THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 17)

This is the seventeenth week of the UK singles released by R.E.M. More often than not, either myself or The Robster has opened up proceedings by suggesting that the single you are about to hear is very unrepresentative or is untypical of the album from which it has been lifted. Deja-vu?

mp3: R.E.M. – Radio Song

The opening track on Out of Time was released as a 45 in both the UK and the USA in the first week of November 1991. It has a spoken intro and a guest vocal from rapper KRS-One. It then has a few notes that sound as if The Partridge Family are about to burst into song. Micheal Stipe’s opening contribution feels as if we about to be getting a follow-up to an earlier non-hit single:-

“The world is collapsing around our ears”

The thing is, this time he doesn’t feel fine.

There’s a few things that now annoy me about Radio Song, not least that the rap is lame and feels very dated. I know KRS-One was an established name in the hip-hop scene at the time through Boogie Down Productions and had obviously been brought on board with the best intentions but in this instance, he feels more frustrated than genuinely angry. An opportunity to drive home the message of playlists on radio stations being of little or no appeal to much of the demographic was missed.

And yet…..after some thirty seconds when the organ, bass, drums and guitars kick in, it becomes a more than passable tune that bounces along at a decent lick. But it still doesn’t ever feel as if it should be selected as a single, not least for the fact that it would be near impossible for a song that attacks playlists and the music preferences of DJs and their production team sidekicks to get much in the way of airplay.

And yet……Warner Bros. obviously had no worries as the record-buying public in the UK continued to spend substantial amounts of cash on all things R.E.M. and it made its way to #28 in our charts. It bombed in the States…..

Once again, it was made available on 7″, 12″, cassette and CD. The common track was another lifted from the 1 April session for ‘Rockline’.

mp3: R.E.M. – Love Is All Around

At the time, this was a relatively unknown song, with it being a cover of a 1967 single by The Troggs. It’s an acoustic effort in which Mike Mills takes the lead vocal and with the ba-ba-ba-ba stuff going on in the background, it’s a third cousin of sorts to Near Wild Heaven. It’s quite awful.

Three years later, the same song was recorded by Wet Wet Wet as their contribution to the soundtrack of the film Four Weddings and A Funeral. It spent 15 weeks at #1 and was never off daytime radio, to the extent that some DJs, having got tired of it, began to play either the original version by The Troggs or the R.E.M. cover – there’s a certain irony of it being taken from a b-side from a single that has lambasted radio stations and DJs of that ilk….

The 12″ also offered up a rare thing. An R.E.M. remix:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People (Music Mix)

It comes in at just over a minute longer than the original version and Scott Litt deploys the sort of bog-standard production tricks and techniques so beloved in that era, especially multi-tracked vocals, keyboards to mimic orchestras and electronic drums. It’s listenable but it’s disposable.

The CD came with three live tracks, thus keeping with the formula of the previous three CD singles lifted from Out of Time. The blurb with it stated:-

“This is the fourth in a series of limited edition CDs released alongside singles from ‘Out Of Time’. Each includes 3 live songs, all complementary to those available on the other formats. Collectively they form a record of ‘R.E.M. In Concert’.

And to help you store your new CDs, which if memory serves me correctly all retailed at £3.99, there was a plastic box in which you could put them. The only thing was that Warner Bros. was kind of running out of decent sources to locate material – no way did they want listeners to get the chance of live material from the IRS days and so they turned again to Tourfilm and shows from that era:-

mp3: R.E.M. – You Are The Everything (live) – Miami 29 April 1989
mp3: R.E.M. – Orange Crush (live) – Atlanta 13 November 1989
mp3: R.E.M. – Belong (live) – Greensboro, 10 November 1989

And yes, you have heard that live version of Orange Crush before as we slotted it into the look at the single release of Orange Crush a few weeks back,

Onwards and upwards for R.E.M., arguably the biggest band on the planet at the end of 1991. It would be nine months before the next single and The Robster will be here next week to say a few words.

JC

8 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 17)

  1. I think Radio Song is a fine example of damned if you do/damned if you don’t i.e. trying something new. Did the inclusion of KRS-One work? It did for me. Is the song one of R.E.M.s finest songs/singles – far from it – but, I’d argue it was radio friendly enough for its time.

    As for the cover of Love Is All Around this, for me, is a triumph and remains one of my R.E.M. favourites.

  2. At the time of OoT’s release, I quite liked Radio Song. It was certainly different and quite a representative opener for a generally happy-sounding, melodic record. KRS-One’s contribution may not have been what we would have expected of him, but it’s hardly the type of music he was used to making, and maybe that explains why he sounds so inhibited.

    A few years later though, and I thought Radio Song sounded rather dated and twee. Nowadays I find it excruciating, I cringe whenever I hear it. It’s very of its time and thus, not an R.E.M. song that anyone will remember.

    I do remember feeling rather dispassionate about its single release. I thought four singles was milking things a bit, and let’s face it, there were at least three other songs more worthy of release – Half A World Away was criminally overlooked, but Belong and Me In Honey would also have been better choices than Radio Song and Near Wild Heaven. I don’t cringe at either of those!

  3. Yep, the Robster says it like it is – good at the time, sounds worse and worse as the years go by. And yes, I think it’s the, quite-frankly, awful rap from KRS-One that stops it in it’s tracks. And yes, Half A World Away and Me In Honey would have made better singles, especially the latter, as both it and SHP feature Kate, whose voice goes SO well with Stipe’s.
    But then, it’s the fourth single taking from a top album, something that WB will carry on doing for at least the next 2 albums.
    And so onto one of my favourite R.E.M. singles of all time……

  4. Bloody Hell!! I DO own this. I couldn’t remember it at all until I saw the cover and the b-side. No idea where it’s gone. It’s not with the other REM vinyl. Maybe I thought it doesn’t belong there? I don’t mind it on the album – I would agree with FlimFlamFan about the fact that at least they tried something new. But TheRobster has also got a fair point that it probably sounds worse now than then. On the plus side, at least it wasn’t Mike Mills rapping! That would have been really baaaaad. (obligatory sheep reference for JTFL).

  5. I liked this at the time, wouldn’t have released 4 singles off an album (major label shit) and defended KRS 1’s involvement while others slagged it. Now, meh, whatever. It’s alright. REM, it is becoming abundantly clear, should not be judged by their singles.

  6. I rarely listen to Radio Song, unless I’m listening to Out Of Time in full. I remember being disappointed that my mate’s UK 12″ didn’t include the “Tower Of Love Bug Mix”, though the remix of “Shiny Happy People” should have been fair warning. I tracked down the USA CD single years later and needless to say, I’ve lost the urge to find the even longer “Monster Remix” on the promo USA 12″…

    “Love Is All Around” isn’t great, but it will always surpass Wet Wet Wet’s excruciating version.

    At least the CD offered up three decent live versions this time around. You’re right about the hefty price for the CD single though, which is why I waited for a second hand copy to turn up (albeit minus the box to house the remaining CDs) for a quid. I think HMV et al used to sell many CD singles for £1.99 at this time, but R.E.M. always seemed at a premium so I don’t think I contributed to any of their UK Top 40 chart placings from this point on.

  7. Always thought the first thirty or so seconds of
    Radio Song were almost like the band playing
    a wee trick: “You think you’ve got us sussed? Take this.”

    It’s an OK song, and its merits and weaknesses have
    been batted around eloquently and more than adequately
    in JC’s post and in the comments.

    As we leave Out of Time, this ace series continues to delight.

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