Posts Tagged ‘Micheal Stipe’

R.E.M.’s debut EP, “Chronic Town”, was released on August 24th, 1982. It’s safe to say music was never the same, upon the release of the five-song record.

That’s because “Chronic Town” EP feels as if beamed in from another planet — a planet shrouded in murky atmospheres, Southern mysticism and post-punk eclecticism. There’s a faint psychedelic vibe running throughout, notably shading the jangly, Peter Buck riffs coiling through “Wolves, Lower” and the wistful grooves of “Gardening at Night,” while the taut tempos of “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” and “1,000,000” give the songs vibrating velocity. The nearly six-minute “Stumble” feels like deconstructed dance music, as repetitive guitar embellishments do battle with Bill Berry’s percussion bursts.

Beneath the surface lurks layers of sounds and effects; these add barely perceptible, but mysterious, texture. Yet with the cryptic Michael Stipe’s lyrics and vocals. Phrases leap from the music here and there, giving off the air of a faded watercolour more than a crisp portrait. This is particularly effective in “Wolves, Lower,” which features quizzical notes-to-self (“Suspicion yourself, suspicion yourself, don’t get caught”) and interesting arrangements. The verse is a call-and-response: a questioning chorus sings the phrase “House in order,” while Stipe follows with yearning, wordless crooning.

“Gardening at Night,” a song dating back to summer 1980 that is allegedly inspired by Buck seeing a man gardening while wearing dress clothes, is also a puzzle, as Stipe employs a vocal technique that’s gorgeous yet indistinct. And then there’s “Stumble,” which begins with a brief clip of Stipe laughing, saying “Teeth!” and then chomping his choppers. “Chronic Town” is such a compulsively listenable because listeners are compelled to try to figure out its secrets.

As per usual with R.E.M. in those early days, sessions for “Chronic Town” were quick and efficient. The band wasted no time getting back into the studio after the July 1981 release of its debut 7-inch, the Mitch Easter-produced “Radio Free Europe.” According to the R.E.M. Timeline, the group headed to Easter’s Drive-In Studio during the first week of October. “The instruments were recorded on Friday, vocals on Saturday, and it was mixed on Sunday,” Buck recalled in 1983. “We didn’t have the money to take any longer.”

On October 3rd, 1981, the band tore through close to eight songs, some of which appeared on “Chronic Town” (“1,000,000,” “Gardening at Night,” “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” and “Stumble”), and others which would later surface on “Murmur” (“Shaking Through”) or as early B-sides (“Ages of You,” “White Tornado”). R.E.M. also cut an abstract, collage-like song, later dubbed “Jazz Lips” or “This Is Jazz (Blow Nose),” that featured Stipe reading a 1959 magazine article above the cacophonous fray.

The EP’s lead-off track, “Wolves, Lower,” emerged after this initial session. The song was recorded twice in 1982, with R.E.M. tracking a fast version (heard below) in January, along with the take on “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” that made the EP and then re-cut a slower version in June.

Looking back in 2007 with writer Fred Mills, Easter had clarity on the “Chronic Town” sessions. “By now, I was a bit more comfortable with them so I threw in suggestions involving tape loops, backwards sounds, etc. and they loved it all. The sense that we were doing something good was really energizing. We even had the good sense and confidence to go back and re-do ‘Wolves, Lower’ at something less than the speed of light.

“Most of my sessions were so low-budget and rationalized according to the ‘Rules of Punk Rock’ that taking the time to reconsider something was really posh and unusual!” he adds. “It struck me that the band had actually gotten better — everybody sounded bigger and better and clearer, somehow.”

Still, around the release of 1983’s “Murmur”, Buck described a slightly more freewheeling experience saying the band made “Chronic Town” “for our own pleasure, as a learning process. We used lots of backwards guitars and weird sound ideas. We tried anything we’d ever wanted to try, so a lot of things on there are too busy. We didn’t edit ourselves the way we did on [Murmur].”

Part of that experimentation had to do with Easter and his love of Kraftwerk. In R.E.M.: Fiction: An Alternative Biography, David Buckley wrote that Easter was “always ready to try something more mechanoid in the studio. Part and parcel of this were to use rudimentary musical concrete techniques — any means to distort the fabric of time, or to layer slabs of ‘found’ elements.”

Among the experiments: The bridge of “Wolves, Lower” contained both backward elements and a tape loop, giving it a back-masked, disorienting sound. Stipe also recorded some of his vocals outside, giving his vocals an intriguing (if somewhat intangible) ambience.

