THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 21)

Something different this week.  The main part of the post, in italics, will consist solely of phrases which I have cut’n’pasted from different articles or reviews associated with Everybody Hurts.

It was released as a single in the UK in April 1993, and in reaching #7, provided R.E.M. with their then biggest chart success outside of Shiny Happy People. It is a track that, in 2003, was ranked by Q magazine at #31 in its list of the 1001 Best Songs Ever.

It is worth mentioning that credit for the song, musically, lies with Bill Berry, which is ironic given the beat is largely kept by a drum machine. The strings, which are very much at the heart of the completed version were arranged by John Paul Jones, best known as the bass player with Led Zeppelin.

“Everybody Hurts has a comforting melancholy, benefitting from a smoothly caressing guitar. It has been lauded as the best song on Automatic for The People and, as the Q ranking suggests, one of the band’s best songs ever. It is emotionally moving and deeply affecting, but a ballad that would stray into the maudlin if it wasn’t sung with such conviction. The string arrangements complement the vocal delivery, with the song being held up as the Bridge Over Troubled Water for the ’90s with Michael Stipe as Simon & Garfunkel rolled into one. It is virtually beyond words. It will have non-REM maniacs in hysterics with its delicate Spector structure and childlike message (“everybody hurts, everybody cries…when you think you’ve had too much of this life, hang on…”). It will make everyone else cry. It really is that straightforward.”

I won’t swim against the tide. I’m not a huge fan of ballads, but the very best of them have always been at the heart of popular music going back centuries before rock’n’roll was invented. Sad songs are remembered and loved by billions of people for all sorts of different reasons. Perhaps it can be traced back to the very early days of the most basic and traditional of music, running ever since through history – for instance, the best bits of opera always seem to centre on tragedy, and it is those folk songs recalling sad or unhappy events that have more often been passed down through the generations.

Everybody Hurts is an absolute classic of its kind. It might not be what any early fan of R.E.M. would ever have anticipated, but songs of this nature and tempo were inevitable when the loud instruments had been put aside, temporarily, for a while.

As with Man on The Moon, it was a slightly edited version of the song that was issued on the 7″:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts (single version)

As with the previous singles from Automatic, the b-side of the UK 7” and cassette was a track from ‘Green’. This time it was the most ridiculously upbeat number, one which had been a flop single in the US:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Pop Song ’89

Talk about ying and yang on two sides of a piece of plastic. It was also the fourth occasion that a version of Pop Song ’89 had been used as a b-side to a single…..

Again there were two versions put out on CD. You’ll have picked up that the barrel was already being scraped with what was being added to the earlier singles from the album. It got worse with this, the fourth 45 lifted from Automatic, with both CDs now being labelled as ‘Collector’s Editions’. No wonder many were despairing at how Warner Bros were trying to extract as much from fans as possible – these CD singles retailed at £3 or £4 a pop and the titles of the two tracks on CD1 say it all:-

mp3: R.E.M. – New Orleans Instrumental #1 (long version)
mp3: R.E.M. – Mandolin Strum

The marketing folk had the cheek and nerve to state that the latter was ‘previously unreleased’. One listen is all you need to understand why that should be.

CD2 was another con in that it included Dark Globe, the Syd Barrett cover that had previously been issued on the 12″ of Orange Crush back in 1989. The blurb from the marketing people for CD2 was that ‘it was currently not available on any other CD’ The other track is another oddity.

mp3: R.E.M. – Dark Globe
mp3: R.E.M. – Chance (dub)

An electronic number with a part-spoken, part-sung lyric. I kind of like it, but I hate it. I kind of like it because it is a bit different, but I hate it as it’s clearly a work in progress that shouldn’t have really seen the light of day, far less been the one bit of music which forced completists to fork out a fair amount of money for – it’s only right, however, to point out that I am far from a completist when it comes to R.E.M. – it’s not like they are The Twilight Sad or anything – and I’ve relied partly on The Robster for some of the tracks while others have been tracked down and sourced from other blogs.

Michael Stipe’s final words at the end of Chance are “Guys, this is very tedious. Stop”

Which seems a good place to sign off this week.  But we’ll be back, as usual, next Sunday.

