Posts Tagged ‘R.E.M’

Live At The Olympia

R.E.M. was as good as dead after 2004’s outta-gas “Around The Sun”, but while testing out new material for what turned out to be two comeback albums, the band played a five-night “rehearsal” in Dublin in 2007. Live At The Olympia whittles those shows down to 39 songs, including almost every track that would end up on 2008’s Accelerate (and a couple of solid ones that didn’t end up anywhere else). Coupled with those very new songs, they rollicked up some very old ones, injecting new life into songs that hadn’t appeared on set lists in many years, tripping through tracks from Reckoning and Fables Of The Reconstruction as if to draw a parallel between the classic band and the current one. From “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” straight through “Gardening At Night” (from the band’s very first EP), it’s a worthwhile history lesson on one of the 20th century’s greatest bands.

“The first time I heard the vocals for ‘Houston’ was the first day we played it in Dublin, which was kind of terrifying. I was kind of afraid that we would start it and Michael just wouldn’t sing it . . . you know, having never actually played it with the vocals before, and when I heard it I was like ‘Wow. That’s kind of amazing.’ I had no idea that that was coming lyrically and melodically.” – Peter Buck

“Houston” from the film This Is Not A Show, as available on R.E.M.’s Live At The Olympia, Dublin


There was only one show performed in support of the 1992 release of “Automatic For The People”, that was on 19th November at the group’s old haunt, the 40 Watt Club in Athens GA. (almost 25 years to the day) Here is the recently discovered complete film of this performance. Special thanks to Dan Aguar & Todd Ploharsky for film restoration. The audio is available on all versions of the new 25th Anniversary Reissue of Automatic For The People. The Set includes four tunes from their recently released album including “Drive” (which was played twice), “Man on the Moon,” “Everybody Hurts” and “Monty Got a Raw Deal,” proving it wasn’t always bad to hear “and now here’s a new song.”


01 – Drive (0:00) 02 – Monty Got A Raw Deal (4:35) 03 – Everybody Hurts (8:49) 04 – [Greenpeace Speech] (14:42) 05 – Man On The Moon (16:07) 06 – [‘Oh Life’ Story] (21:25) 07 – Losing My Religion (22:35) 08 – Country Feedback (27:56) 09 – Begin The Begin (33:04) 10 – Fall On Me (37:05) 11 – Me In Honey (41:39) 12 – Finest Worksong (46:00) 13 – Drive (54:34) 14 – Love Is All Around (1:00:20) 15 – Funtime (1:04:47) 16 – Radio Free Europe (1:07:26)

There’s a famous quote from a movie. The movie was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and the often-repeated line was, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Legend vs. fact. Reality and the silver screen. What goes on behind closed doors compared to what the public perceives. These are some of the themes of “Monty Got a Raw Deal,” the seventh track on R.E.M.’s 1992 album, Automatic for the People. In 1992, as R.E.M. were starting to record their eighth studio album, guitarist Peter Buck began to fiddle with a Greek stringed instrument called a bouzouki. Buck had already become enamored with mandolins, employing them on the band’s two previous LPs (1988’s Green and 1991’s Out of Time) before he began playing the bouzouki, which has a similarly stinging – but fuller, deeper – sound when plucked. He used the instrument to come up with a new tune.

“I wrote the main riff on my bouzouki in the hotel room in New Orleans,” said Buck, recalling that it happened in the middle of the night when a particularly affectionate couple were conducting business one room over. “I don’t know what the couple next door were doing,” he added. “It sounded like an orgy.”

The legend is that Buck came up with “Monty Got a Raw Deal” and, the very next day, R.E.M. recorded the basic foundation for it at Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio in the French Quarter. But the facts appear to diverge from Buck’s memory.

R.E.M. Automatic For the People reissue

R.E.M. made Automatic in a number of far-flung locales and one of them was the Crescent City. But the band made its way to New Orleans in March, a couple of weeks after they had already demoed a huge batch of tracks in their hometown of Athens, Ga. – at a local haunt, John Keane Studios. And back in Athens, R.E.M. had already tracked an instrumental called “Bazouki Song” (sic) that would turn into “Monty Got a Raw Deal.”

Now, it’s possible that Buck further fleshed out an already existing idea in New Orleans or that his passionate neighbors helped him distill the song’s dark sound. But his story just sounds better. Print the legend.

“I was up late, couldn’t sleep,” Buck repeated in 1992. “We put it down in one take and [singer] Michael [Stipe] said, ‘Oh, that’s my favorite song.’”

It was only fitting that when Stipe created lyrics for the instrumental track that he’d do his own mythmaking – in this instance, regarding the movie business. He was inspired to write about Montgomery Clift after a photographer who had worked with the late film actor visited R.E.M. during the band’s creative process.

“The Montgomery Clift thing came because there was someone who was a photographer on the set of The Misfits who came by the studio,” Buck said. “He had photos from it and he was talking about it. … We saw those pictures and, while we were recording it, Michael was talking about it.”

The Misfits, released in 1961, featured one of Clift’s last film roles (and the final screen appearances of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable). It followed the Clift’s fall from grace. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, the Nebraska native had become one of Hollywood’s young stars, emerging at the same time as fellow method actors Marlon Brando and James Dean. Film studios began to market the good-looking, but brooding, star as a sex symbol – an identity further enhanced by his role opposite Elizabeth Taylor in 1951’s A Place in the Sun.

The gossip mongers spread rumors that Clift and Taylor were an item off-screen too. But the two Hollywood hotshots were just very close friends. After all, Taylor revealed later, Clift was more interested in romantic relationships with men. But being openly gay – or bisexual, as people close to the actor have claimed – in ’50s public life was not a viable option. Like many others, Montgomery Clift concealed his sexuality.