Although “Chronic Town” came together fast, the EP didn’t see the light of day until August 1982, owing to the fact that R.E.M. was working out terms of a contract with I.R.S. Records. This deal wasn’t necessarily on the radar when recording began — “Chronic Town” was actually meant to be released on a new indie label called Dasht Hopes, run by an Athens transplant named David Healey. However, life intervened, and R.E.M. also did demo sessions for RCA Records with producer Kurt Munkacsi in February 1982 before signing with I.R.S. in May. (Healey, however, is dubbed as “ex-producer” in the “Chronic Town” credits.)



Radio Free Europe (2021 reissue)

R.E.M. will reissue their classic 1981 debut single, “Radio Free Europe” this summer, making it available in its original form for the first time in 40 years. “Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Single)” will be available as a 45-rpm seven-inch on July 23rd, pressed in Athens, Georgia, with the original sleeve artwork featuring Michael Stipe’s photography. The release kicks off the birthday celebrations for the Southern college-town bar band who turned the world upside down.

It’s the ultimate rock & roll origin story: Four guys walk into a garage to bang out a record. But when R.E.M. made “Radio Free Europe,” they also made history. They recorded it with rookie producer Mitch Easter, at his new Drive-In Studio (i.e. his folks’ garage) in Winston, North Carolina. The single came out on the tiny Hib-Tone label, with “Sitting Still” on the flip side, and went on to blow minds around the world.

“We were all just kind of finger-painting,” Easter says. “They weren’t super-deliberate about anything. I loved that about the sessions. Even when we did the LPs, nobody was really taking any orders from anybody. There might have been people advising R.E.M. on the business end of things, to do this, that, or the other. But they pretty much ignored all of them.”

As part of their 40th anniversary plans, R.E.M. will also release their 1981 demo tape, “Cassette Set”, which has never been commercially available before. It will be sold as a bundle with the single, in a limited edition of 1,500 copies, exclusively through the bands official website store. This release reproduces the original homemade cassette packaging, with Stipe’s hand-written labels and early versions of “Radio Free Europe,” “Sitting Still,” and “White Tornado.” R.E.M. will also issue a limited-edition custom cassette player, produced by Recording the Masters.

R.E.M. re-recorded “Radio Free Europe” for their 1983 debut album, Murmur, produced by Easter and Don Dixon. The new version of the single actually cracked the U.S. Hot 100, peaking at Number 78 — an unthinkable feat for a band like this. The 1983 “Radio Free Europe” is the famous one that everybody knows. But the original indie single has a raw, feverish rush of its own. For years, fans treasured it and passed it hand-to-hand on mix tapes. The 1988 collection Eponymous included Easter’s mix of the single — but the original Hib-Tone mix hasn’t been reissued until now.

Easter had never even heard the band before they walked into his garage. “I met them through a mutual friend — Peter Holsapple of the dBs,” he recalls. “He was living in New York, and the guys were playing their first shows up there, and they stayed at his place. They were talking about when they went home, they wanted to record something. Peter told them about my place, which had just started. I had seen a poster for them in a club in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the poster led me to believe they were going to be some sort of electronic band. But when they came in, they stayed at my house before the session, and we sat around playing records, and it was apparent they were not going to be an electronic band.”

Everything about the April 15th session was quick and cheap. It was only Easter’s third recording job. (As he quips, “It wasn’t like I’d just been working with Pablo Cruise.”) They emerged with a three-song demo. The “Cassette Set” tape captured their playful side, with a brief polka version of “Sitting Still.” The band came back a few weeks later to add a few overdubs to “Radio Free Europe” for the July single. The initial pressing was a thousand copies, which seemed ambitious at first but the song won them an intense cult following. Just last year, it made the top ten of Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest debut singles of all time.

Radio Free Europe” defied all the corporate-rock rules. For one thing, R.E.M. came from Athens, Georgia, off the media radar. “Everything had moved back to L.A. and New York,” Easter says. “At least it felt like it. So we were starting all over again with the garage-studio notion. Engineering-wise, it could’ve sounded more posh. But in terms of what they did, it was perfect. A few months later, we did the “Chronic Town” sessions, then we did the “Murmur” record, but they always kept getting better.”

Posh it wasn’t, but the band’s DIY energy came across loud and clear in the garage. Easter didn’t try to change a thing. “I had this band-centric idea: ‘What is it that you do, and what is it that you want to do? Okay, let’s maximize that.’ I didn’t come into it like, ‘Well, my sound is all about the organ.’ It was hard for bands in those days to find studios that they enjoyed working in. Because the guy that ran the studio — and I say ‘guy’ because it was 95 percent guys — he was some older person, set in his ways. If you’re a struggling band, you can’t afford to go to the Record Plant or the Power Station or whatever. For the first several years of me doing this, at least half the bands came in with some horror story about this terrible time they had someplace.”

