This was the second of the three posts held over from the series which ran last month.
Some extracts from ICA 91.
IT’S CRAZY WHAT YOU COULD’VE HAD
Those of you who have taken the time to submit an ICA will know just how time-consuming an exercise it is, not just in getting your thoughts down on paper but having the pleasure of listening again to the back catalogue of a singer or band in the effort to find that perfect running order knowing fine well you’ll probably change your mind within a few minutes of hitting the send button.
Those of you who recall The Fall ICA from August 2015 (#29) will know that I restricted myself to selecting only from singles released in the UK. Today, I’m restricting myself to album tracks that weren’t released in the UK as a 45…..and they had to come from an album on which Bill Berry featured………which in turn meant 10 studio LPs released between 1983 and 1986……….which led me to go with one from each of them (with one exception). Believe me, without these bye-laws for this ICA I’d still have been writing the piece come this time next year. So here is what I’ve called It’s Crazy What You Could Have Had.*
*three extracts instead of the full ten
Begin The Begin (from Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986)
This ICA opens with the opening track from the band’s fourth studio LP which, looking back, can be seen as taking the first serious steps away from being a cult indie/college band towards world domination within five years. The album tackled a range of political and ecological issues and its release seemed to coincide with Michael Stipe finally getting comfortable with the idea of the frontman being seen by so many, fans and media alike, as the spokesperson albeit he was often singing lyrics penned by one of the other members – such was the joy of having all compositions attributed to Berry-Buck-Mills-Stipe.
Begin The Begin has always been a band favourite, being played extensively at gigs and long after most of the other songs from the IRS years had been dropped to accommodate the ones the arena and stadium audiences had paid good money to hear – y’know, the 19 singles lifted from the first four albums from the 90s which have come to define the band in the eyes and to the ears of so many. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – and indeed if I hadn’t imposed bye-laws for the ICA many of those 19 singles (and indeed a number of the earlier 45s) would have made the cut. But I would still, no matter what, have opened up the ICA with what Stipe has described as an act of ‘personal, political activism’. It was the right note to strike at exactly the right time in history.
Country Feedback (from Out Of Time, 1991)
The LP which spent 109 weeks on American album charts, including two separate spells at #1 spot; it also was part of the UK album charts for 183 weeks (that’s nearly 3 ½ years FFS!!) with just a single week at #1.
It has many outstanding tracks, including this, named simply to describe its music – country rock (with pedal-steel guitar) with some feedback thrown in. It’s a rambling, slighty insane lyric that has since been claimed as coming from a single-take in the studio in which Stipe had only some prompt words written down on a piece of paper, with much of it being improvised. If this is the case, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, it is simply as extraordinary a song as has ever been written and recorded.
World Leader Pretend (from Green, 1988)
For highly personal reasons, this is up there among my all-time favourite songs by anyone, far less by R.E.M.
Let’s just say that it gave me inner strength and self-belief at a time when I was going through a lot of turmoil, not really sure if I had the ability to break out of a relationship in which I found myself trapped. There’s also an amazing live performance captured on Tourfilm in which the song’s opening is amended to name check a song by Gang of Four. (see bonus footage below)