That was only one of the tragedies of Clift’s relatively short life. In 1956, he fell asleep while driving, crashed into a telephone pole in Beverly Hills and smashed up his face. Although he underwent plastic surgery, Clift’s looks were forever changed (part of his face was immobile) and he entered a depression. He coped with the pain with alcohol and pills, became an addict and began a long, slow decline that ultimately ended with his substance abuse-related death in 1966. He was 45.

R.E.M. weren’t the first band to write about Montgomery Clift in a rock song. The Clash depicted the disaster of the actor’s final years in “The Right Profile” on London Calling. But Stipe took a more empathetic approach with his lyrics, finding obvious parallels between his present life as a bisexual rock star and Clift’s time as a closeted film star. Each had endured the harsh light of celebrity.

“Monty Got a Raw Deal” doesn’t dispute the power of the movies or the allure of fame, even if he regards the latter with a jaundiced eye. “The movies had that movie thing / but nonsense has a welcome ring,” Stipe sings, before warning, “and heroes don’t come easy.” Perhaps the idea is that you can’t be a hero unless you suppress a part of yourself to live up to what the popular notions of a hero might be.

The song goes from film noir (“mischief knocked me in the knees”) to European expressionism, as he sees Clift lynched in a tree and buried in the sand – conjuring images of From Here to Eternity – even if that was Burt Lancaster, not Clift, rolling on the beach with Deborah Kerr. Our narrator is implored to stay mum, leading the chorus: “Don’t you waste your breath for the silver screen.” As the song continues, “Monty” becomes both tragic and mythical. The character becomes bigger, more representative of the marginalized, seemingly surviving torture, death and being outed. “Raw deal,” indeed.

Bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills is unsure whether the title of “Monty Got a Raw Deal” is an accidental double reference to Monty Clift and Monty Hall (who hosted the game show Let’s Make a Deal) or a particularly wry joke by Michael Stipe. Mills is more confident speaking to his role in the song, strengthening the recording’s noir-ish feel with the Carter Burwell-like wheeze of a melodica and a lumbering bass part.

“The bass is actually an old Guild electric bass that’s only about two feet long. The strings are rubber surgical tubing. When you play it, you get sort of a sound like an upright bass,” Mills has said. “For me, that’s what I think of when I think of that song. It looks like a lap steel with surgical tubing on it. It’s very strange.”

It wasn’t the only offbeat, but effective, choice made when recording and doing overdubs for the song. In addition to Bill Berry’s steady, sharp drums, “Monty Got a Raw Deal” features intermittent industrial crashes – startling bursts of background stomping that suggest the hazards of Clift’s story, Stipe’s experience or other tragedies.

“How much of the song is real, how much of it is about Montgomery Clift and how much is about home?” Buck asked in 1992. “I couldn’t tell you.”

When the overarching themes of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People are discussed, the first two things that come up are death and youth. There are songs that feature a woman on her deathbed (“Try Not to Breathe”), a mourning family (“Sweetness Follows”), a dead movie star (“Monty Got a Raw Deal”) and a person nearing the end of existence (“Find the River”). And then there are messages for the kids (“Drive,” “Everybody Hurts”) and lyrics wrapped in notions of childhood (“The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite,” “Man on the Moon”).

“Nightswimming,” Automatic’s penultimate track, exists near where these two themes meet – not quite at the intersection, but maybe a few blocks over. That’s because the song doesn’t deal in death exactly; it focuses on loss – the passing of youth. R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe doesn’t sing from the perspective of a teenager (as opposed to the similar “Perfect Circle”), but the vantage point of an adult. He employs the only known way to time-travel: Memories. His DeLorean is a “photograph on the dashboard.”

This song, so wrapped in memory, appears to inspire conflicting recollections among R.E.M.’s members. There are some things on which they agree — such as, in an instance that ran counter to the band’s usual workflow, Stipe had the lyrics for “Nightswimming” written before the sessions for the previous record, Out of Time. While the singer usually wrote words to demos made by guitarist Peter Buck, bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, this time the process was reversed. This time, he asked Buck and Mills for music that fit his lyrics.

“Being competitive bastards that we are, Mike and I started auditioning chord changes and tunes for Michael,” Buck wrote in the liner notes for In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003. “The two tunes of mine that Michael rejected eventually became ‘Drive’ and ‘Try Not to Breathe.’ Mike had a piano instrumental that he played to Michael. He listened once, nodded his head to hear it again, and on the second pass he sang the lyrics. It was ‘Nightswimming,’ exactly like the record we would record a year later. I was standing in the corner dumbfounded.”

While everyone seems to agree that this is what happened, Buck and Mills don’t align on where this took place. Mike remembers demonstrating his “circular” piano piece in February 1992 at John Keane’s studio in R.E.M.’s hometown of Athens, Georgia. But Peter thinks all of this happened a bit earlier, in late 1990 as the band were completing work on Out of Time at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios outside Minneapolis. Other sources appear to back up Buck’s story.

But even assuming that “Nightswimming” – or “Night Swim” as it was originally titled – did first come together at the Minnesota studio, there is a discrepancy regarding if the song might have been considered, even briefly, for inclusion on Out of Time. At times, Buck has said that R.E.M. weren’t thinking about adding to their seventh LP, only recording ideas for future B-sides or album tracks. But he also has remembered that others including Scott Litt – who produced both Out of Time and Automatic for the People – were open to finding room for “Nightswimming” on the former.

“That one was finished,” said Buck in 2011. “Scott Litt and everyone’s like, ‘Gosh, should we put this on the record?’ But the record felt done. So we just kind of went, ‘Well, this is a good place to start with the next one.’”

