AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #91 : R.E.M.

IT’S CRAZY WHAT YOU COULD’VE HAD

rem

I’ve not done all that many ICAs in recent times, preferring to leave such posts to guest contributors. 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.

I have the same dilemma and find that if I get myself immersed in an ICA I struggle to come up with the required daily postings to keep this place ticking over, but given that next week will see a series of guest postings while I’m off enjoying myself in Toronto I have no excuses but to have another go. But I’ll make it easy for myself by going for R.E.M.

Actually, thanks to a slight sleight of hand I have made it much easier than it should be. Those of you who recall The Fall ICA from August 2015 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.

Side A

1. 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 front man 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.

2. Driver 8 (from Fables Of The Reconstruction, 1985)

One of the hardest things in pulling together any ICA is getting the best possible running order. I know some contributors have dodged this simply by putting it together in chronological order which, after all, is what many record labels do when compiling a ‘Best of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ effort. By deciding not to feature any of the singles – most of which would fall into the upbeat and catchy categories – this particular ICA is not the most commercial release that would ever be put together. But in my mind, it’s always important to start things off in a way that appeals most to a casual listener to draw them into listening to the rest of the record. It’s a common approach as can be evidenced by so many albums opening with singles as the first two tracks on Side A.

Driver 8 is a cracking example of very early listenable and danceable R.E.M. and its inclusion here is only possible as it wasn’t released as a single in the UK.

3. New Test Leper (live acoustic version) (from New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996)

New Adventures In Hi-Fi is a wild beast of an album.  It’s way longer than anything else the band had done before or indeed have released since. It was as if it had been recorded specifically to cater for a CD release, coming in at just under the maximum length permissible under that format. It has its flaws, as indeed would just about any 14-song LP no matter who released it, and yet it is probably my favourite album by the band. Maybe that’s down to it marking the end of an era with Berry moving on at its conclusion, and yes, I too found it hard to reconcile that it all happened 20 years ago. But by any account it is incredibly bold and ambitious LP in its aims, including of course the fact it was recorded in many parts during soundchecks for the arena gigs in the world tour to support the release of Monster.

New Test Leper is a sad and haunting song with its meaning open to various interpretations. Is it told by someone with an obvious physical deformity or someone whose lifestyle has led to be a mental breakdown or debilitating illness? I’ve always taken it as being from the viewpoint of someone with AIDS trying their best to explain to an unsympathetic and non-listening world that their illness neither makes them a bad person nor a threat to anyone.

The version included here is one of the b-sides to Bittersweet Me; it demonstrates just how good they were at picking up their instruments and belting out a tune (although belting isn’t quite what they do in this instance)

4. 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 namecheck a song by Gang of Four. (see bonus footage below)

5. 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) and some feedback thrown in. It’s a rambling, slighty insane lyric which 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.

Side B

1. Pretty Persuasion (from Reckoning, 1984)

One of the band’s earliest songs and to many involved from the outset a bit of a surprise omission from their debut album, albeit it was soon earmarked for its follow-up. Another of the upbeat numbers that made their sound so attractive to the college radio networks which played such a major part in breaking the band. This could have easily been a single and indeed there’s every likelihood that if either of So, Central Rain or (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville had somehow charted then IRS would have rush-released this as a cash-in. It’s still astonishing to realise that the two singles were flops but then again, if they had propelled the band into the spotlight it would have been well before they were truly ready and would in all likelihood led to them breaking up before they realised their full potential.

2. Disturbance At The Heron House (from Document, 1987)

The LP in which the world began to really pay attention thanks to it spawning a Top 10 single (and the most misunderstood wedding song of all time!!)

It’s an album in which the singles are by far the strongest and most enduring songs, albeit they are a long way removed from the R.E.M. that early fans raved about and obsessed over.

Here’s a song that kind of harks back to the older material in sound and complexity but which opens with what seems to be a blatant rip-off of Born In The USA. On the surface, it sounds like another agitprop number expressing concern about the politics and politicians dominating the American landscape at the time. But there’s another really intriguing explanation that I came across on the internet a while back:-

“According to (Stipe) it was a song about how Athens was being promoted as the new “it” scene for music due to the popularity of themselves and other bands such as the B-52’s coming in to fashion. This of course led to a lot of musicians and bands, or “grunts and hirelings” as the song labels them, coming to Athens to try and make it big and claiming it as their own. Much like Seattle in the early 90’s.