He could sense some related apprehension when he joined R.E.M. at the Reflection studio in Charlotte, N.C. later to record Murmur: “There were people around that scene, other bands, looking at R.E.M. like, ‘Who are these guys? I don’t know about all this.’ There was this sense in the air that something was changing, and the old guard didn’t like it.”

But for artists around the world, “Radio Free Europe” was the start of a new era. “They were putting energy back into things,” Easter says. “I played enough shows with people standing at the back by the bar with their arms folded, but all of a sudden, something happened so that bands like R.E.M. had audiences right up at the stage, digging it. And I just thought, [it’s] about time. Because this is supposed to be fun, you know?”

Easter had success with his own acclaimed band Let’s Active — start with Afoot and CypressHe also produced classic albums for other art-pop eccentrics in the years to come, ranging from Pavement (Brighten the Corners) to Game Theory (Lolita Nation) to Helium (The Magic City). But there’s something special about “Radio Free Europe.” “Those guys just hit the right note,” Easter says. “There’s a lot of good stuff that falls through the cracks, or it’s discovered later and enjoyed briefly, then it goes away again. But this stuff, it just stayed alive.”

Singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry helped originate college rock during the post-punk scene of the 80s. the Athens, GA-based group toured relentlessly for the first decade of their career, refining their idiosyncratic blend of brash tunefulness, poetic lyrics, chiming guitars and evocative vocals. by the early 90s, R.E.M. had become one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed bands in the world. with an extraordinary three-decade-long run of creative vitality, R.E.M. have established a powerful legacy as one of the most enduring and essential rock bands in popular music history. The 1981 limited pressing 45rpm single, which is now a coveted collector’s item, packaged in a black and white sleeve featuring original photography by Michael Stipe.

“Radio Free Europe” was later re-recorded for the band’s first album release on major record label I.R.S. records and went on to land the band their chart debut, peaking at number 78 in the billboard pop chart. that album, Murmur, went on to reach number 36 in the album charts, and set the band steadfastly on the path to college radio domination and critical acclaim. the band’s 1988 compilation album, eponymous, included what was called the original hib-tone single, but what was in fact Easter’s original mix, not Hibbert’s. this limited edition 7” pressing represents the first-ever re-release of the original hib-tone recording of “radio free europe,” and comes housed in a replica sleeve

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Having made a ripple of acclaim flow out across the pond, a new American band were given their first UK television appearance on the acclaimed music show ‘The Tube’—that band was Michael Stipe’s R.E.M and they would go on to give a career-defining performance.

R.E.M. were ready to make the newly found glistening stage their own when they were invited for a three-song slot in 1983. The band would take two numbers from their “Murmur” album, ‘Radio Free Europe’ and ‘Talk About The Passion’, Stipe and the group would also give a sneak peek of the upcoming 1984 album “Reckoning” with new track ‘So. Central Rain’.

It culminated in an extraordinary performance in the bubbling creativity of Britain. In 1983, the nation was still reeling from the dissolution of punk and was struggling to find their new sound. R.E.M’s arrival alongside indie acts like The Cure and The Smiths would herald a new age of alternative rock and roll. No longer flash and fashion orientated—R.E.M. offered something new and heartfelt.

“We’re not from Atlanta… We’re from Athens.” – Michael Stipe  
On November 18th, 1983, R.E.M. made their first-ever UK TV appearance performing “Radio Free Europe,” “So Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” and “Talk About The Passion” on Channel 4’s influential but short-lived program, The Tube. The performance marked the beginning of three decades of tour stops, festivals, album recordings, TV & radio appearances, and a lasting admiration for the people and places of the British Isles.

R.E.M. live on The Tube 18th November 1983

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As the prospect of another lockdown looms, we’re all left desperate to find media to consume when our brains our too microwaved to sit through a movie and the idea of reading a book feels like an impossible task. R.E.M. have offered a cure to the pangs of boredom — the seminal band will rebroadcast their iconic 1999 Glastonbury Festival performance.

For the first time ever, the band will upload the concert to stream on their YouTube page 72 hours following its initial premiere at 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, August 6th.

The performance took place on June 25th, 1999 on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage. The headlining set followed performances by Bush, Blondie and Hole.

Hole did such a great set, I was like — I’ve got to ramp this up, I’ve got to be great,” Michael Stipe said in a statement. “I think it was maybe a moment for R.E.M. and the U.K. where we had kind of been forgotten or pushed aside by younger bands, and that was a particular moment at Glastonbury where I think we pulled ourselves back to the front of the line and actually proved, this is what we’re capable of. It was a great show for us!”