So “Nightswimming,” along with early versions of “Drive” and “Try Not to Breathe,” laid the foundation for the Automatic sessions. But again, memories complicate the truth. R.E.M. told multiple writers, both journalists and authors, that the final rendition of the song that appears on Automatic used the demo that Stipe and Mills initially recorded.

But Buck (as mentioned above), remembers recording the song again “a year later” – after the final Out of Time sessions. Mills recalls a key detail that, if his memory is correct, would suggest the album version was tracked in May 1992 at Criteria Studios in Miami – one of several locations R.E.M. visited to make Automatic. Mills memory sticks out, because he recalls recording “Nightswimming” on the same piano that Derek and the Dominos used for the epic coda to “Layla.”

“It was tricky. It’s a great-sounding piano, but it’s, uh, not in the best shape of any piano I’ve ever seen,” Mills said  “But it had the provenance that you like in an instrument, and it was a thrill to play it.”

No matter if it was made in R.E.M.’s hometown, or in Prince’s studio or on the “Layla” piano, “Nightswimming” went from a simple piano-and-vocals composition to something grander when the band decided to adorn the recording with some orchestration. To do so, the guys got in touch with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, who agreed to arrange symphonic parts for the song (in addition to “Drive,” “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” and “Everybody Hurts”). At the end of May, Jones and R.E.M. met in Atlanta, where the accoutrements were performed by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Deborah Workman played the oboe solo that comes in near the end.

The recording was completed, then mixed at Bad Animals in Seattle, and released as the 11th track on R.E.M.’s eighth studio album in October 1992. As Automatic for the People received an enthusiastic reception from fans and glowing notes from critics, journalists asked the band about the inspiration for these songs – specifically if “Nightswimming” was rooted in truth. Buck and Mills, who did not write the lyrics, felt that the song was based on the band members’ youthful indiscretions.

“We used to go swimming at night after rock ’n’ roll shows in Athens,” Stipe said. “We’d all go see Pylon or the Method Actors, then pile into a bunch of cars and go swimming in this pond. I think it was on private property, but we never really got into any trouble. It was all very innocent; we were only 19 or 20 years old.”

But Stipe, who penned the words, has contradicted himself a few times over about how personal “Nightswimming” truly is. In Reveal: The Story of R.E.M., he claimed that most of the song was “made up.” Yet in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011, he wrote, “There’s a fairly autobiographical narrative to this one, and the part about the windshield really happened.”

And that’s not even taking into account Stipe’s 2001 claim that the song was first called “Night Watchman” and about a real man, but the singer changed it because he didn’t want to be sued. Caveat emptor: That same article carried a preface warning that half of the piece was made up.

If “Nightswimming” is – to paraphrase the title of an R.E.M. compilation – part lies and part truth, that’s all the better for a song about memories. “It describes something that I touched on a lot later on the record Reveal,” Stipe said, “which was kind of the summer as an eternity, and kind of an innocence that’s either kind of desperately clung onto or obviously lost.” In this song, the situation falls into the latter category. “These things they go away,” Stipe croons, “replaced by everyday.”

This bittersweet view of the past seemed to resonate with a wide range of R.E.M. fans, both casual and die-hard. Although the piano ballad wasn’t a big hit when it was released as Automatic’s fifth single in July 1993 (it did rise to No. 27 in the U.K.), it steadily built a reputation as one of R.E.M.’s most beloved works. “Nightswimming” has appeared on both of R.E.M.’s best-of collections that feature their Warner Bros. era work – nudging out fellow Automatic tracks that were, technically, bigger hits – showing the affection that the band and the fans share for this song.

Memories might not be perfect, but – many R.E.M. devotees would argue – “Nightswimming” is.

The song was ready. Everything was there: Bass, drums, extra percussion and a smattering of guitars. The country-rock track, recorded over numerous sessions, was ready to appear on R.E.M.’s new album. There was only one slight problem. It didn’t have a title, or lyrics, or vocals.

With precious time left to finish Automatic for the People at Seattle’s Bad Animals studio, singer and primary lyricist Michael Stipe had writer’s block. All that guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry could do was wait for their bandmate to come up with … something.

As it was, the track that carried a working title of “C to D Slide” had endured a long process, beginning with practice/demo sessions that included the instrumental members of R.E.M. (i.e. everyone but Stipe). Although Buck, Mills and Berry all had defined roles in the band, they each played multiple instruments and in these formative gatherings, ideas could come from anywhere. In this instance, Berry – the drummer – had brought a melodic idea.

Bill had this one chord change that he came in with, which was C to D like the verse of the song, and he said, ‘I don’t know what to do with that,’” Buck wrote in the liner notes of Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011. “I used to finish some of Bill’s things … he would come up with the riffs, but I would be the finish guy for that. I sat down and came up with the chorus, the bridges, and so forth. … I think Bill played bass and I played guitar; we kept going around with it.”

As R.E.M. progressed in its work on their eighth album, the song was built up, too. Buck and Berry presented it to Mills and Stipe before it was recorded as a demo in February 1992 at John Keane’s studio in the band’s hometown of Athens, Georgia (with the singer humming in place of a lead vocal). In multiple recording sessions with producer Scott Litt in March and April at Bearsville Sound Studios in Woodstock, New York, R.E.M. piled layers and layers of sound onto the track.

Buck recorded acoustic guitar as the main element, then added a Rickenbacker electric (for the chorus), a Les Paul (for the “loud chords”), another Rickenbacker (“doing backwards strums” on the bridge) and a Telecaster (doing the slippery slide parts). He also played the mandolin-like bouzouki on the track – the same instrument that had served as the foundation for another Automatic selection, “Monty Got a Raw Deal.” Along with the drums, Berry played claves, which Buck felt brought “a nice little Brazilian accent” to the finished recording.

