THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 13)

As I mentioned last week, the ultra-poppy Stand did not give R.E.M. the super-sized global hit the record company had no doubt been hoping for, despite being released twice. Strange, then, that the most political single the band had put out to date – released in-between the two Stands – saw the band crack the UK Top 40 for the very first time.

mp3: R.E.M. – Orange Crush

Orange Crush had already topped the US Mainstream Rock charts (based on radio plays) for a record-breaking 8 weeks. It saw a physical release on this side of the pond in May 1989 and had by far the biggest impact of any track they’d put out to date. It was also one of their most frenetic. Opening with the rapid machine-gun effect of guitar and drums, the song tackles the controversial use of the chemical nerve gas Agent Orange by the US in Vietnam. Stipe often preluded the song on the Green Tour by dedicating it to the flag of the USA before singing the US Army’s tagline “Be all that you can be in the army.”

mp3: R.E.M. – Orange Crush (live from ‘Tourfilm’)

Rising all the way to number 28 in the UK, it saw the band make their debut on the flagship chart TV show Top of The Pops, where Stipe, with long plaited ponytail, mimed with a megaphone, a prop he used during the Green Tour to sing the chorus of Turn You Inside-Out. In fact, the megaphone was a protest at being forced to lip-synch rather than sing live. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

For the benefit of those overseas or not old enough – Top Of The Pops was one of the tackiest shows on TV, yet at its peak, it was THE show to be on if you had a single out. Usually appearing on it guaranteed an increase in sales and a higher chart position the following week. It was presented by BBC Radio 1 DJs, most of whom were utterly cringe-worthy and shockingly unknowledgeable. Occasionally, if we were really lucky, we might get John Peel, Janice Long or Tommy Vance fronting the show. Unfortunately, on the night R.E.M. appeared, they had Mark Goodier (who had an OK evening show at one time) and someone else I can’t even remember the name of. At the (premature) end of R.E.M.’s performance, nameless bloke, thinking he was being all clever and witty, commented: “Especially nice on a hot day – Orange Crush.” The song was about chemical warfare and this pillock thought it was about a soft drink. Legend has it the band were so upset at the comment, they refused to go on the show again (though they were coaxed back in 1995).

(JC adds…..I did a bit of detective work on this as the pillock was certainly not a TOTP regular and therefore not a Radio 1 DJ. It seems it was Simon Parkin, a continuity announcer with Children’s BBC, a service which broadcast on BBC1 on school days, between 4 and 5.30pm, as he was an occasional guest presenter of TOTP alongside Mark Goodier during 1989).

Unusually, Orange Crush had decent b-sides. Both covers, the 7” featured a version of Suicide’s Ghost Rider, while the 12” included a wonderful take on Syd Barrett’s Dark Globe. Both songs had been played live during encores of some shows throughout 1988 and also made it regularly into the Green Tour sets.

mp3: R.E.M. – Ghost Rider
mp3: R.E.M. – Dark Globe

Stand and Orange Crush were the only tracks put out as singles in the UK. In the States, they had Pop Song 89 and Get Up (the latter of which was a real highlight of ‘Green’). A promo of Turn You Inside-Out was also released in the US and Spain.

The Robster

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

  1. That “legend” about them being upset at Simon Parkin surely can’t be true. They must have been getting that sort of thing *everywhere*. If you don’t want people making jokes about soft drinks, maybe don’t call your song “Orange Crush”.

  2. This post reminds me of 2 things:

    Stipe when later asked about his image at that time quipped something akin to “I had the 3 worst haircuts in the world – at the same time.” That made me chuckle – it still does.

    My friend and I on mission to find the hallowed 7″ box version of the single. – which we did. It’s so hallowed it can be purchased freely, and rather cheaply, on that there internet.

    It’s a great single with Ghost Rider being essential for this listener.

    Top of the Pops. Urgh! I can see how at a certain point in time it could have been relevant but by this period it was ludicrously dated. Cringeworthy, indeed.

  3. After Stand, (which I think is the only natural single on Green) World Leader Pretend should’ve been the follow up. I love Green but don’t think it was an album that contained singles.