These “followers of chaos out of control” were obviously distasteful to the real and authentic Athenian musicians who had worked hard to build their careers only to have these “monkeys” imitating (aping) their style and pretending to be from Athens. Apparently a music magazine was doing a cover story on the Athens scene and as a cover shot for the issue there was a picture of all these so-called Athens bands gathered at a local monument “they’re meeting at the monument” which seemingly did not include any of the authentic Athens bands at the time. This, of course, sickened and infuriated Michael and company and so they wrote this bitterly scathing song to describe the event.

When given this context it is indeed one of the most straight forward songs he has written and the line “when feeding time has come and gone, they’ll lose their hearts and head for home” is one of the most delicious F.U.’s that has ever been delivered in a song.”

Make of that what you will………………

3. First We Take Manhattan (b-side to Drive, from Automatic For The People, 1992)

The LP that spawned six singles and sold 18 million copies worldwide. The LP packed with strings-laden or piano-led ballads. The LP with a song that later spawned a Hollywood movie starring one of the most famous American comedy actors to emerge in the late 20th century.

Let’s be frank…..there’s not really all that much left when you exclude the singles; the remaining tracks do include ballads and political rants but they just aren’t in the A-list of R.E.M. songs. Nor did I feel they fitted in well at any point of this ICA. So I’ve gone for this cover version – originally recorded for the tribute album I’m Your Fan – and then included as a b-side to the lead single off Automatic For The People. The band have always been great at acknowledging their heroes and influences with cover versions, many of which sadly often appear a bit lacklustre and half-hearted….almost as if the band don’t consider they can bring anything new or better to the song. But that’s not the case in this rockist take on a Leonard Cohen number….

4. Let Me In (from Monster, 1994)

The LP that caught everyone out. As far removed from the smash-hit Automatic as could be imagined and chock-full of loud and often distorted guitars with lyrics that veer from angry to bemused to creepy to scary to scared. It’s an album that was dismissed by many at the time and yet it is one that in many places has stood the test of time and still maintains the ability to surprise all these years later.

Let Me In is Stipe’s heartfelt and ultimately futile plea to his good friend Kurt Cobain with the lyric based on one of their final phone calls before the Nirvana frontman committed suicide.

5. Perfect Circle (from Murmur, 1983)

A song that so perfectly captures so much of what made R.E.M. so special in so many different ways. Always had this down as being the one to close any ICA, even one which included the singles.

So there you have it. My first ICA in a long while and one that putting together could have been an impossible task without me bringing a few one-off rules into place.

The links can be downloaded individually. I’ve also made the two sides of the ICA available.

Side A

Side B

Enjoy.

Oh and I nearly forgot……

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s at 45

119686704_b40e0d01bc

You can blame The Swede for this. The Belle & Sebastian posting a while back led him to leave this comment:-

“Your 45 45s at 45 sounds like fun, but was a bit before my time. Any chance of reposting the list one day?”

So I thought I’d delve into that archives for the entire series which more or less tells the story of the first 45 years of my life between 1963 and 2008. One per week for the forseeable future and with it being a cut’n’paste job it also in some ways gives me a bit of free time. Here’s the preamble to how it all began:-

“On June 18th 2008, I will turn 45 years of age. That’s in just under three months time.

One of my all time heroes, Bill Drummond, marked his 45th Birthday with the writing of a book that was partly biographical, partly philosophical but completely genius.

I’d love to have the talent to do something similar, but instead I’ve decided that I’ll make do by saying a few words on 45 of my all-time favourite 45rpm records.

Actually, that previous sentence is totally misleading. In fact it could even be regarded in the same light as Heather Mills’ evidence in her divorce case – ‘inconsistent, inaccurate and less than candid.’

Here’s why…..

(1) Not all of the songs on the list were released on bits of plastic that spun around your turntable at 45 revolutions per minute.

(2) The list is not my 45 all time favourite singles as I’ve decided to restrict each act/performer to one entry. Otherwise it would have been a chart dominated by a handful of bands such as The Jam, New Order, Orange Juice and The Smiths.