R.E.M. Automatic For the People reissue

After time spent at Bearsville, R.E.M. recorded in Miami and Atlanta and then traveled to Seattle to finish the record in the summer, in time for an October album release. The instrumental components were done and dusted, but Stipe was still humming his part. The band thought the track was too good to leave off the album, but it wasn’t going to happen as an instrumental.

“I was under immense pressure to finish this one piece of music that the band loved,” Stipe remembered in Reveal: The Story of R.E.M. “We had already recorded an album’s worth of material and I had run dry. I didn’t feel capable of writing another song, and I just told the band, ‘Give me a couple of days walking round Seattle with my headphones on to see what comes.’ I wrote a walking song really, which is ‘Man on the Moon’.”

As Stipe walked, his mind began to race. Lyrics started to form, with words that evoked games (“Monopoly, 21, checkers and chess” – more hints of childhood, an album theme) and a sly contrast between men of science (Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin) and a man of faith (Moses). A crude Cleopatra joke about Elizabeth Taylor turned into a line about Egyptian snakes and Mott the Hoople made an appearance because, well, why not?

As the lyrics began to coalesce, the song’s central figure became Andy Kaufman, the fearless comedian and performance artist who had become a hero of Stipe’s when, as a teenager, he saw him on Saturday Night Live. “Man on the Moon” wasn’t just a tribute to a clever artist, but how Kaufman challenged the audience’s perception of what he was doing. That ran the gamut from wrestling women to doing wretched impersonations as “Foreign Man” – only to deliver a killer Elvis Presley impression.

In fact, Kaufman spent so much time subverting expectations that many of his fans didn’t believe the news when the comedian was reported dead, the result of cancer, in 1984. Just as some had held out hope that Elvis hadn’t died, but faked his death to escape the pressures of fame, Kaufman disciples guessed that the Taxi star’s end was just a ruse. The conspiracy idea ties into the chorus, a celebration of skepticism: “If you believed they put a man on the moon… / If you believed there’s nothing up his sleeve, then nothing is cool.”

On a side note, “Man on the Moon” features ideas that reference three celebrated stars who died young: Elvis, Andy and Kurt Cobain. However, the Nirvana frontman wouldn’t commit suicide until 1994. In 1992, Cobain had become good friends with Stipe, after long being an R.E.M. fan. The “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” motif was an in-joke, because Stipe had ragged on Cobain for having too many “yeahs” in Nirvana’s lyrics, especially in “Lithium.”

“I told Kurt that I was going to write a song that had more ‘yeahs’ in it than anything he’d written,”said  Stipe

With more than 50 “yeahs,” plenty of nods to disrupted expectation (“here’s a truck stop instead of St. Peter’s”) and “Andy goofing on Elvis” (complete with Stipe’s own, casual impression of the King), the lyrics to “Man on the Moon” were complete. And just in time.

“That came together literally on the last day of recording,” Mills said. “We had the music all finished and we were all pushing Michael to get it done and he came in with all those great words and melodies on that last day of recording.”

“Man on the Moon” settled in the 10th slot on Automatic for the People, and was determined to be the record’s second single, released on November. 21st, a month and a half after the album came out. Even with its soaring, sing-along chorus, the curious lyrics and rustic feel of the track didn’t ensure that this was going to be a big hit for R.E.M. (especially in the midst of an alternative rock explosion). But “Man on the Moon” conquered rock radio, going to No. 30 in the U.S., No. 18 in the U.K. and becoming the band’s biggest hit to date in Canada at No. 4.

A black-and-white video directed by Peter Care (who also had done “Drive” and “Radio Song” for R.E.M.) only augmented the feeling of open space in the song – and helped its popularity with frequent airings on MTV. The clip showed a cowboy-hatted-Stipe wandering in the desert, doing his Elvis moves and hitching a ride with Berry, driving a big rig. The two wind up at a roadhouse where Buck is tending bar and Mills is shooting pool. As Stipe downs an order of fries, footage of Kaufman plays on TV and the bar’s denizens take over lip synching duties.

But “Man on the Moon” didn’t only inspire a celebrated music video, it also was central to a big-budget Hollywood movie. When Jim Carrey starred in a 1999 Kaufman biopic directed by Milos Forman, the film was titled after the song by R.E.M. The band also wrote “The Great Beyond,” among other soundtrack contributions, for the movie.

Despite being a solid – but not blockbuster – hit single, “Man on the Moon” turned into one of R.E.M.’s best-known songs, appearing on any best-of compilation featuring their Warner Bros. era material. Its popularity was aided by the fact that the band would perform the song at just about every show they played in the years following the release of Automatic for the People. The live version pushed the moseying tempo and featured Stipe bellowing “Cooo-ol!” along with Buck’s stinging guitar turns and Mills’s backing vocal acrobatics. R.E.M. always seemed to have fun playing it, something Stipe made clear when the band broke up in 2011. The singer said that “Man on the Moon” was the hardest song to leave behind.

“Watching the effect of that opening bass line on a sea of people at the end of a show,” is about what he’d miss. “And that is an easy song to sing. It’s hard to sing a bad note in it.”

Easy to sing. Tough to write.

In the early ’90s, Meg Ryan wasn’t just preventing Tom Hanks from being Sleepless in Seattle. The movie star also was helping R.E.M. avoid getting a “Parental Advisory” sticker stamped on their new album.

At the same time that Ryan was filming the aforementioned romantic comedy in the spring/summer of 1992, R.E.M. were finishing work on the band’s eighth studio album, Automatic for the People, at Bad Animals in Seattle. One of the last tracks to receive a final vocal from Michael Stipe was a lusty, airy love ballad they were planning to call “F–k Me Kitten” after a line that Stipe repeats towards the end of the song.

