THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 15)

And so, The Robster having offered up his thoughts on the breakthrough hits, decides that this is the week he needs a rest and hands the baton to me for a song that every single member of R.E.M. detests with a passion. A song that would eventually reach #6 in the UK singles chart – a position higher than any of the next 14 singles would manage to achieve!!

That last sentence alone tells you all you really need to know about Shiny Happy People; in short, it proved to be an R.E.M. song for people who don’t like R.E.M.

mp3: R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People

It was released on 6 May 1991. Losing My Religion was still hovering on the fringes of the Top 75 and, if anything, was enjoying even more daytime radio play than before. Out of Time had already gone into the album charts at #1 on its first week of release. The decision not to tour and rely increasingly on television appearances/performances was also working a treat, as those who were now finally latching onto the band were mopping up everything on mainstream and specialist channels. MTV, in particular, were all over things.

It made perfect sense for Warner Bros to go with something that was tailor-made for radio, especially on warm and hot summer days when people would flock to beaches and parks, complete with their fast-melting ice-creams, looking for that bit of escapism and enjoyment. Shiny Happy People offered the perfect soundtrack, helped too by the goofy, colourful and incredibly cheery promo that was made for it. It’s no surprise that it entered the UK charts in May and stayed there till the end of July.

The video looks and feels like something from a children’s TV show, which is perfect as itthe song could easily pass as a nursery rhyme, with all concerned (except Peter Buck who clearly wishes he was somewhere else) eager enough to deploy over-exaggerated movements and facial expressions. The band may have since tried to disown the whole thing, but the dancing, handclapping and smiling during the promo make me think they doth protest too much.

One of the reasons put forward to back the idea that it was hated from the outset is that it was never played live in concert and it was left off most of the subsequent greatest-hits collections. But think about it – the strings are essential to the sound of the song and therefore it would be impossible to play as is in the live setting*. Nor was it one that could be easily adapted to fit in with the acoustic sets that were to the fore in the early 90s.

*The Robster kindly offered up a correction when I shared an advance draft of this post. R.E.M. did perform Shiny Happy People live – just the once – on Saturday Night Live in the States. And as he also said, nobody should ever forget the version they did for Sesame Street a few years later, Furry Happy Monsters, in which Peter Buck very nearly cracks a tiny smile, you’ll see a Kate Pierson muppet, and if you don’t smile at the clip, you have a heart of stone.

I think Shiny Happy People is a fabulous and memorable pop single. I also accept that in 1991, it was something which horrified many long-time fans who couldn’t quite believe what they were hearing and seeing. And I’d been there folks….listening to and watching Johnny Marr play with Bryan Ferry on The Right Stuff had been excruciating.

But, on the other hand, I’d long been a fan of the B52s and the guest vocal from Kate Pierson is an absolute joy.

The Robster made mention last week of the multi-formatting that existed around Losing My Religion, and it was much the same for the follow-up which came out on 7″, 12″, CD and cassette.

mp3: R.E.M. – Forty Second Song

This was common to all the releases. It’s another real oddity – it’s 82 seconds long and it sounds like an unfinished demo that the band couldn’t work up into anything more substantial. The folk who loved the a-side probably played it once and ignored it thereafter. Any long-time fans who were hoping for something more substantial to justify shelling out on the new single to keep the collection going wouldn’t have been surprised by it.

mp3: R.E.M. – Losing My Religion (live acoustic version)

As found on the 12″ and CD single. I reckon making this available also had a lot to do with the high sales for Shiny Happy People as the world had gone insane for any take on Losing My Religion.

Again, as with the previous single, a ‘Collector’s Edition’ Cd was released about a week after the initial product had hit the shops and it again came with three live songs, recorded during the Green tour.

mp3: R.E.M. – I Remember California (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – Get Up (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – Pop Song ’89 (live)

There would be two more singles from Out of Time…..both will be looked at by myself with the next being a 45 that wasn’t issued in the USA; as Jonny said the other week, Americans have never really paid much attention to singles while it’s a whole different story over here as my bulging shelves of old vinyl and CDs can testify.

JC

The Robster adds a bonus for the completists.  The only live performance of the song:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People (live, SNL)

9 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 15)

  1. I never really bought into the ‘ band hated the song’ mantra. The video really does suggest otherwise.

    I think what I enjoyed about it was Kate Pierson … it’s not a favourite
    R.E.M. song but I don’t mind it.

    As has been mentioned recently the Fatima Mansions version is a complete riot. It’s far from their best work but it always make me smile.

  2. Sorry, forgot to add

    The lyrics to Fatima Mansion’s version of Shiny Happy People …

    Ha ha ha, that’s disgusting!
    Here we fuckin’ go!