(3) What consists of a list at this particular moment in time could fluctuate on a daily basis. I reckon I’m firm on my all time Top 10…..but what one day might, for example, be sitting at #24, could the very next jump up to #13 or drop down to #33. And at the lower end of the list, some songs which bubbled under may find themselves sneaking in at the expense of something sitting proudly in the 40s or 30s.

(4) The 45 in question had to have been bought by me (or on the parent album as I was sometimes skint) at the time of release – this means that stuff that I grew to love years after it first came out are controversially disqualified.

So, over the coming weeks, I’m going to have a regular series counting down some great singles – and I’m going to also post the b-side as well (or Tracks, 2, 3 and 4 in the case of it being a CD single).

I’m in no doubt that what will gradually be revealed will irritate almost all of you as something you think should appear high up the chart suddenly makes an appearance in the high 30s. Or you’ll be hacked off when I choose a song that you’ll consider can never be regarded as the best 45 he/she/they ever released. Or worst of all, when a band or performer who you would have in your Top 5 doesn’t appear in the list at all…..

To give you an idea of how long this particular exercise took, I started off with a list of almost 300 names. For most of them, it was relatively simple enough to find my one favourite single that they had recorded. For others it was a really tough task. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I whittled it down. Once I was below 100 songs, it became almost impossible.

I hope that this will prove to be a series you find enjoyable enough, and please feel free to come on board with your comments, views and observations and savage attacks on my taste at any point in time. For now, in artistic alphabetical order, here are the songs which came in at Nos. 46-50…

mp3 : Billy Bragg – Levi Stubbs’ Tears
mp3 : Morrissey – November Spawned A Monster
mp3 : REM – Electrolite
mp3 : Stereolab – Ping Pong
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun

See….I told you it wasn’t an easy task.”

INDIE, POP, HONKY-TONK OR COUNTRY?

REM-Dont-Go-Back-To-R-65012

I’ve long been embarrassed at how slow I was to catch-on to R.E.M. and always had pangs of jealousy towards those who cottoned on from the start and got to see them before they became staples of the arena/stadium tours.

My excuse?

I was way too engrossed in UK jingly-jangly indie pop and the fact that in the early 80s my home city seemed to be the centre of the musical universe to pay any attention to what was coming out of the USA .

Besides….one look at the cover of this 1984 single and noticing that one of them had long hair was more than enough to put me off taking the band seriously at the time no matter what some folk were saying in the music papers.

But I should have trusted my ears and not my eyes. For quite simply, this single, which is rather astonishingly more than 30 years old, is quite wonderful:-

mp3 : R.E.M. – (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville

A sad tale of long-distance love told over a quite exquisite tune that can’t quite make its mind up if it is indie, pop, honky-tonk or country.

Such is my belated love for this track that on the only occasion business has ever taken me to the Washington DC (it was back in 2002 and I was delighted to learn that the conference venue, which was where I was also staying for three nights, was the Watergate Hotel), I used a spare afternoon to hop on a commuter train out to Rockville, where I had a walk around for about an hour and took some photos. It was, and I guess still is, a lovely little town.

Here’s yer b-sides of the 12″ single that I picked up second-hand a couple of years ago:-

mp3 : R.E.M. – Wolves
mp3 : R.E.M. – 9-9*
mp3 : R.E.M. – Gardening At Night*

*Recorded Live at ‘The Eldorado’, in Paris on Good Friday 20 April 1984 in mono

20apr84

That equated to around £6 or $9 (US) for the ticket.

Enjoy.

ANOTHER MISUNDERSTOOD LYRIC

download

“This one goes out to the one I love”.

With that such simple sentiment seemingly at the heart of the song, it is easy to understand why it has become a bit of a favourite among newly married couples as the wedding waltz.