“Meg Ryan came by and she just loved the song,” said guitarist Peter Buck in 1992. “But she said, ‘You know, when I grew up if the word ‘F–k’ was in the title and it was on the cover, I couldn’t buy it in my town.’ And we thought, ‘That makes sense.’ You want to reach people. You don’t want someone to arbitrarily say, ‘You can’t hear this.’”

So, in a goofy stab at self-censorship, R.E.M. opted to change the obscenity in the title to “Star,” a reference to the asterisks that would stand in for offensive language. It also appeared to be a nod to the Rolling Stones, who had once humorously altered the title of “Starf–ker” to “Star Star.” But, just like the Stones before them, R.E.M. retained the blue language in the recording, simply changing the title to “Star Me Kitten.”

When the song was originally conceived, it carried the less risqué (and less interesting) working title of “Hey Love,” perhaps a gesture to one of the recording’s inspirations, 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” Bassist-keyboardist Mike Mills wanted to achieve an effect similar to the English group’s ethereal, layered backing vocals on the ’70s hit. He told Scott Litt about his thoughts and the producer came up with the idea of recording Mills as he sang different notes, then playing them back on a mixing board, with each fader controlling a separate note. The musician could then create a weird choral backing by positioning the faders.

“I just played my voice and brought in the notes that needed to be there, very haphazard and random,” Mills said  “I could never play it the same way twice.”

For the track, recorded at Bearsville Sound Studios in Woodstock, New York, Mills also laid down a wafting Hammond organ part, the sound of which caused Buck to add tremolo guitar that made him think of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The guitarist thought that the Lynchian influence carried over to Stipe’s vocals. Buck called “Star Me Kitten” a “Frank Booth-type love song,” because it reminded him of Dennis Hopper’s character in Blue Velvet.

The frontman hadn’t copped to a filmic influence on for the lyrics, which he gargles in a voice that barely rises above a whisper. Stipe said that at least one of the lines was inspired by the time R.E.M. spent making Automatic in Miami (in between their days in Woodstock and Seattle).

“I remember we worked in Miami a lot on that record,” said Stipe in 2011. “I can still drive down – there’s a boulevard in Miami, off of Miami Beach, that has advertisements for keys and how much it costs and you get three for the price of one. And that, of course, became a lyric…”

It actually became the first line in “Star Me Kitten,” as Stipe initially blocks his lover’s access (he’s got three keys “and you can’t have one”). As the song stumbles along, the singer explores their relationship, questioning what happened and remembering how it once was – “You, me, we used to be on fire” – before revealing a carnal desire.

“It’s a very twisted love song,” Mills said. “And Michael’s just saying, ‘Yeah, relationships are tough and ours may not be the best, but go ahead. What are you waiting for? F–k me!’”

“Star Me Kitten” was one of the last Automatic tunes to be completed in Seattle, where Meg Ryan gave her sage advice and Stipe recorded his hushed singing. But those wouldn’t be the only vocals applied to this song. It would get even more twisted when R.E.M. collaborated with beat poet William S. Burroughs, who mostly talked (rather than sang) Stipe’s lines on an alternate version. This take on “Star Me Kitten” was released on 1996’s Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired by the X-Files and has subsequently appeared on R.E.M. rarities compilations.

R.E.M. Automatic For the People reissue

Despite being a difficult song to replicate, the band performed “Star Me Kitten” almost 30 times on their 1995 world tour in support of Monster, with drummer Bill Berry switching to bass so that Mills could “play” the recordings of his backing vocals. The band never returned to playing the song on subsequent treks. Maybe they would have altered their plans if they knew Meg was coming.

R.E.M. began crafting their follow-up to Out of Time, just as the album was becoming a multi-platinum blockbuster in the spring and summer of 1991. They wanted to do something totally different, from a musical vantage point. Where their seventh full-length studio release has been delicate (mandolins), pastoral (string sections) and often cheery (“Shiny Happy People” anyone?), R.E.M. were planning to come up with a batch of rockers. This next disc would be hard, fast and loud, the sonic successor to the crunchiest material on 1987’s Document and 1988’s Green.

Those songs proved elusive, however, and the sounds uninspiring. So, R.E.M.’s instrumental trio (guitarist Peter Buck, bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills, drummer Bill Berry) gravitated to tracks that were more acoustic-based and shadowy in spirit. Automatic for the People began to discover its brooding sound – and later gained lyrics to match, from singer Michael Stipe.

By the spring of 1992, when R.E.M. were recording the album in a number of studios from Florida and Washington to New York and Louisiana, only one of those battle-hardened rock tracks remained in play. It was the song with the working title of “Howler Monkey,” a surging rock epic partially inspired by Neil Young.

“The song is written in Neil Young’s tuning – not that he owns it,” Buck said in 1992. “But the Es are tuned down to D, like in ‘Cinnamon Girl.’ I admit it; he’s the one I learned that tuning from.”

The muscular, abrasive aesthetic of the instrumental track appeared to provoke Stipe’s thoughts and feelings about the last dozen years of U.S. presidential administrations, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The lyrics that Stipe wrote were, as he later self-effacingly put it, “a barely adult reaction to the Iran-Contra scandal.”

The song was the most biting and specific political critique of R.E.M.’s then-12-year career. Sure, Stipe had already become a spokesman for left-wing causes and had written a few socially conscious songs (including “Welcome to the Occupation,” which was also partly about the Iran-Contra scandal), but nothing had yet approached this: The frontman lambasts the leaders and their followers, lists election years, slams the media and mocks the current president for unceremoniously vomiting at a state dinner (“how to walk in dignity with throw-up on your shoes”). In between calling his least-favorite politicians bastards and yelling “F— you,” Stipe characterizes Reagan’s and Bush’s America as an uncaring “Ignoreland.”

