘Its time I had some time alone’- seemed to stand out more and more as time went on, a different tone to snakes and birds and aeroplanes and Lester Bangs and Lenny Bruce. I saw them on the Green tour in May ’89, a superb gig and I have to say this was the only song that didn’t seem right- too fast, too much of a blur. That aside, I love it still.

  6. McCabe’s is a short par 3 from my front door. I wasn’t out here in ’87 but, man, that would have been a great show in that tiny little shop. (It’s an actual working guitar shop.) I’ve seen Steve Wynn and Peter Case there but never a major league act like REM.
    I was excited by ‘End of the World’ when it came out but probably have heard it enough times by now.
    And I’m glad it was someone else that referred to Mills bleating out the counterpoint lyric!

  7. Document caught me off-guard. The sound was Big, something that I didn’t expect from R.E.M. at this point. But by 86/87, lots of music was produced with a Big Music sound, I just didn’t feel attached to the songs on Document.
    A point of release fact, in the US, The One I Love was the the first single from Document in the USA, coming out in the summer of 87.
    ITEOTWAWKI, for me, was the sound of R.E.M. searching for something -it was so obviously built on an a Subterranean Homesick Blues vibe. It sounded and, thanks to MTV, was very radio friendly and I took that as being too calculated. It was also the band’s real entrance into being a video band in The States.
    Listening to Document decades later, I haven’t changed my opinion too much and my favorite track on the album still remains the opener, Finest Worksong.

  8. Probably suffers from over-familiarity (like another big R.E.M.
    single that will be along shortly), but it is always a treat to hear.
    I’d assumed it was a big chart hit and am v surprised to read that
    it wasn’t.

  9. My first REM album was Green. Although I was aware of them. An old mate of mine used to rave on about them and even put End Of the World on an indie mix tape for me. He seen them at the now defunct Tiffany’s in Newcastle upon Tyne sometime in the early to mid 80s. I seen them at the NEC back in 89. Great gig.

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