Video Fridays: R.E.M.

I really thought that I was done with R.E.M., which is remarkable considering how much I loved them, and for how long.

R.E.M. were a central part of the soundtrack of my adolescence and young adulthood. Their first full-length album was released in 1983, during my senior year of high school. I REALLY didn’t like the so-called New Wave music that was coming out at the time, with all those synthesizers, glossy production values, and spiky multi-colored post-punk hairdos, and it didn’t help that it was now being blasted, not only on the radio, but on this new TV station called MTV. Just think Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran

So, R.E.M. came along with a gritty and basic guitar-bass-drums-vocals sound that helped form a refreshing musical oasis, along with Elvis Costello, Squeeze, The Police, and a few others.

And yet, when I think back to hearing their earliest stuff, I had no idea that they were starting out on a consecutive run of consistently great albums, 10 in a row over 13 years, rising from college radio cult status to international megastardom in the process, a run that rivals any of the greatest bands in the history of Rock & Roll.

I’d say it was right around the release of 1987’s Document when I first thought to myself, I can’t believe they’ve produced another amazing record!, a refrain I’d repeat with each new release, with a pause — Monster — in 1994, and then one last time in 1996 — New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

The last R.E.M. album I bought, 1998’s Up, was largely unmemorable upon early listenings, but then something happened that inadvertently severed my connection with them. My son, about a year old at the time, got a hold of the Up CD when no one was looking, and it was rendered unplayable from all the scratches and what I think were teeth marks. This incident prevented me from giving the CD more time, which could have led to me embracing it more, and I suppose that the combination of getting some distance from R.E.M., being consumed by parenthood, and discovering new music contributed to my not listening to any of their music for literally the next 12 years.

And then, this January, the friend whom I mentioned in this morning’s post, sent me an R.E.M. CD, a live album from 2009 titled Live at The Olympia. Interesting story about the album. It consists of performances recorded over a 5-night stand at The Olympia Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. These were arranged as live rehearsals, as they were in the process of recording their 2008 album Accelerate. As a result, the band sounds incredibly loose and lively, freed temporarily from the artificial environment of the studio. Additionally, since they weren’t on an official tour, they seemed to have used this as an opportunity to eschew most of their biggest hits in favor of deeper cuts from their older albums.

One listen was all it took for me to be catapulted (dig the reference to a song from their first album) back in time, where I remembered how much I loved this band. I’ve now listened to the live album many times, I’ve dug out my old CDs and have fallen in love with them again, and I’ve spent some time on YouTube watching some amazing clips.

Which brings us, finally, to Video Fridays!

It was hard to pick just one song to post, but I settled on this one, from their first TV appearance, on the old Late Night with David Letterman show. Their first album, Murmur got them to Late Night, and the first song they played that night was their first big hit — Radio Free Europe. But, then they did a gutsy thing and played a new song that hadn’t been released yet, a song from what would be their second album, Reckoning. It seems to me a powerful harbinger of the greatness to come.

So, Happy Holiday Weekend everyone! Here’s So. Central Rain:


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