“That’s what ‘Ignoreland’ is – America,” Mills said after Automatic’s release. “It’s people who only get their information from sound bites and television, and who don’t really bother to research the presidential candidates – or ultimately the more important ones, who are your local candidates.”

Over the raging background, Stipe frothed about how politics could be played for sport, chanting “Defense, defense, defense, defense …” like a member of an impassioned football crowd clamoring for more tax dollars to be spent on the military. “Ignoreland” is angry, but it’s amusing and poetic anger, with a surprisingly self-conscious turn at the end. “Michael’s rolling against Republican politics,” Mills noted. “And the last verse is really great – ‘I know that this is vitriol, no solution, spleen-venting / But I feel better having screamed. Don’t you?’ It’s really great.”

Stipe’s vocals were processed through an amplifier “to get that cold anger in his voice that you get with natural distortion,” according to Buck. The effect also helped his voice hang with the titanic chomp of the music, a near-cacophony of instrumentation. Berry pounded hard. Mills thundered on a fuzz bass. Knox Chandler, who played on “Sweetness Follows,” returned to contribute “rock ’n’ roll cello.” Even producer Scott Litt got in on the action, playing Stevie Wonder on a funky clavinet and snarling harmonica.

No one, however, was outdone by Buck as he slathered “Ignoreland” in layers of guitar: electrics, heavily modified acoustics and even one played with an EBow. As the guitarist sustaining notes with his EBow on one overdubbed guitar and bending notes on another, “you’ve got one note held and the other pushing out,” Buck revealed “and it makes the feel really unsettling.”

With all of those elements stacked up, the recording proved tricky to mix (certainly in comparison to the more spare songs on the remainder of Automatic for the People. Although Buck claimed to be satisfied with Litt’s final mix, Mills and Stipe were less impressed. There was a dispute about how loud the fuzz bass should be and, within a couple of years, both of the band’s Michaels felt that “Ignoreland” should have been, ahem, ignored by the band and left off the track list.

But fans, particularly R.E.M.’s more rock-inclined audience, gravitated to the song – a buzzsaw in a land of nail clippers. Even though the band didn’t release “Ignoreland” as a single, the track got picked up by DJs at rock stations . A month after R.E.M. released Automatic for the People in October 1992, Bill Clinton was elected to the U.S. presidency, becoming the first Democrat to be elected during the band’s run. Although R.E.M. didn’t tour to promote the album (which would have forced them to decide if “Ignoreland” was now out of date or still applicable), Stipe appeared at MTV’s Inaugural Ball in 1993, performing with Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs.

“Ignoreland” wouldn’t make its live debut until 16 years later, when R.E.M. (now without Berry) began playing the song while the George W. Bush administration was in its last throes. On what would be the band’s final tour, Stipe thought that the old chestnut became “more powerful” in its live rendition – in addition to remaining politically relevant. “It just flew up out of nowhere and suddenly mattered again,” Stipe wrote in 2008. “I think we’ve played it every night this tour.”

Automatic For The People [25th Anniversary Edition]

“Sweetness Follows” is the centerpiece of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, filling that role both logistically (it’s the sixth track of 12) and thematically. Rock writers, reacting to the album’s release in 1992 and in the decades after, have noted how the song might best represent the whole: gloomy with some rough edges, and mournful lyrics that appear to be about death or, more significantly, loss.

The grief comes in a steady torrent, right from the opening line, in which Michael Stipe sings, “Readying to bury your father and your mother.” Deep bends of cello jab alongside equally cutting introspection, concerning matters in a family that was anything but tight-knit (“Distanced from one / Blind to the other”). No matter if the song’s siblings are actually preparing to attend their parents’ funeral, or simply saying farewell to a broken relationship with their mother and father, the aftermath is the title phrase. “Ohhhh,” Stipe warbles in a drawn-out howl, “sweetness follows.”

Is R.E.M.’s frontman being sincere or sarcastic? The lyrics are cryptic enough to be read multiple ways, and the listener’s interpretation can fill the hollowed-out relationships of “Sweetness Follows.” Whatever their explanations, fans can rest assured that they’re probably getting it wrong. When asked in 2008 about which R.E.M. songs have been given the most surprising fan interpretation, Stipe listed “Sweetness Follows” first – even before the more famously misunderstood “The One I Love.”

Before Stipe added lyrics to the composition, “Sweetness Follows” entered the world as a demo by guitarist Peter Buck (with the working title “Cello Scud” by the time R.E.M. were gathering the Automatic demos in February 1992 at John Keane’s studio in Athens, Ga.). In the end, Buck thinks he’s the only R.E.M. member who played an instrument on the album version, finalized with producer Scott Litt at Bearsville Sound Studios in Woodstock, N. Y.

Peter wrote the bulk of it,” bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills said. “Actually, it’s mostly a demo. There’s no bass on it at all. It’s all cello, played through an amp.”

The cello part came courtesy of Knox Chandler, the one-time Psychedelic Furs collaborator who had worked with Buck on a side project. As Mills said, Chandler sawed away at the instrument, which was distorted through an amplifier. In addition, Buck contributed waves of guitar feedback, which he said “fills the space and pushes the song to a different level.”

“I did that a lot on the record, putting weird, harsh things underneath which undercut the song,” he said in 1992. “‘Sweetness Follows’ would be too saccharine if it didn’t have that discordant cello back there.”

Harsh things, discordant cello, an absence of drums and an abundance of difficult emotions meant that “Sweetness Follows” wasn’t an obvious choice for a single. However, the Automatic album track drew the attention of film director – and former rock journalist – Cameron Crowe, who chose to include the song in 2001’s Vanilla Sky. (The Tom Cruise vehicle also featured a re-recording of the R.E.M. leftover “All the Right Friends.”)

