THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 11)

As it turned out, a little bit of miscommunication resulted in both myself and The Robster thinking we had responsibility for pulling together a piece on the eleventh single to be released in the UK.  Rather than have anything go to waste, we felt it would be worthwhile giving you two for the price of one.

The Robster

The One I Love may have been the first R.E.M. song I heard, but it would only have been on the radio in the background so I wouldn’t have taken much notice of it. It was another track that was the first that I heard properly. In March 2014, I wrote about the revelatory moment when a mate at college lent me a copy of ‘Document’ when I was just 16, thus kickstarting a two-decade obsession with a band who would become responsible for me meeting and marrying the love of my life.

The full article is here [http://isthis-thelife.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-college-years-part-two-document.html] but if you don’t have the time/can’t be bothered, I’ll summarise parts of it here.

Nils Horley was a guy who fed my music obsession, blasting blues and rock at me whenever I visited his bedsit. One Friday afternoon in December, he approached me and asked: “Ever heard any R.E.M.?” “Errr, no,” came the reluctant reply.  I so wanted to say yes and sound cool, but I couldn’t tell a lie. “Listen to this,” he said as he handed me a cassette. “I bought it for my brother for Christmas so can I have it back on Monday?” And thus the seed was sown.

What Nils lent me was a copy of R.E.M.’s fifth album ‘Document’. Before I even played it, I was intrigued, just by the curious artwork alone. At 4pm, I boarded the bus outside the college, slipped the cassette into my Walkman and hit play. POW! There were a number of things that hit me between the eyes immediately. The opening snare hit, the distorted, single-note guitar line backed by the drums, eventually giving way to a voice the likes of which I’d never heard before – its reedy, almost sneering resonance disconcerted me for a bit. It was something I clearly needed time to get used to. It took about 40 minutes.

“The time to rise has been engaged,” Stipe sings as the album’s opening lines. To a 16-year-old raised as a working-class socialist through the god-awful Thatcher years, this was an inspiration; a call-to-arms, a rallying cry. “What we want and what we need has been confused.” Another line that still resonates 33 years later. Those first 20 seconds of ‘Document’ woke me from my teenage slumbers. I already sensed I was listening to something special, even if it did take a little longer to realise just how special R.E.M. were.

The journey home from college that day was like no other. ‘Document’ was my soundtrack not just for the bus ride, but most of that entire evening and throughout the weekend. I don’t think I played anything else. It has since become one of the most important records in my life, if not the most important. It was certainly a game-changer of gigantic proportions.

That opening song which thrust me headlong into the world of R.E.M. was Finest Worksong, and by the time it was released as the third and final single off ‘Document’ in March 1988, I had become North Devon’s biggest R.E.M. fan and had already started seeking out their back catalogue. It also became the first R.E.M. single I bought. There was a 7” released in the UK and Europe which contained the album version, but the global 12” release featured two alternative versions.

The first of these was the first R.E.M track to get the remix treatment for a 12” and as 12” mixes go it’s OK. I’ve heard a lot worse. Both mixes included an added horn section. The ‘Other Mix’ was initially intended as the official single version, but for some reason the album version was preferred for the 7”. It later appeared on the compilation ‘Eponymous’ retitled the ‘Mutual Drum Horn Mix’. To this day I’m undecided exactly what the horns add to the song. They’re not bad or anything, they’re just… there. Whatever – Finest Worksong reached number 50 in the UK charts, the band’s highest placing to date.

The b-side of all formats was the real treat though. Recorded live in Holland during the 1987 Work Tour, Stipe and Buck run through a medley of three songs in the quietest, tenderest, most utterly spellbinding finale to a show you’ll ever hear. Buck gently chimes on his Rickenbacker to two songs from ‘Reckoning’Time After Time and So. Central Rain – hyphenated by a brief interpretation of Peter Gabriel’s Red Rain, while Stipe sings delicately, as if the songs were lullabies, before allowing his voice to soar towards a climax.

It’s 8+ minutes of perfection, and a breathtaking conclusion to the ‘Document’ period. In fact, it was the end of the band’s indie status as less than 8 months after the single’s release, the first R.E.M. album for a major label would appear. A new chapter would begin and nothing would be the same for Athens, GA.’s finest ever again.

JC

You’ll have gathered by now that the release of R.E.M. singles was very much hit and miss, with I.R.S not really sure what to do.

The third and final single lifted from Document almost, on its own, made up for all mishaps over the previous years.  I’ve written previously about this single, with its first appearance being on the old blog as long ago as June 2007, the words of which I was able to find in the archives and re-post in September 2013.  But, if the record label can get away with repeat re-releases, then I’m going to follow its example and re-produce the words which have appeared previously.

