I remember back in either 1999 or 2000, when I was active on newsgroups (remember them?) the group ran a readers poll of the best R.E.M. song. The winner was Find The River. I was a bit miffed. I never disliked Find The River, but it never struck me as being among the band’s very best work.

October 1993: a year after ‘Automatic For The People’ came out, Warners were still releasing singles from it. Find The River, the album’s closing track, was single number six. SIX! I used to balk at four singles being released off an album, but six? Talk about milking it. If I’m being honest, I don’t think Automatic has six singles on it. Maybe three, four at a real stretch. But never six.

What Find The River has going for it is its chorus, in particular the backing vocals. They are stunning, and probably the last great group vocal on an R.E.M. record. Well, until At My Most Beautiful any way. It was, apparently influenced by a much earlier song. “Harborcoat has got me and Michael and Bill all doing completely unrelated things, and yet it works together,” explained Mike Mills. “We tried it again on Find The River. I had the idea that Bill and I would go in and do some harmonies without listening to each other. It’s great because mine is this incredibly angst-ridden emotional thing, and Bill’s is this really low-key sort of ambling part. They’re two opposite ends of the spectrum but they’re both on there, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

He’s so right. Stipe’s lead is good, but he’s completely overshadowed by Mills and Berry, the former’s high vocal at the back, with the latter’s deeper voice nearer the front. That’s what makes Find The River for me, particularly from the second chorus on. It’s what makes Find The River one of Automatic’s better tracks, and a wonderful album closer. A single though? Hmm, still not convinced.

mp3: R.E.M. – Find The River

It’s clear the record-buying public weren’t convinced either. That or they’d just had enough of the record by then. It peaked at a lowly #54 in the UK, the band’s least successful single for more than four years. To be fair, there wasn’t much to entice fans to buy it. The 7” and cassette featured a live version of Everybody Hurts recorded just the month before the single’s release at the 1993 MTV Awards. It’s actually a more than decent performance which features a French Horn. But for some reason, it fades out. I have no idea why. So we don’t even get the full track!

mp3: R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts (live – MTV Awards)

The only other format was a CD single which added, for some bizarre reason, an instrumental version of Orange Crush.

mp3: R.E.M. – Orange Crush (instrumental)

As good a song as Find The River is, it was a completely unnecessary single. No one wanted it, it certainly wasn’t needed to promote the album, and there was nothing on it to sell it to anyone but the most hardcore fans. It signaled the end of the Automatic For The People Era. The next time we heard from R.E.M. they’d taken an altogether different path, but a not unwelcome one.

The Robster

6 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 23)

  1. It was the milk it stage of the album cycle. I always thought the major labels didn’t know what to do with “alternative” when it blew up. R.E.M made so much more sense as an indie band. Love the song though. LOVE IT.

  2. Completely passed me by that this had been a single. By this time, I think I had decided not to buy any more REM singles as the b-sides were becoming so poor. I was never going to bother to buy one again. Ever. Ever. Unless there are some really loud guitars… Find the River had always seemed like a perfectly good closer to the album, as you said. It has just been tarnished by Mrs DAM who has pointed out ( you may wish to stop reading here – always supposing that you’ be stuck with the drivel so far) the similarity of the track to Rock “n’ Roll by the (mighty?) Quo! I”pl certainly never hear it the same way again. She’s waited nearly 30 years to break it to me!

  3. Whether it should have been a single or shouldn’t is a moot point. What we have here is the power of the song and lyrics and arrangement- the chords are simple AF, nothing very clever going on, Peter Buck’s guitar part is decidedly non- virtuoso but the production, the players , Stipe’s emotive singing, the backing vox and the intent is all wonderful. The sum of the parts etc. Sublime way to end the album.

  4. This a great song but for me, not a single, and definitely not a 6th single.
    It was after Automatic for the People that a distance began to open between R.E.M. and myself. Mining an album for singles in such a way is, simply put, an abuse of fans. I wasn’t impressed.

  5. As above, really. A wonderful song. A terrific LP-closer.
    But not a single. My word, they liked their live b-sides,
    this band.

    Another enjoyable post – looking forward to the next era.

  6. I could accept it as a single… if it were one of three releases from an album. It’s the fact that it’s single number six that irks and particularly because the B-sides were such poor value for your R.E.M. buck (no offence, Peter). For all of that, Find The River is a lovely, lovely song and I’ve managed to block Mrs DAM’s comparison from my mind 🙂

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