Not long before the movie entered production – but seven years after Automatic for the People was released ­– R.E.M. began performing “Sweetness Follows” in concert. The surging cello part was played on electric bass on the band’s 1999 tour, the first without drummer Bill Berry, who didn’t play on the original track.

That same year, when R.E.M. played Glastonbury, Stipe dedicated their performance of the song to Jean Eavis, the recently deceased wife of festival founder Michael Eavis (which, one would assume, means “Sweetness Follows” is not to be perceived as sarcastic at all). After playing the song regularly when promoting Up, the band would return to “Sweetness Follows” on subsequent tours through 2008, but only when the mood struck them.

“We play it occasionally,” Mills commented in 2007. “There are a lot of songs that we really enjoy, but you don’t want to play them every night.”

When talking about R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills claimed that the band recorded their 1992 album “in the four corners of the U.S.” While that statement might contain a slight misunderstanding of geography, it’s true that R.E.M. seemed to approach their new record like a progressive dinner. Recordings were done in Athens, Ga.; Woodstock, N.Y.; Miami, Atlanta, Seattle and New Orleans.

In March of ’92, they spent a little more than a week in the Crescent City, setting up camp at Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio in the French Quarter. R.E.M. had already tracked a bunch of demos in their hometown of Athens, so the idea was to possibly create or refine a few more, while conjuring whatever strange sounds seemed to manifest.

Kingsway “is an old, haunted mansion – supposedly haunted – and filled with kind of neat, old antiques, neat instruments,” guitarist Peter Buck said in a 1992 promotional video. “And [we] did demos there, some of which ended up on the record.”

The band recorded much of Drive – vocals, guitar, bass and drums – by playing live-to-tape at the studio. Impressed with the results, R.E.M. decided to push further.

“It was two in the morning. There were a couple of bottles of wine around,” Buck said. “Then Daniel said, ‘Why don’t you just write some songs here? I sat down with a bottle of wine and wrote three things.”

One of them turned out to be the efficiently titled “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1.” The moody little number featured little more than quivering electric piano, thick-cut bass and an ear-catching foghorn guitar. You could almost hear the smoke billowing in a late-night club.

“That’s a groovy little thing. Peter had a volume pedal or some sort of weird guitar that made those noises,” Mills recalled . “We were just messing around making sounds, and decided to throw that song together. That came out of the sound of that guitar – that’s what got that song going.” Although a longer version exists, the two-minute, 13-second edit of the instrumental composition became the fifth track on Automatic. It’s more than a palette-cleanser between “Everybody Hurts” and “Sweetness Follows”; “New Orleans” seems to mirror the deeply felt emotions strung throughout the album.

Meanwhile, another song from those Kingsway sessions – named “New Orleans Instrumental No. 2,” of course – became the B-side to the single release of “Man on the Moon.” That track had a totally different feel, described by Buck as sounding like a “deranged piña colada commercial.”

Unlike Out of Time’s “Endgame” – the first instrumental to make a proper R.E.M. studio disc – “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” was never performed by the band in concert. One of the lower-profile songs to grace an R.E.M. album, the tune recently got its time in the sun (or, more appropriately, the dark). The instrumental popped up in director Edgar Wright’s 2017 feature film Baby Driver, which was filmed, partially, in New Orleans.

“I would never claim to say that we captured any of New Orleans,” Buck confessed. “But I really wanted to conspicuously try and get a late-night horn feel, that muted trumpet thing.”

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Whitney  –  Light Upon The Lake: Demo Recordings

Light Upon The Lake’, the debut from Whitney, was born from early-morning songwriting sessions during one of the most brutal winters in Chicago’s history. Vocalist / drummer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek began writing unflinching, honest songs about everything from breakups to the passing of Ehrlich’s grandfather. The pair leaned on one another for both honest critique and a sounding board for working through their newly-discovered truths.

The brief, intense period of creativity for the band yielded ‘Light Upon The Lake’s exceptional, unfussy combination of soul, breezy Sixties / Seventies rock and sombre heartbreak woven together by hopeful, golden threads. After critical acclaim and nearly nonstop touring since the album’s 2016 release, Ehrlich and Kakacek are going back to their roots – for the first time, the full demos from ‘Light Upon The Lake’ will be made available. After a whirlwind year following the debut, the demos offer a way for listeners to get a glimpse into the very beginning of Whitney’s sound.

“After almost two years of non-stop touring, we decided we wanted to close the chapter on ‘Light Upon The Lake’ by releasing the songs in their earliest incarnations alongside a cover of a band favorite by Alan Toussaint, and an unreleased track called ‘You and Me’. We’re looking towards LP2 as we finish out the year on the road.”


Husker Du – Savage Young Du

Experience the punishing sonic origins of a punk icon. Collected here for the first time, and skillfully remastered from original board tapes, demos, and session masters, this collection is an authoritative chronicling of the wellspring and maturation of Grant Hart, Greg Norton and Bob Mould – three St. Paul teenagers who’d go on to become the most heralded trio of the American punk underground. Follow the Hüskers to their earliest gigs in 1979, through extensive road dog touring, and to the start of their partnership with West Coast tastemaker SST Records in 1983 via a massive hardbound book crammed full of photos, flyers, and a sprawling essay with participation from the band. 47 of the 69 songs compiled here are previously unissued, and includes In A Free Land, Everything Falls Apart , and an alternate version Land Speed Record.

3CD – Three CD Remastered Set housed in Die Cut Sleeves. Comes with 144 Page Booklet with 40 previously unpublished photographs and 12,000 word essay by Erin Osmon.

4LP – Four LP Remastered Set housed in Tip on Sleeves. Comes with 108 Page Booklet with 40 previously unpublished photographs and 12,000 word essay by Erin Osmon.