The fact that the rest of the lyrics are clearly about a failed relationship, and one that the protagonist is quite happy to boast was nothing more than a passing fancy, surely means that this is a song whose true meaning has bypassed most listeners.

mp3 : R.E.M. – The One I Love

Michael Stipe, as long ago as 1988, was proclaiming the song to be incredibly violent and was about using people over and over again – an idea given further credence when you take into consideration the background refrain sung by Mike Mills – “she’s coming down on her own again”

The single was originally released in 1987 and the 12″ contained an instrumental and a live recording on the b-side:-

mp3 : R.E.M. – Last Date
mp3 : R.E.M. – Disturbance At The Heron House (live)

This particular live recording dated from 24 May 1987, when members of R.E.M. played two consecutive acoustic sets at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica as a benefit for Texas Records. Four of the songs performed were, at the time unreleased one of which was the above. As was this, which was made available on the b-side of the 12″ of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine):-

mp3 : R.E.M. – This One Goes Out (live)

That was the original title of the song….the subsequent re-naming has, I’ve indicated, caused untold confusion.

Oh and it’s worth mentioning that the only reason we have been able to experience these McCabe recordings is that the singer enjoyed the shows so much he carried around a cassette copy of them and insisted that they be used as b-sides on subsequent singles.

Enjoy

AS SEEN OVER AT THE OLD PLACE : JUNE 2007

Seeburg_Select-o-matic_jukebox_detail_01A

I was reasonably prolific in June 2007 with 24 posts in all.  The month began as May 2007 had ended with a daily series called ‘Holiday Hymn’ in which I provided a daily series of postcards from the island of Aruba.

These were  followed by a tale of a journey home that turned bad with alcohol confiscated by customs as I fell foul of the recently introduced no liquids in hand luggage rule; some posts about covers (inevitably!), stuff about bands that were largely forgotten; a post for turning 44 and others that I think still read well. Oh and a few words at the end of the month to say that just as the blog was really hitting its stride I was having to put things to one side for a bit as I was going over to Toronto to work for 16 weeks.

There was also a  a rant about From The Jam (which I’m now a bit embarrassed about given that Bruce Foxton has since done a really nice and thoughtful thing for a dear friend of the blog),

Here’s the full list of songs that were featured in June 2007….I don’t think I’m wrong when I say it would make for a great Radio 6 show or a jukebox that would be eternally blasting out music:-

Belle & Sebastian – Another Sunny Day
Super Furry Animals – Hello Sunshine
Billy Bragg – That’s Entertainment
Curve – What A Waste
Aztec Camera – Sunset
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – That Summer Feeling
Josh Rouse – Sunshine (Come On Lady)
Alexi Murdoch – Orange Sky

The Adventure Babies – Camper Van
Malcolm Middleton – Stay Close, Sit Tight
Tindersticks – Until The Morning Comes
REM – Electrolite
The Monochrome Set – Jet Set Junta
Blancmange – Waves
The Wedding Present – Back For Good
Simple Minds – I Travel
Beck – Devil’s Haircut
Beck – Devil’s Haircut (Remix by Noel Gallagher)
Lloyd Cole – Butterfly
Lloyd Cole – Butterfly (Planet Ann Charlotte Mix)
R.E.M. – Radio Song
R.E.M. – Radio Song (Tower of Luv Bug Mix)
Giant Sand – Red Right Hand
Lambchop – (Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
Lambchop – The Theme From The TV Show ‘Dallas’
Jackie Lee – White Horses
The Trash Can Sinatras – White Horses
The Wedding Present – White Horses
Primus – Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver
Pete Wylie – Sinful (Tribal Mix)
The Smiths – This Charming Man (New York Vocal)
Prefab Sprout – He’ll Have To Go
Scritti Politti – Faithless (Triple-Hep N’Blue)
Care – My Boyish Days (drink to me)
Care – Flaming Sword
Care – Whatever Possessed You
The Lightning Seeds – Flaming Sword
The Jam – Away From The Numbers
The Jam – In The Street Today
The Jam – Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
The Jam – Strange Town
The Jam – Thick As Thieves
The Jam – Scrape Away
The Jam – Tales From The Riverbank (fan club flexidisc version)
The Jam – Happy Together
Moby – Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday)
New Order – 1963
James Kirk – Old Soak
Blink – Happy Day
Family Gotown – Box
The Frank & Walters – Fashion Crisis Hits New York
Arab Strap – There Is No Ending
The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – The Queen and I
The KLF – Kylie Said To Jason (full length version)
Graham Coxon – Freakin’ Out
Foil – Are You Enemy?
The Pixies – Velouria
Queens Of The Stone Age – No One Knows
The Clash – White Man In Hammersmith Palais
The Clash – Stay Free
The Clash – Straight To Hell (unedited version)
The 1990’s – Pollokshields
Morrissey – Come Back To Camden
Cornershop – Heavy Soup
The Weather Prophets – Well Done Sonny
Malcolm Middleton – A Brighter Beat
Elizabeth – (Dance) Into The Heart Of Your Enemy
Billy Bragg – Ontario, Quebec & Me (live)
Prefab Sprout – Goodbye Lucille #1
The Breeders – Safari
Arcade Fire – Wake Up
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
St Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – In The Heal Of The Night
British Sea Power – Remember Me
The Lilac Time – The Girl Who Waves At Trains
St Vincent – Now. Now.
I Am Kloot – Over My Shoulder
Neil Young – After The Goldrush
Edwyn Collins – Don’t Shilly Shally
The Wedding Present – It’s For You
The Trash Can Sinatras – Only Tongue Can Tell
Martha Wainwright – Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole
The Wannadies – Hit
Grinderman – Love Bomb