The set saw the band perform a trove of their most beloved hits including, ‘Everybody Hurts’, ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘The One I Love’, ‘Man on the Moon’, and ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).’

Stipe mused that the band, “felt triumphant every time we played Glastonbury.” Acknowledging that, “The band really stepped up. It’s such a beloved and legendary event that, y’know, whatever stars are aligned for us personally and as a group; we managed to show the best of ourselves at each of the shows we played there.”

Alongside the Artist Rights Alliance, artists such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Sia, Lorde, R.E.M., Green Day, Pearl Jam, Blondie, B-52’s, Steven Tyler, and Elvis Costello (many of whom have already expressed annoyance with President Trump using their music) are urging America’s major political party committees to “establish clear policies requiring campaigns to seek consent” of the desired tune-makers before hitting play on their songs.

Earlier this week, R.E.M. signed an open letter, alongside numerous music contemporaries, demanding that politicians seek clearance on the music they play at campaign rallies and other public events.

“As artists, activists and citizens, we ask you to pledge that all candidates you support will seek consent from featured recording artists and songwriters before using their music in campaign and political settings,” their statement, written in partnership with the Artist Rights Alliance reads. “This is the only way to effectively protect your candidates from legal risk, unnecessary public controversy and the moral quagmire that comes from falsely claiming or implying an artist’s support or distorting an artists’ expression in such a high stakes public way.”

Premiering at YouTube next Thursday, August 6th! Continuing the celebration of Glastonbury’s 50th anniversary, watch R.E.M.’s headlining 1999 Pyramid Stage set. Tune in with fans around the world at 8pm BST / 3pm EST. Subscribe here: https://found.ee/REM-Glastonbury99

“Driver 8” kicks off the strongest two-song sequence on “Fables of the Reconstruction” with a bluesy guitar riff that mimics the forward thrust of a locomotive. Add in the insistent repetition of “Take a break, Driver 8/ Driver 8, take a break” that carries over from the first verse into the chorus, and you’re left with the distinct impression of a train barreling through a Southern landscape with no brakes and a crew strung-out on lack of sleep. But something about the song’s mood or urgency shifts as it arrives at the second verse, where all of a sudden Michael Stipe pauses to soak in the imagery that surrounds him: a tree house on a farm, church bells ringing, children playing in the field. But just as the driving riffs give way to arpeggiated chords, so do these pastoral relics of the South give way to images of power lines and other vaguely sinister representations of modernity. Like many of the best R.E.M. songs, “Driver 8” doesn’t pick sides. Not quite sad and not quite celebratory, it keeps its quiet revelations close to the chest.

Fables of the Reconstruction contains plenty of wisdom — including this song, inspired by the title of the book Life: How to Live written by a local Athens character named Brivs Mekis. The lyrics are whimsical — they detail Mekis’ eccentric habits — but suit the bustling music. In particular, Bill Berry’s drumming bristles with spring-loaded energy, which pushes the song forward and highlights the urgency inherent in Peter Buck’s circular riffs and the water-falling backing vocals. R.E.M. dusted off “Life and How to Live It” occasionally even during their final tour, and it became even more galvanizing as the years passed.

Rolling Stone wrote: “Listening to Fables of the Reconstruction is like waking up in a menacing yet wonderful world underneath the one we’re familiar with. R.E.M. undermines our certitude in reality and deposits us in a new place, filled with both serenity and doubt, where we’re forced to think for ourselves.”

The band’s fourth LP – A concept album with Southern Gothic themes and characters
Released: 10th June 1985 – 35 years ago

In case you missed it, there’s a really excellent interview Michael did with the Current on the occasion of his 60th birthday and the release of his second single, “Drive To The Ocean,” which is now available at streaming services.

All of Michael’s earnings from sales and synchronization licensing of the song for the first 365 days will be redirected to Pathway to Paris, a non-profit organization dedicated to turning the Paris Agreement into reality through innovative public engagement, cultural events, supporting citizen driven initiatives and cities in developing and implementing ambitious climate action plans.

Watch the video for “Drive To The Ocean” .

Visit michaelstipe.com to download this video, the audio and other bonus items, and donate to Pathway to Paris

Craft Recordings has announced a Monster of a celebration for the 25th anniversary of R.E.M.’s ninth album. November 1st will see the arrival of “Monster” in various physical and digital formats, all newly remastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound.

Monster found the band branching out to explore new sonic avenues, with bolder, louder guitars, minimal overdubs, and spare arrangements supporting lyrics frequently sung from the POV of different characters. Bolstered by the success of the lead single “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?,” Monster entered the U.S. chart at No. 1, and the band promoted it with their first tour since 1989. “Bang and Blame” also became a U.S. top 20 chart entry, the band’s final such single to date.