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The Stooges  – Highlights From The Fun House Sessions

1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions was recorded at Elektra Sound Recorders in Los Angeles and compiled from all thirteen reels of multi-track tape that held every note and snippet of studio dialogue. Twelve reels of tape were used during the original sessions, with the thirteenth reel having the takes that would be used on the studio album. This sprawling set which was originally aimed at the collector market would be challenging and cost prohibitive to reissue as a multi-disc vinyl box set. What is presented here is an attempt to assemble some of the best highlights from the Fun House Sessions on an officially-released 2LP set in high quality packaging with a sequence that hopefully proves to be an easier, and more casual listen. Included are some terrific alternate versions of Down on the Street, Loose, Dirt, Funhouse ,1970 and others, pulled from session reels 1, 4,6, 7, 9 & 11 and originally recorded on May 11,12, 15, 18, 21 & 25 of 1970. Also notable is the inclusion of the 17+ minute-version of L.A. Blues, titled as “Freak,” which encompasses the entire fourth side of this set and is the prime example of what makes the Funhouse Sessions both loved and feared simultaneously.

Angel Olsen –  Phases

Angel Olsen releases Phases, a collection of B-sides, rarities, and demos from the past several years, including a number of never-before released tracks, via Jagjaguwar. Balancing tenacity and tenderness, Phases acts as a deep-dive for longtime fans, as well as a fitting introduction to Olsen’s sprawling sonics for the uninitiated. Fly On Your Wall, previously contributed to the online-only, anti-Trump fundraiser Our First 100 Days, opens Phases, before seamlessly slipping into Special, a brand new song from the My Woman recording sessions. Both How Many Disasters and Sans are first-time listens: home-recorded demos that have never been released, leaning heavily on Olsen’s arresting croon and lonesome guitar. The B-sides compilation is both a testament to Olsen’s enormous musical range and a tidy compilation of tracks that have previously been elusive in one way or another.

LP – Black Vinyl with Download.

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Jane Weaver  –  Modern Kosmology

Modern Kosmology sees Jane Weaver’s melodic-protagonist channeling new depths of creative cosmic energy within. After the huge critical acclaim of 2012’s Fallen By Watchbird, followed by 2015’s exploratory Silver Globe LP winning her unanimous “record of the year accolades” and hefty measures of radio play-listing Jane Weaver’s conceptual trajectory has sent her neo-kosmische penchants to the point of no-return. Jane Weaver’s unwaning yearning for psychoactive pop energy has just reached a new level of magnetism. As snowclones go, Modern Kosmology is the new Silver. Another Spectrum to add to the tension.

CD – Digipack.

LP – Standard LP is standard weight vinyl, black inner and A6 download card.

LP+ – Deluxe LP – 1000 Copies only. Black 180 Gram vinyl, Deluxe metallic foil print sleeve, black inner, 24”x12” fold out poster, A6 download card.


Vagabon – Infinite Worlds

Reissue on Marathon of the album that came out earlier this year on Father/Daughter records and was a Pitchfork favourite. Within the songs of Laetitia Tamko there are infinite worlds: emotional spaces that grow wider with time, songs within songs that reveal themselves on each listen. Tamko is a multi-instrumentalist and a producer, recording since 2014 as Vagabon. Her forthcoming debut, Infinite Worlds, builds upon Tamko’s stripped-down demos that have been circulating online and throughout the independent music community for the past two years. Tamko’s songs are embedded with her own story and personal history: growing up in Cameroon, her family’s move to New York and adjusting to culture shock. She grew up around music and loved it, but finishing engineering school was a priority before music could start to feel like a real possibility. To date, Tamko mostly listens to East and West African music nostalgic of her childhood, styles of music that influence her own in subtle ways.

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The Raincoats  –  Fairytale In The Supermarket EP

Limited copies are signed by Ana Da Silva. We ThRee reissue The Raincoats’ legendary first 7” E.P. originally released on Rough Trade Records in April 1979, and has been commercially unavailable since its first release. Fairytale in the Supermarket currently features in Mike Mill’s widely acclaimed and Golden Globes nominated new film 20th CenturyDigitally re-mastered from original masters. Original monoprint sleeve design by Ana da Silva.

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R.E.M  – Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Edition)

Widely considered to be one of the best albums of the 90s, 1992’s Automatic For The People features R.E.M.’s iconic hit singles Nightswimming, Man on the Moon and Everybody Hurts.

2CD – Remastered album plus Live At The 40 Watt Club in a rigid clamshell box with booklet. 4CD – Remastered Deluxe edition boxset features previously unreleased material, including 20 never-before-heard demos, and the previously unreleased tracks Mike’s Pop Song and Devil Rides Backwards. A Blu-ray disc offers the full album (with bonus track Photograph featuring Natalie Merchant) mixed in Dolby Atmos, plus a high-resolution master of the album, music videos, and the original 1992 EPK. Also included is Live At The 40 Watt Club 11/19/92 – a live set performed in R.E.M.’s hometown of Athens, GA.

LP – 180 Gram Heavyweight black vinyl, cut from original analogue tapes at Capitol Studios and download card.

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Ed Tullett and Novo Amor  –  Heiress

After meeting in November 2013, Ed Tullett and Novo Amor (Ali Lacey) quickly began writing to form the basis of what is now “Heiress”, their full-length collaborative record.
Recorded around the release of their two widely lauded collaborative singles (“Faux”, 2014 and “Alps”, 2016), the pair worked sporadically in intense week-long sessions in Cardiff spilling over Lacey’s old and new home-studios, tearing songs down and building them back up again. “Heiress” is noticeably the product of nearly 4 years work – sprawling, ambitious and strikingly deep, it’s a collection of songs both meticulously calculated and deeply felt.