In addition to that rather exhausting list, there were three other songs wthin the posting I’m revisiting in full. It dates from 21 June 2007 and is one in which I give a big shout out to ctel.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

SONGS FOR YOU

Judging by the comments that he often makes afterwards, one of the regular and long-standing visitors to TVV – Ctel – seems to enjoy when I post rare tracks by the best band to come out of Athens, Georgia.

Yesterday, I picked up second-hand copies of a couple of 12″ singles from the IRS days. Maybe Ctel already has the tracks, but if not, what follows are for mostly for him, but I’m sure he’ll be happy for you all to share:-

mp3 : R.E.M. – Finest Worksong (Lengthy Club Mix)

This single was released in April 1988, a full 7 months after the album Document came out, and so it was given a different recording and mix featuring a horns section. A shorter version of this was later put on the compilation LP Eponymous, but to the best of my knowledge the track in all its glory is only available on the 12″ single. The band left IRS two days after the UK release of Finest Worksong and signed for Warner Brothers.

mp3 : R.E.M. – Time After Time etc.

This is the b-side to the Worksong single. It’s a live medley taken from a recording made by Vara Radio in Holland of the band’s concert in Utrecht on 14 September 1987. According to the set-list reproduced in the book Adventures In Hi-Fi : The Complete R.E.M. by Rob Jovanovic and Tim Abbott (Orion Publishing 2001), the three-track medley, which comprises Time After Time, Red Rain (a cover of the Peter Gabriel song) and So. Central Rain was the fourth and final encore of the show. Much of it is Michael Stipe singing acapella, with Peter Buck seemingly the only other band member on stage. It’s a very quiet recording, so you may have to crank up your volume for best effect.

mp3 : R.E.M. – This One Goes Out (live)

In other words, an early version of The One I Love, the song which brought the band to the attention of a wider audience. It was actually the first ever public airing of the song and was on 24 May 1987, a full three months before it was issued as a single. It’s taken from the 12″ release of It’s The End Of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).

The record sleeve tells us that the recording is from a show at McCabes Guitar Shop in Santa Monica held as a benefit for Texas Records who had been hit with a lawsuit. The Jovanovic/Abbott book reveals that the show opened with four songs by Steve Wynne of Dream Syndicate, followed by a couple of songs by a ‘tipsy’ Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs (the latter of which she was joined on stage by Stipe), before the main R.E.M set.

This One Goes Out was in fact the first full R.E.M. song of the evening. However…..it’s a recording with a difference. When Merchant left the stage, it wasn’t Berry, Buck or Mills who joined Stipe but Geoff Gans, a member of staff at IRS Records.

The book says…’Gans started some acoustic strumming and the unlikely pairing served up a stunning version…’.

And it is.

The other track on the b-side of the single is a live version of Maps and Legends from the same how, but this can also be found on the CD of the re-released Fables of the Reconstruction that came out in 1992.

So thanks Ctel for coming by so often – and thanks for inspiring these rare and great songs.

2013 update

Little did I know when I wrote these words that we would one day meet in the flesh and that he would be single-handedly responsible for saving the blog a few years later when I got quite overwhelmed with things happening in my real life…but’s a tale for another day.

If any of you are keen to hear any of the songs in the list, please let me know and I’ll get round to reposting them.

JC