After R.E.M.‘s departure from indie-adored IRS Records for the larger filed of Warner Brothers Records, the fear was that the band would be manipulated into producing more radio friendly hits. And while R.E.M. managed to do that, it was not at the cost of their fine lyrical and musical frontier. By the arrival of MonsterR.E.M. had further established themselves as a powerhouse of a band with multi-Platinum successes like Green (1988), Out of Time (1991), and the legendary Automatic for The People (1992).

Monster, released in 1994, delivered the hit single “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, as well as other more minor hits. Monster would also become the album that started an alienation from the more casual fans. All R.E.M. albums after Monster (there would be six more) were much less popular (although I never understood why).

In his liner notes, Perpetua offers that Monster “had no precedent in the band’s catalogue,” adding that R.E.M had “never been this distorted and dirty, or this glam or this flirty.” Peter Buck adds, “We were trying to feel like a different band…We wanted to get away from who we were.” Perpetua observes that “there’s no question that the characters on Monster are all dealing with obsession in some form or another, whether it’s the infatuated narrator of ‘Crush with Eyeliner,’ the lovelorn protagonist of ‘Strange Currencies,’ or the cackling supervillain in ‘I Took Your Name.’” As dark as some of the subject matter is, though, R.E.M. still infuses the songs with a dash of absurdity, irony and a humorous wink.”

Despite the enormous success of the 4x platinum album, producer Scott Litt was never fully happy with his finished mix. He states in the press release, “I had told the band through the years that if there was ever a chance to take another shot at mixing the album, I wanted to do it.” This anniversary edition has given him that opportunity, and he’s incorporated entirely different vocal takes and instrumental parts either buried in the original mix or completely absent from it.

On November 1st 2019, Craft Recordings will celebrate the album’s 25th Anniversary with a definitive 5CD/1BD Box that provides not only a newly remastered version of Monster but also a new Scott Litt-remixed version that sonically brings Stipe’s vocals to the front. The box will also include a collection of 15 previously unreleased demos, and the full 25-song performance from their June 3rd, 1995 show at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago that was opened by Luscious Jackson, spread over 2CDs. The Scott Litt-remixed album will be on a CD of its own. The Blu-ray will supply a high resolution Stereo version mix as well as a 5.1 Surround mix. The Road Movie film is included as are six music videos (“What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, “Crush With Eyeliner”, “Star 69”, “Strange Currencies”, “Tongue”, “Bang and Blame”). A stuffed book of notes, photos, interviews, and more is included.

For those interested in a less expansive option, an expanded edition of Monster offering the original album and the 2019 remix will also be available on two 180-gram vinyl LPs or two CDs, both featuring reimagined cover art by longtime R.E.M. designer Chris Bilheimer. The remastered album will also be available as a standalone 180-gram vinyl LP, with Bilheimer’s original Monster art.

We’re pleased to announce the vinyl reissue of In Time: The Best of R.E.M.1988-2003. Spanning 1988’s “Green” to 2001’s “Reveal”, plus two previously unreleased tracks, the album charts the evolution of one of America’s most critically and popularly acclaimed rock bands. In addition to the wide reissue of In Time, a special translucent blue version of the 2-LP set will be available exclusively at Barnes & Noble.

Originally released in late 2003, In Time serves as an opportunity to reflect on the astonishing creative and cultural influence that R.E.M. offered during the height of their 30-year run together. One of the most revered groups to emerge from the American underground, singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry—who amicably retired from the band in 1997—helped originate college rock during the post-punk scene of the ’80s, and went on to become one of most popular and critically acclaimed bands in the world; their idiosyncratic blend of brash tunefulness, poetic lyrics, chiming guitars and evocative vocals served as a soundtrack to the cultural tide of the late ’80s and ’90s.

Available for the first time on vinyl in over 15 years, the album includes 18 hits, Out June 14th.

Last month we highlighted a giant 9-disc R.E.M. boxed set filled with BBC Recordings, and while it’s still not officially announced though it seems we’re close to that happening  It appears the full details and a complete tracklist for the package.

REM grew up with the BBC, and this historic relationship is lovingly celebrated across an incredible collection that beautifully illustrates the career trajectory of one of modern music’s greatest bands. The collection comprises a treasure trove of rare and unreleased live and studio recordings culled from the BBC and band archives. This is a must-have collection for REM fans and an authoritative introduction for newcomers.

Due out October. 19th, R.E.M. at the BBC is now fully listed on Amazon.co.uk, along with a 2LP vinyl set called The Best of R.E.M. at the BBC that’s listed for release that same day. The set now has been officially announced, and we can add that The Best of R.E.M. at the BBC will not only be released as a 2LP vinyl set, but a 2CD edition as well.