“Yesterday (20 June 2007), I picked up second-hand copies of a couple of 12″ singles from the IRS days.

This single was released in April 1988, a full 7 months after the album Document came out, and so it was given a different recording and mix featuring a horns section. A shorter version of this was later put on the compilation LP Eponymous, but to the best of my knowledge, the track in all its glory is only available on the 12″ single. The band left IRS two days after the UK release of Finest Worksong and signed for Warner Brothers.

The b-side to the Worksong single is a live medley taken from a recording made by Vara Radio in Holland of the band’s concert in Utrecht on 14 September 1987. According to the set-list reproduced in the book Adventures In Hi-Fi : The Complete R.E.M. by Rob Jovanovic and Tim Abbott (Orion Publishing 2001), the three-track medley, which comprises Time After Time, Red Rain (a cover of the Peter Gabriel song) and So. Central Rain was the fourth and final encore of the show. Much of it is Michael Stipe singing acapella, with Peter Buck seemingly the only other band member on stage. It’s a very quiet recording, so you may have to crank up your volume for best effect.

The other track on the b-side of the 12″ was this. more or less, the version of Worksong that was later included on Eponymous.”

I said at the outset that the release of this single by I.R.S. almost made up for previous mishaps.  By that I mean we finally saw the band get the remix treatment and while the addition of the horns for the full 12″ version, reaching to just under six minutes, is just a bit much, the other mix does give what was already an outstanding song that little bit more oomph and there are days I sometimes think of it as being superior to the original….and then I come to my senses!!

I am, however, very grateful for the live medley getting to see the light of day. It’s very very lovely.

mp3: R.E.M. – Finest Worksong (Lengthy Club Mix)
mp3: R.E.M. – Finest Work Song (Other Mix)
mp3: R.E.M. – Time After Time etc.

And with that, we have reached the end of the I.R.S. era.  The Robster will be flying solo for the next three weeks to guide you through the initial installments of the major years.

JC

8 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 11)

  1. Let’s Talk About The Passion in this post. 2 people who come to a similar conclusion about The Finest Worksong but each with their own emotive tale to tell … what a superb read.

    How well the moment is captured as the impact of a song/LP makes it’s mark.

    I’d suggest that a double-up on some future singles would be welcomed by this reader.

    Thanks to both.

  2. Excellent posts both. I wish that I could re-experience the feeling that Robster so eloquently describes upon hearing the opening of Finest Worksong. This is definitely the first time that I felt REM managed to release the best possible track from an album as a single (Radio Free Europe was before my time). Although it isn’t that big a deal to have great singles, there is always an element of pride and joy when friends can hear that the band you’ve banged on about for years are actually worth the love.

  3. Again, REM singles weren’t a thing in the US but ‘Finest Worksong’ wasn’t only a single and the LP lead-off track, it was the song they opened with on the Document tour. And it was incredible. I had seen the Pageantry tour in ’86. While NYC’s Felt Forum was a big hall, the band was still a “college rock” outfit (i.e. indie), at least for the time being. But a year later REM was headlining a run of sold out shows at Radio City, which was a very big deal indeed. They had hit the big time and never looked back. Thanks to a quality LP and heavy MTV rotation they were totally mainstream now. A great song from a great album. The last REM album I bought as it turns out…

  4. YES! Finest Worksong, for me is everything R.E.M. was working towards when Document was released. It is a powerful song to lead an album with, it may have set a pretty high bar, IMO, as well. The band wasn’t a singles band for me, or possibly anyone in the USA. Instead, they were becoming an MTV band. Sure I now a video on MTV meant there was also a single out there that it promoted, but that didn’t move me to buy it. Thankfully it wouldn’t be until Eponymous that I heard the horn intrusion into the son on the remixes. What ARE they doing there?
    In any case, it’s the circular/endless groove feel of the opening, buzzing, guitar line that acts as a sort of musical whirlpool pulling me down into the song. The vocals and backing also have an urgency and anthemic quality that sounds so strong and immoveable. Stipe is on his soapbox and he’s wearing lead weighted boots. You can’t knock him down. The final instrumental coda trades in some wonderful Post-Punk guitar and bass. It wouldn’t be until Turn You Inside-Out on Green that I would have the same reaction to an R.E.M. track.

  5. I completely agree with Swiss Adam. The post was literally a doubly enjoyable read and I enjoyed the personal reflections in the comments as well. Document was the first R.E.M. album I heard and it was the expanded CD edition a few years later that introduced me to the songs on this 12″ single. I never got to a R.E.M. concert, but Time After Time, etc. is one of those performances that really makes me wish I was there. Incredible

  6. I see this post as a CD1 & CD2 of a single. The comments that
    followed are the b-sides, and each one is a gem. Great read.

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