    Bring out your dead, bring out your dead
    We’re gonna make ’em dance, give us cold cold head
    Fill’ em full of whisky, it’ll bring ’em back to life
    Just as well, I like ’em nice and tight
    Streetlights flashing like the greatest little disco
    [Whimbo, belch-o, slam-o, fist-o]
    The grand parade is coming your way

    Meet me in the crowd, I’ll be yelling out loud
    with a dick in every orifice, this’ll [pummel them around]
    with a 6-6-6 and a do-what-thou-wilt
    though no body fluids are gonna be spilt
    You look like the type who likes to suck a big pipe
    Tonight could be your night if you play your cards right

    Shiny happy people holding hands
    Yes, that is correct, that’s what we are seeing
    Shiny happy people holding hands
    (“Go fuck yourself!”)

    Mummy, when you shoot up, dear,
    do not spew up, dear, in baby’s face here
    Give him a few beers to dry his wee tears
    and if his dad hears, he’ll fuck you both, dear

    Zeebrugge, ’87, mass murder
    Campaign contribution that goes no further
    Innocent people lost their lives
    for the killer’s profit and another five
    ‘cos the government by well-spanked arses, closet queens (“Masturbate,
    masturbate.”) making it a crime to be gay

    Shiny happy people holding hands
    Shiny happy people holding hands
    (“Go fuck yourself!”)

    Fuck your nuclear family
    Fuck your passion for advertising
    Fuck your show business
    Most of all, fuck your show business

    Shiny happy people holding hands
    Shiny happy people holding hands
    I must be blind, I can’t see them!
    Shiny happy people holding hands
    Shiny happy people holding hands
    (“Masturbate, masturbate”)

  3. They should have asked Cathal Coughlan to write the lyrics. It would have been a better song for it!

    I think the band hating the song is something to do with hindsight. At the time they wrote it, they probably felt it was as great addition to the album. I’m not sure when the video was made, but again, it was bound to have been either before or just after the album’s release, so again, it was still pretty ‘fresh’ to them. I think the song’s popularity may have been its downfall, it being the song some people defined R.E.M. by as it was the first song of theirs they ever heard.

    I actually didn’t mind it too much when I heard it on OoT and knew it was going to be a single – it had to be – but I got very tired of it quite soon after, and before long it just sounded so corny and trite I couldn’t listen to it anymore. In essence then, the perfect, of-the-moment disposable pop song.

  4. I think the single following the next was the track that made me cringe at the time, but more of that in 2 weeks time……

  5. Ok, so yes, NOT an R.E.M. song that I ever go to. It just doesn’t fit for me. But focusing on the involvement of Kate Pierson, I have always believed it was a sort of “coming home” track – back to Athens, GA., back to some of the roots of their musical community, if not the band’s sound. By 91, Kate Pierson, with The B52’s, was enjoying a bit of a renaissance as Love Shack and the album Cosmic Thing had put them in a place in the charts they had never visited before. Pylon, another founder band of the Athens Sound, had also reformed and even toured with R.E.M. Pylon also traded in the whimsical side of Rock. Did any of this have an impact on R.E.M., I feel it surely did. Oh and Michael Stipe did have a cameo in B52’s video for Deadbeat Club in 1990.

  6. Doesn’t do anything for me and never has. Out of Time is an odd album, 2 big hits neither of which were much like REM and some lovely album tracks. I hesitate to use the old punk accusation of ‘selling out’ but they Shiny Happy People seems tailor made to be a hit- corny, chorus led, brightly coloured video. Major label stuff. Almost like they edged their way towards it with Stand in 89 and then jumped in 2 feet first with this. Last week’s single isn’t one I go to very often either. It’s overfamiliar and lacks what I want from REM which I think you can find elsewhere on the album.

  7. I think baggingareahas pretty much summed up my view (far more succinctly than I would manage!). I’m not a massive fan of a lot of the 60s sounding stuff and this always has a kind of Alvin and the Chipmunks/ Archies vibe. JC’s description of it as a nursery rhyme is also accurate.

  8. As the Robster writes, this just had to be a single. Once committed to the LP, the only things worse than releasing it as a 45 would have been not releasing it as a 45. Surprised, actually, it wasn’t the lead-off single. Known to me as “the song prior to ‘Belong'”, it is what it is, but Kate Pierson’s vocal is always worth the spin.

    Great read as usual. What an ace series this is.

  9. I’m in a fortunate place in that, aside from its ubiquity on radio & (M)TV at the time, I haven’t really listened to the song all that much in the past 30 years, so I enjoy it for what it is. At the time, I was also overjoyed that Kate Pierson was getting some long-overdue recognition with the B-52’s “Love Shack”, Iggy Pop’s “Candy” and of course this song. All of the songs (& other tracks on “Out Of Time”) are the better for her presence. It was a real pleasure to hear the SNL version for the first time but it perhaps is another reason why R.E.M. didn’t perform it again. How could it sound even halfway as good without Kate Pierson?

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