So what’s in this thing?, here’s a quick rundown of the set, which includes live material recorded both in concert and in the studio for the BBC between 1984 and 2008.

Disc 1: A round-up of BBC in-studio sessions, including six songs recorded in 1991, plus a 1998 session with the legendary John Peel and more songs recorded in 2003 and 2008.

Disc 2: A 12-song performance recorded at the BBC Radio Theatre in London in 1998.

Disc 3: Perhaps the most exciting to longtime fans, this is a 16-song set recorded at Rock City in Nottingham, England, in 1984 during the Reckoning tour.

Discs 4 and 5: A complete 25-song Monster tour set recorded at Milton Keynes in 1995.

Discs 6 and 7: The band’s Glastonbury festival appearance in 1999 following the release of Up.

Disc 8: An 11-song, invite-only performance at St. James’s Church in London in 2004.

Disc 9: A DVD featuring the “Accelerating Backwards” film plus a “Later… with Jools Holland” appearance filmed in 1998, and a few other assorted performances.

As for the 2LP and 2CD “best of” editions, they’re described as offering “a selection of in-studio performance and live broadcast highlights” from the boxed set.

It should be noted, though, that the two contain slightly different tracklists, and the 2CD edition does include audio of two “Later… with Jools Holland” performances only included on the DVD of the larger set.

Document

R.E.M’s second album, 1984’s Reckoning, carried a curious phrase on the LP’s spine: “File Under Water.” It was a designation, an in-joke or even an alternate title that referenced the running theme of water in the album’s lyrics, from “Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean” to “These rivers of suggestion are driving me away.”

When R.E.M. released their first best-of collection, 1988’s Eponymous, the compilation had a different designation: “File Under Grain.” This time, it was a reference to the wheat field cover art as well as the subject matter of the LP’s lone single, “Talk About the Passion,” which was about hunger.

A few years, and albums, after Reckoning, and about a year before Eponymous hit stores, R.E.M. repeated this exercise. Lead singer and primary lyricist Micheal Stipe had noticed that many of the songs that made up the band’s fifth studio album, “Document” featured fire from burning coals in “Exhuming McCarthy” and fiery destruction in “Welcome To The Occupation” to a firehouse in “Oddfellows Local 151” and a literal chorus of “Fire!” in “The One I Love” When released in the summer of 1987, Document had “File Under Fire” inscribed on its spine.

R.E.M. has just finished a tour of Europe and North America, playing to the largest crowds of the group’s career so far. They are on the cover of the Rolling Stone, underscored with the declaration “America’s Best Band.” Their latest album,Document, is fast approaching platinum sales in the U.S. And they have a Top 10 hit. Most bands would be thrilled, ready to forge ahead with declarations of continued greatness . But the guys in R.E.M., bandmates for seven years, were more surprised by their quantum leap in popularity, maybe even shocked by it, and definitely skeptical.

For R.E.M., 1986 had been a pivotal year. The band’s fourth album, the brash, yet highly accessible Lifes Rich Pageant had rewarded them with their first gold disc, while their extensive Pageantry tour of the US had garnered considerable critical acclaim. As 1987 rolled around, confidence was at a high within the R.E.M. camp. The Athens, Georgia, quartet had already worked up a clutch of promising new songs for what would become their fifth album, Document, and they had completed a successful initial studio session with new producer Scott Litt prior to Christmas ’86.

Litt had already assembled an impressive CV. He began his career as a studio engineer during the late 70s, working on recordings by artists as diverse as Carly Simon and Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter. He debuted as a producer in 1982 with The dB’s Repercussion album, a record R.E.M. were already familiar with, having shared stages with the band. In fact, the two groups’ histories would continue to intertwine when The dB’s co-frontman, Peter Holsapple, later joined R.E.M. as their fifth member on the Green tour and then played on Out Of Time.

R.E.M. and Litt began their fruitful, decade-long partnership with the successful recording of the quirky ‘Romance’. Though intended for the soundtrack of the film Made In Heaven, the song also later featured on the rarities compilation Eponymous. Litt reconvened with the band at their regular demo studio – John Keane in Athens – for an extensive demo session, before R.E.M. took a break and briefly embarked on extracurricular activities, including some studio contributions to Warren Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene album.

The band were back in the harness with their new producer at the end of March, with all of April ’87 given over to the recording of Document at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Several of the songs had already been worked up onstage, and the band’s keen pre-production work paid dividends: for Document, R.E.M and Scott Litt captured the sound of a rock band at the absolute top of their game, capable of taking on all comers.