JC

8 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 21)

  1. Another great entry in an excellent series, thanks, JC,

    This was a single that I was quite happy to wait to drop out of the charts and enter the Woolworths bargain bin for 99p. I picked up the 2nd “Collector’s Edition CD”, intrigued by the “Dub” of Chance, a song I’d not heard of before. More fool me. Despite having the full length album version of Everybody Hurts, the CD clocks in at barely over 10 minutes. I hadn’t heard Dark Globe before and, in retrospect the CD single was the better of the two released in the UK. But even so…

    As for Everybody Hurts, this is probably the one for me that’s suffered the most from over familiarity. In context, it’s a good song, I like but don’t love it. The last time I played Automatic For The People was in July, and the single edit hasn’t been aired in nearly 4 years, according to my Apple Music playlist which probably says it all.

    My interest in R.E.M. was generally starting to wane at this point so, if anything, I’m looking forward to the forthcoming posts even more, if that’s possible. This has been a really fascinating and insightful series.

  2. “Told you” uttered my childhood friend to his then girlfriend – soon to be wife – as Everybody Hurts drew to it’s close.

    I had been invited over to listen to Automatic for the People on release day as I couldn’t afford to buy a copy. There I sat on the settee enjoying a nice cup of tea, in great company, fully unaware of what was to hit me. The vinyl was reverentially met by needle (now stylus, I believe?) and soon Everybody Hurts began …

    On cue, as my friend was fully aware, but his girlfriend was not, I just teared up. Tears streaming down my face. Tears, for the sake of clarity, of joy.

    Was I embarrassed? Was I f*ck. The song was played again to similar results.

    It’s one of my abiding memories of my friend, his playfulness and the affecting nature of music.

    I know the song has been played commercially within an inch of it’s life but I still find it affecting.

    A superb series. Thanks.

  3. Everybody Hurts is a song that seems tailor-made to soundtrack TV or film montages, with the banal universality of the lyric (let’s face it the title is hardly a searing emotional insight) rescued by the absolute conviction and commitment of the performance. It suffers by comparison with the atmosphere, intimacy and revealing personal details on Nightswimming, that album’s masterpiece, but then that’s a pretty high bar.

  4. Its a song that stood out when I first played the record, it jarred so much, seemed so nakedly something else. The straightforwardness, lack of mystery and REM- ness is weird, like for a moment in the studio they became a completely different band. I can’t really dislike it, it brings joy and comfort to a lot of people (including someone I know who suffered a great loss and isn’t a fan of REM in any other circumstances). It struck a chord with a wider audience but is also so completely overplayed (on TV etc). Agree with Chaval about it in comparison with Nightswimming- it is the diametric opposite of Nightswimming and also Find The River, a song that can still move me and give me a shiver when I hear it.

  5. Great song. I hadn’t really listened to anything after Dead Letter Office, so it had been some years and a move to California before REM got back on my radar. This was the song that did it. All the good things about the band and none of the annoying ones. Didn’t know JPJ arranged the strings–that’s quality trivia.

  6. As Khayem says, the over-familiarity of this makes it really hard to make any judgement. I remember being underwhelmed on listening to the album version, but ballads aren’t really my thing either. Still feels a little too obvious, but is that because it ha been used so frequently to soundtrack schmaltzy montages? Too hard to judge.

  7. My relationship with REM is what Facebook earlier called complicated. I own only one record with them, the Automatic For The People album – and I bought it several years after its release. Late 90’s, early 00’s I bought several different REM compilation CD’s, some less official than others so my hard drive is good populated – but I would never buy or really notice that they released another single. My iTunes plays album randomly (not by song, always by full album) so whenever an REM album comes up I enjoy it, but I would probably never choose to start with one myself. They’re good but we don’t really “ding”. Can’t explain why.
    AFTP was on repeat a very specific night spent in a German hotel room, I knew it was a dead end so Everybody Hurts resonated well also on that very night. Years later I bought it if nothing else to celebrate a very fond, albeit a somewhat hurtful memory.

    Now I’ll play something else.

  8. Another thoroughly enjoyable post and
    comments.

    I’m in the ‘it’s a good song, but it’s been
    overplayed to death’ club.

    As others have said ‘Nightswimming’ and
    ‘Find the River’ bring a different emotional
    punch (and are, for me, better songs).

    Those multiple CD formats are a joke. I feel
    right sorry for R.E.M. completists and the body
    parts they sold to keep up their collections.

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