  4. @Dane Geld: It is true. They were in the UK numerous times over the next seven years promoting Out Of Time, AftP and Monster. TOTP only played their videos as they couldn’t get the band to agree to appear “live”. When they eventually did, in 1995, they did a lip-sync performance from the States during a soundcheck whilst on the Monster tour. The next time they were in the TOTP studio itself was for Daysleeper in 1998, 10 years after Orange Crush. And I’m not aware anyone else made the same mistake – most presenters actually do some research before they go on air…

    @Flimflamfan: That’s a great Stipe quote and not one I’ve heard before.

    @Paul: Yep, World Leader Pretend has always been my favourite track on Green, but not sure it would have been a hit. Pop Song 89 might have been, and definitely Get Up.

  5. My friend got the 7″ single, which was the first song I heard from “Green”… and also my introduction to “Ghost Rider”; it was several years before I tracked back to Suicide.

    TOTP had long been irrelevant to me by this point. BBC4 has been repeating shows from 1989 over the summer. I haven’t seen this particular but there seems to have been a definite shift to incorporating kids’ TV. presenters so the inane comment doesn’t surprise.

    I thought this was a great choice of single and it’s one I regularly come back to.

    I’ve never actually looked into this but I was convinced that “Stupid Girl” by Garbage sampled the staccato intro. Anyone know if this is the case?

  6. Here’s that Stipe quote in full – it’s considerably longer than I remember …

    “I have to say I sidestepped most of those with grace. But, if you look at the footage around 1989 of the Green world tour, I have what I consider to be the worst haircut of the decade.

    It’s a combination of three haircuts all in one… shaved sides, a bit of a Mohawk and the rat tail down the back.

    I was anticipating Millennial angst and lesbian chic all at once, probably a good way to launch ourselves into the Nineties.”

  7. Well, this series just took an interesting turn. I’m not sure I ever even saw an REM single, so I’m delighted to learn–for the first time today–that the b-sides to OC are songs by Suicide and Syd Barrett! Green was the last REM LP I bought, so going forward I’m hoping to discover more gems like these.

  8. Orange Juice is one of the few R.E.M. singles I own just because of Ghost Rider and Dark Globe. I think it was a great choice for a single, from an album that truly is the band experimenting , or at least stretching their musical legs.
    The issue with the Orange Crush title bringing up visions of the soft drink could not have been lost on the band and in fact, I would think there is some message in the title alluding to the innocence of young men at war charged with human and environmental extermination. I’m sure some will say I’m overthinking that, but I think likely no more than Michael Stipe may have.

  9. Great post TheRobster. I remember watching the TOTP appearance but had forgotten/wiped the DJ comment from my mind. Probably had seen too many stupid comments for it to register! I was really pleased to see something so clearly commercial (from a musical perspective if not lyrically) be released – and succeed. My favourite part of Orange Crush doesn’t actually exist. When the LP (album for millennials) was released, I had started on a post-grad course and was spending a year without a record player (turntable for…). Fortunately, my girlfriend had a record player and as able to record onto cassettes ( what is the 21st century equivalent?) any LPs I bought. So. on purchasing “Green”, I placed my order for a cassette that I could listen to in my room. Mygirlfriend, with an inate musical understanding, inadvertantly created one of the greatest segues I have ever heard. She stopped the recording of side one EXACTLY at the end of the final chord of “The Wrong Child” and then started the recording of the second side at EXACTLY the start of the rapid machine-gun effect start of “Orange Crush”. For the first six months that I listened to the album, I assumed that the tracks were deliberately run into each other: a masterful contrast. It was only on actually getting the vinyl (did we ever use that term prior to 1995?) home that I realised that the two songs were on different sides of the platter. Trust me, it was a huge disappointment. Try it for yourself. Run one track into the other. I am STILL disappointed when the CD doesn’t have the segue. Both grey tracks though!

  10. The offending Simon Parkin had been immortalised the previous year: namechecked
    in the hit single ‘John Kettley is a Weatherman’ by A tribe of Toffs. The lyric in question:

    “Simon Parkin’s always larkin’ ” (presumably the act of messing around and not a reference to a double-life as an English poet).

    Usual great post, and a fine Orange Crush theory from Echorich – one I suspect is valid.

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