The accessibility that seeped from Lifes Rich Pageant’s every pore was again apparent, but this time round the band had taken things up a gear. Indeed, the R.E.M. of Document was a sinewy, muscular rock beast, primed and ready to dominate the airwaves. Peter Buck’s distinctive jangle and chime was still apparent on ‘Disturbance At The Heron House’ and ‘Welcome To The Occupation’, but, for the most part, his guitar playing took on a sharp, steely quality. Accordingly, he turned in some of his most memorable recorded performances: launching ‘Finest Worksong’ with urgent, metallic riffs; embroidering the swampy funk of ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins’ with Andy Gill-esque tension and atonality; and punctuating the band’s supercharged cover of Wire’s ‘Strange’ with a neat, Nuggets-style psych-pop solo.

Meanwhile, the newfound confidence and vocal clarity Michael Stipe proffered on Lifes Rich Pageant continued apace, and on Document he summoned up a clutch of startling performances: bending and twisting his voice like an old time preacher around ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins’ and rattling off a rapid-fire alternate history of the 20th Century on the exhilarating ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’.

Lyrically, the socio-political concerns Stipe addressed on Lifes Rich Pageant again loomed large. Featuring barbed observations such as “Listen to the Congress where we propagate confusion/Primitive and wild, fire on the hemisphere below,” ‘Welcome To The Occupation’ was widely reputed to be a commentary on American intervention in South America. The deceptively infectious ‘Exhuming McCarthy’ also delved into political hypocrisy, drawing a parallel between the communist-baiting of the Joe McCarthy era of 50s American politics and the recent Iran-Contra affair during which senior politicians under President Ronald Reagan had secretly facilitated the sales of arms to Iran: a country which was then under an arms embargo.

Sonically, Document also afforded the band the chance to further broaden their palette. Special guest, Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, added his distinctive saxophone skills to ‘Fireplace’, while lap steel and dulcimer coloured the hypnotic, raga-like ‘King Of Birds’. From their earliest days recording Murmur with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, R.E.M. had always relished the opportunity to try out different sounds and textures – and experimental approach that would continue through Green and Out Of Time, wherein the band members often swapped instruments and fashioned new songs from riffs and melodies worked up on acoustic instruments such as mandolins and accordions.

The spine of the artwork for R.E.M.’s second album, Reckoning, had featured the message ‘File Under Water’ and the original sleeve design for Document included another elemental phrase, ‘File Under Fire’. Michael Stipe considered fire to be one of the record’s central lyrical themes, with the album also including the song ‘Fireplace’ and the eerie, religion-related ‘Oddfellow’s Local 151’, on which the chorus consisted of Stipe repeatedly keening the word “Firehouse!” Document’s savage break-out single ‘The One I Love’ again included a chorus wherein Stipe sang “Fire!”, and while this emotionally vicious song itself was actually the very antithesis of a traditional love song, it still provided R.E.M. with their first major US hit single when it peaked at No.9 singles chart.

The second song on side two, “Fireplace.” Like the song that preceded it on the album, “The One I Love,” the track both contained a connection to fire and the use of repetition by Stipe. Where “The One I Love” replicated the same verse three times, but switched out a word in the last reiteration to emphasize a nasty cycle (“A simple prop” became “Another prop”), “Fireplace” changed the last line of its chorus each time, in an effort to depict escalation.

The first time around, the floor is cleared to “sweep the rug into the fireplace.” Next time, they “sweep the floor into the fireplace.” Before long, it’s “throw the chairs into the fireplace” and then, finally, “throw the walls into the fireplace.” What begins with, seemingly, the burning of dust and crumbs ends with the destruction of the structure that the fireplace is meant to make habitable. Fire and brimstone, indeed.

As it turns out, “Fireplace” has a significant religious connection. According to many R.E.M. biographies, Stipe’s lyrical inspiration for the song was a speech given in the eighteenth century by Mother Ann Lee, the leader of the first American chapter of the Shakers. Before she became known as Mother Ann, Lee joined this religious sect – also known as the Shakin’ Quakers because of their dancing method of worship – in her native England, where she was persecuted for her beliefs.

Despite the Shakers’ extreme reaction to a civilization that they felt was out of control (perhaps reflected in Stipe’s recitation of “Crazy, crazy world / Crazy, crazy times”), the sect is mostly known today for their simple, strong craftsmanship of furniture and for their love of dancing and movement as a method of worship. Each shaker home had hooks mounted on the wall, on which their chairs could be hung. This would allow for a strict cleaning of the floor, as well as make room for dancing.

