It’s interesting to ponder whether the 1999 film Man On The Moon would have been given the green light by Hollywood if it hadn’t been for the fact that R.E.M. had enjoyed a huge hit single some seven years earlier, and in many ways re-igniting interest in the comedian, Andy Kaufman.
It did therefore make sense that the moguls turned to the band to work on the score to accompany the movie, with the fruits of their labour appearing as orchestral music on a soundtrack album in November 1999, alongside contributions from Kaufman himself and Jim Carrey as Kaufman.
It’s worth interjecting at this point that Man on The Moon is more than a decent watch, but whether you love it or loath it will largely depend on two things;
(i) does the surreal/childish/challenging humour utilised by Kaufman make you laugh or cringe? ; and
(ii) do you think Jim Carrey is a genius or a dickhead?
The latter is important as he really is at the centre of the film, in just about every single scene.
What I will say, is that you should make time to watch Jim & Andy – The Great Beyond, a 2017 documentary which basically is a behind the scenes look at the making of Man on The Moon. Without giving too much away, Carrey remains in character as Kaufman at all times, leading to all sorts of manic behaviour and chaos on the set and the surrounding environs. Michael Stipe makes an appearance in the documentary, clearly bemused by what he was finding during a visit to the set. It’s available on Netflix.
In addition to the score, the band wrote one entirely new song, which would feature (as these things tend to do) as the credits rolled. It was included on the soundtrack, and in late January 2000 just after the Xmas market had died down, it was issued as a single. Incredibly, this stand-alone effort provided R.E.M. with their biggest ever hit in the UK, coming in at #3, eventually spending ten weeks in the Top 75:-
mp3: R.E.M. – The Great Beyond
This chart performance was in complete contrast to the singles lifted from Up, with The Robster over the past few weeks highlighting that even those which did chart tended to drop out pretty quickly.
The reason is quite simple in that The Great Beyond remained part of the radio playlists for weeks as this was the R.E.M. that the producers and DJs wanted, and given the fact it sold consistently for a couple of months, it was what the public wanted.
Let’s face it. The Great Beyond is Man On The Moon (the hit single) Part 2. It had the same sort of feel, sound, energy and sentiment about it. It really was R.E.M. for the masses, yeah yeah, yeah, yeah.
I mentioned previously that I’m not a huge lover of Man On The Moon and likewise, I’ve the same ‘meh’ feeling about The Great Beyond. It kind of sounds as if the three remaining members of the band, having listened to the criticism given to Up, decided to prove just how easy it would be to go back to the Automatic era and churn out something with one hand tied behind their collective backs and with their eyes closed. The interesting thing was whether this would be the sort of songs to appear on the next studio album or would they go back to the more challenging and experimental stuff? That’s all for the next three editions of this series……..
Incidentally, I thought that the #3 result for The Great Beyond was partly down to it being tied in with the release of the film, and that people might be buying it after a visit to the cinema. I was very wrong as Man On The Moon, while released in theatres in the USA at the end of 1999, didn’t premiere over here until May 2000, by which time the single was long out of the charts.
Nor was it the result of multi-formatting. One CD and one cassette release only, each with the same bonus tracks, aimed straight at those who hadn’t bought any R.E.M. since the early 90s but still went along to the gigs to hear the old stuff:-
mp3: R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts (live at Glastonbury, June 1999)
mp3: R.E.M. – The One I Love (live at Glastonbury, June 1999)
95,000 singing along…..it really was a far cry from the IRS days.