Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Radio Free Europe" by R.E.M.

Song#:  1536
Date:  07/23/1983
Debut:  90
Peak:  78
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  This Athens, Georgia, quartet carved out a sound for themselves that would eventually become know as alternative rock (or college/indie rock). They became the poster child for the genre and one of the first to really go mainstream and have large scale success. But before all of that, they were just four dudes making music and touring. In 1981, they recorded their first single, which was "Radio Free Europe." Initial pressings of the song sold out and word spread quickly about the band. As they were prepping their debut EP, they got picked up by I.R.S. Records. Chronic Town was well-received and it set them up for their full-length debut album Murmur. This first single, a re-recording of their 1981 original, got great buzz and it ended up at #25 on the Rock chart. It was also able to scrape the Pop chart for a few weeks. The attention helped get the album to #36. As their popularity grew over the years, the LP would eventually go gold. Reviews for the album were glowing and it even lead to Rolling Stone naming it the best LP of 1983 over huge classic hits like Thriller and Synchronicity.

ReduxReview:  I have to admit that the first time I heard R.E.M., it was all lost on me. I just didn't get it. By the time they were on my radar, they had just released their second LP Reckoning. It got a great write-up in Rolling Stone and they were being hailed as new rock gods, so I took a chance and bought the album. I wasn't happy that I spent my money on the LP. It was just some jangly rock with a guy sleepily mumbling lyrics. This was the new face of rock? I was not impressed. But at the time I had my sunny 80s pop day-glo colored glasses on and this stuff just bounced right off of them. It's funny - I ended up a fan of the band, but I didn't get to hear Murmur until many years later. When I heard it for the first time, I said to myself "oh, NOW I get it!" Experience made me understand why critics and fans were latching onto them when they started. This single is pretty great, but for me the album contains even better songs than this ("Talk About the Passion" was a particular favorite.) If you only jumped on board the R.E.M. wagon with "The One I Love," then hunt up Murmur to hear how it all started.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) This song is one of two by R.E.M. that made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of "Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll." The other is their 1991 #4 hit "Losing My Religion."  2) Lead singer Michael Stipe became known for his vocal delivery that made a lot of the lyrics on R.E.M.'s earlier albums indecipherable. It all mainly started with the original 1981 version of this song. When they went to record it, Stipe had still not finished the lyrics. So instead of completing them, he just babbled his way through it. By the time of the 1983 re-recording, he apparently had finished a set of lyrics, but his mumbling delivery still made them a mystery to many folks.  3) There actually is something called Radio Free Europe. It was a radio station developed in 1949 that would broadcast news and information to territories where the government controlled what the public heard (such as countries in Eastern Europe). It played a big part in the Cold War reporting details on events that governments of certain countries would suppress. It is still in operation today.


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