Both of these elements are represented in the chorus of the R.E.M. song: “Hang up your chairs to better sweep / Clear the floor to dance.” Eventually, of course, everything including the floor, chairs and walls ends up in the fireplace. Given the other political content on Document, it’s likely that Stipe was making some sort of modern connection to Mother Ann Lee. “Fireplace” could be a cautionary tale, that righteous anger of any kind can slowly consume the structures that are necessary.

Stipe’s cryptic lyrics and matched by the strange, sharp instrumentation, which includes an off-kilter beat from drummer Bill Berry. “Fireplace” a “hard-rock waltz with a modal, hypnotic riff.” Peter Buck, the guitarist responsible for the riff, explained that R.E.M. was hoping for weirder results when making Document.

“This time around we wanted to make a tougher-edged record,” Buck reported .Its predecessor “Lifes Rich Pageant”. This time we wanted to make a loose, weird, semi-live-in-the-studio album. We wanted to have a little tougher stance. Part of the loose, weird approach was provided by saxophonist Steve Berlin, most famous as a member of Los Lobos – although he also worked with the Replacements, the Go-Go’s and Faith No More. Co-producer Scott Litt had previously teamed with Berlin and brought him near the end of the Document sessions. His midnight sax took the place of a typical Buck guitar solo, lending “Fireplace” a jazzy edge, as it finished off the song in an explosion of freewheeling bebop honking. Never before had an outside musician been given such a prominent role on an R.E.M. LP.

“That one was obviously a big one, because R.E.M. were pretty huge, said Berlin  “I was a little nervous going into that field, but it was a lot of fun. Even though they’d been successful, they were still experimenting. They were having a lot of fun making that record. The vibe in that room was they were really having a great time. They were happy with the way they were sounding and how the record was going and the way the world was receiving them. It was just a real honor to be a part of it.”

The guys in R.E.M. must not have thought that “Fireplace” was much good without Berlin’s presence. The band only performed the song 10 times in concert in their entire career, the final instance coming in 1989. “Fireplace” remains a stranger, lesser-known entry in the R.E.M. canon, although – as with the Shakers – the workmanship is rock solid.

Document followed through on the success of ‘The One I Love’, peaking at an impressive No.10 in September 1987. The band’s heavy touring schedule across the past five years now yielded far greater dividends as Document proved to be a hit in numerous territories, peaking at No.28 in the UK (where it also went gold), No.17 in New Zealand and No.13 in Canada, where it earned a platinum disc for the band.

The press agreed en masse that R.E.M. had again conjured up something special with Document. Always one of rock’s most insightful writers, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke was impressed by Stipe’s continued prowess as a frontman (“His vocals, which are upfront in the mix, are as crisp and distinct as they’ve ever been, full of emotional portent and physical insistence”) before he cogently summed up his review with: “Document is the sound of R.E.M. on the move, the roar of a band that prides itself on the measure of achievement and the element of surprise.” Elsewhere, New York Times critic Robert Christgau weighed in with, “Their commercial breakthrough eschews escapism without surrendering structural obliqueness,” and the Los Angeles Times praised: “A tougher, meaner, leaner album than its immediate predecessors, with a far more hard-edged guitar sound and tenser rock rhythms.”

The group filmed promotional videos for Document’s spearhead singles, ‘The One I Love’ (directed by New York artist Robert Longo) and ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (But I Feel Fine)’, for which R.E.M. turned to their long-term friend Jim Herbert, also the director of photography for the rock documentary Athens Georgia Inside-Out. In readiness for their next bout of touring, the band embarked on a series of interviews, including one with Rolling Stone, wherein Peter Buck cautiously stated: “I don’t see this as the record that’s going to blast apart the chart.”

From the onset of the band’s European tour, however, it was clear that R.E.M. were indeed ready to sell a large number of records and slough off the shackles of cultdom for good. The band’s Work tour kicked off with a rapturously received show at one of London’s premier indoor venues, the Hammersmith Odeon, and continued with the band playing to packed houses in The Netherlands, Germany and at La Cigale in the French capital, Paris.

Taking 10,000 Maniacs (and, later, The dB’s) along as their support, R.E.M. launched into the American leg of their Work tour with a show at the University Of Tennessee in Knoxville, on 1st October, and traversed North America and Canada until the end of November, playing around 45 shows in all. Along the way, they performed some of their most prestigious gigs to date, including a two-night stand at one of their favourite stamping grounds, New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Document was a massive turning point for R.E.M., filled with big hits and hard lessons. As the band’s final studio LP with I.R.S. Records, it marked the ending of the band’s underground years – as R.E.M. would jump to Warner Bros. the following year and become an act that could fill arenas. But it was also the beginning of a new era, a fruitful studio partnership with Scott Litt resulting in a bevy of blockbuster albums and many more radio songs.