If ‘Document’ saw R.E.M. move wholeheartedly into the political rock arena, then its successor ‘Green’ cranked it up another gear. Released during the 1988 US Presidential election campaign, the band wore their colours on their sleeves, endorsing the Democrats while heavily criticising the Republican candidate George Bush. Among its main themes was environmentalism, the album title being the giveaway. Musically, the band regard it as experimental following Michael Stipe’s request that they “didn’t write any more R.E.M.-type songs.”
In the UK, it was released with no singles preceding it. I bought it on the day of release (7 November 1988), the first time I’d done that for an R.E.M. record. It wasn’t until late January 1989 that, Stand was issued as the first UK single from ‘Green’. I suppose it was the obvious choice, but it seems to confirm my previous observations in this series about the choice of singles the band (or label) made to promote their albums. This was the first R.E.M. record on a major label, yet the same theme remained. Peter Buck described Stand as “without a doubt the stupidest song we’ve ever written.” Stipe added that his lyrics were deliberately inane to match the “super bubblegummy songs” the band offered up following a discussion about 60s pop groups like the Banana Splits and the Archies.
mp3: R.E.M. – Stand
Does Stand represent ‘Green’? Absolutely not. Does it sound like an R.E.M. single? Totally. In fact, Warners thought it was worthy of releasing twice! First time around, the 7” was backed by a short instrumental called Memphis Train Blues, essentially a mandolin-led blues song. A typically throwaway, non-essential piece.
The 12” added an instrumental version of the album’s closing track. Unlisted on the album sleeve and label, the track was officially known as 11 for copyright purposes. On it, the band switched instruments with Buck on drums, Berry on bass and Mills on guitar. The b-side version was given the title (The Eleventh Untitled Song), was 45 seconds longer and omitted the vocal.
This original release stalled at #51, something of a dud when you consider the band’s increasing renown and ever-growing fan-base, coupled with the overtly radio-friendly nature of the song. So it’s perhaps no surprise that, given the next single became R.E.M.’s first UK top 30 hit, Stand was given a second crack at the whip later in the year, with new cover art to boot.
This time, the b-sides were a little more interesting. An acoustic version of ‘Green’’s opener Pop Song 89 graced the 7” format, while a live cover of the Ohio Players’ Skin Tight was added to the 12”.
The re-release coincided with the European leg of the Green Tour, the band’s biggest, most expansive jaunt to date. I had, just a month earlier, seen them for the first time at Wembley Arena in London. Unfortunately, none of this was enough to propel the single to dizzy heights, this time stalling at an only slightly better #48.
Stand was a better track than Cant Get There From Here, no doubt about it, but it still doesn’t rate among the band’s finest songs. It doesn’t rate among the finest songs on ‘Green’, in my opinion (they would be World Leader Pretend, Turn You Inside-Out and You Are The Everything). It did not give the band the super-sized global hit the record company had no doubt been hoping for, but mega-stardom was a lot closer than many people thought…