THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 12)

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.

mp3: R.E.M. – Memphis Train Blues

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.

mp3: R.E.M. – (The Eleventh Untitled Song)

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 PlayersSkin Tight was added to the 12”.

mp3: R.E.M. – Pop Song 89 (acoustic version)
mp3: R.E.M. – Skin Tight (live)

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…

The Robster

13 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 12)

  1. I think I was always put off from buying R.E.M. singles for the reason that the exclusive/unreleased/live tracks were quite hit and miss. I didn’t realise Stand was released twice as a single in the UK, but is a perfect example of the either/or scenario. This is the first time I’ve heard the versions of (The Eleventh Untitled Song) and Skin Tight but the 12″ single re-release would definitely have been my choice of the two.

    As for Stand, I love it for what it is, but I agree with your opinion on the finer songs on Green. I’d even argue that Get Up was the better pop song on the album, but Warners UK clearly disagreed as it didn’t get a single release here.

  2. The broken records says … I really like Stand. I agree there are significantly more engaging songs on the LP but, for me, Stand tipped the band fully into the mainstream – R.E.M. were no longer an indie-club band.

    I’m often disappointed when any artists attempts to disparage their own songs. As a fan I generally feel that I’ve just been smacked across the face with a vegan faux-kipper.

    I have seen R.E.M. but once – Barrowlands, Green tour – my recollection is that it if I never saw them live again I would always have that jaw-dropping moment and I do.

    On that note … here’s the Barrowlands setlist. Note: 3 encores.

    Pop Song 89
    These Day
    Turn You Inside-Out
    Belong
    Orange Crush
    Disturbance At The Heron House
    Feeling Gravitys Pull
    King Of Birds
    Sitting Still
    World Leader Pretend
    Begin The Begin
    Rotary Ten
    Driver 8
    Get Up
    Auctioneer (Another Engine)
    It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

    encore 1:
    Stand
    Fall On Me
    You Are The Everything

    encore 2:
    Harpers
    Summertime
    Ghost Rider

    encore 3:
    Finest Worksong
    Perfect Circle
    After Hours

    Green was the real Monster.

  3. Another great entry into the blog, to match another underwhelming entry into the singles market for the band. I had completely forgotten that they had released this twice (twice! once was one more time than necessary) until I read this today. I scurried up to where I have my vinyl stored and was shocked to learn that I had bought the 12″ on both occasions. Kind of sums up the song. It’s kind of there without me ever remembering/ thinking about it.
    The one thing that I did recall was that the 7″ version (of the re-release I now find) came in a strange fold-out stencil sleeve. For some bizarre completist/ collectionist reasons that I should probably seek help for, I bought this AS WELL AS both 12″ singles. That means I own “Stand” four times (five including on “In Time”) . A track I don’t even like much! I probably have it several other times on live versions as well.
    My anticipation for the rest of the series grows with each entry. Keep it up gents.

  4. @Khayem: Get Up was a single in the US, of course. I agree, it’s a great pop song. It had a cover of Iggy Pop’s Funtime on the flip. Two reasons why it was a far better single than either version of Stand.

    @Flimflamfan: I’m not sure Buck was being disparaging about Stand, he was just telling it as it is. It wasn’t played live much after the Green Tour, mind, which probably sums up what the band thought of it among their wider canon.

    @DAM: Wanna talk about shameless completism? I have the first Stand release on US 7″, UK 12″, Japanese 3″ CD and US promo 7″. I have the second release on UK 7″ (in the stencil sleeve you mention), UK 12″ and UK 3″ CD. Plus there’s Green (on vinyl and CD), In Time and numerous bootlegs. I don’t have the standard UK CDs or cassette – a big oversight which I need to rectify forthwith! Do you think I need help?

  5. JTFL, you took the words right out of my mouth.
    Stand felt like what you might expect from an “MTV” band and thus, was disappointing for me. A subsequent single from the album would redeem both the band and label, as far as I am concerned, but Warner’s fell right into the same pattern as I.R.S. when it came to choosing singles to release.
    My friends and I saw the Green Tour at Madison Square Garden. Opening act The Indigo Girls seemed lost on such a large stage and large venue and R.E.M. really didn’t seem like they belonged there either. They did pull out a few tracks in their set that I was happy to hear including Pretty Persuasion and Feeling Gravity’s Pull.

  6. Boy, did you draw the short straw today. I think I would have dropped JC a tenner to take his turn this week. Robster, you know I love ya, but I would listen to Can’t Get There From Here every day for the rest of my life if I could be guaranteed I would never have to listen to Stand again. Why did I not follow R.E.M. to the big leagues? This is exhibit A.

  7. @Echorich: I saw R.E.M. on the Green Tour in London, and I have to say they seemed to relish the step up, especially Stipe.

    @Brian: You can’t really gauge R.E.M.’s post-IRS career by their singles. There were some horror stories during their indie years too. Some brilliant tunes to come, but you may have to wait a few weeks or more to hear the best ones. Green, as an album, really is exceptional.

  8. Sure wish this one had stalled at No. 51 over here, Robster. Peaked at No. 6 and outside of maybe Losing My Religion is the most played song on the airwaves to this day. A close third is JTFL’s Shiny Happy People. Yikes! As Echorich said, the band was adopted by the MTV and the mainstream crowd in general, and it was just too much for an old fan to think this was the stinker that did it.

  9. @therobster – I can’t argue your point. The band certainly seemed comfortable and in command of the stage throughout the show. I think that I have just never resolved their sound and what I consider such a cavernous venue. There is certainly some pretension in my view, I can’t deny it, but I have always felt that no matter what era of their career, R.E.M.’s music is much more intimate than many of the venues they have played.
    As for Green, I agee that it is among their best work. It is filled with quite a lot of successful experimentation. The dark hued I Remember California is among my favorites of all their songs.

  10. Sounding like a skipping record: definitely there are finer
    songs from the LP. I do get why Stand was released as a
    single, though. Great read as usual, looking forward to the
    next post.

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