Posts Tagged ‘Scott Litt’

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.

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.

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.

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.”

R.E.M. named their eighth studio album, 1992’s Automatic for the People, after a slogan employed by Weaver D’s, a joint in their hometown of Athens, Ga., that specialized in soul food. But the musicians didn’t just enjoy soul food, they were fans of soul music – an influence that got obscured by the music press’ constant references to the Byrds and New York punks.

But R.E.M. loved R&B records. They goofily covered Archie Bell and the Drells’ “Tighten Up” in the ’80s and some soul aficionados compared Bill Berry’s drumming to that of Booker T. and the MG’s member Al Jackson Jr.

It was Berry who came up with the rough idea for R.E.M.’s most soulful original song, “Everybody Hurts.” In mid-1991, Berry, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills met up to begin working on music for the band’s follow-up to Out of Time. (Singer Michael Stipe would enter the creative process later, which was standard operating procedure for R.E.M.) One day, the drummer, who also played other instruments, brought in a new idea. “Bill wrote most of it,” Mills has said. “He came in with the chords on guitar. We were actually playing with Bill on guitar, Peter on bass and me on drums. It sounded terrible. We thought, ‘This sucks. Let’s demo it playing our own instruments, play it right.’”

Buck described the initial version of the song, which had no chorus or bridge, as a country-ish ballad. As R.E.M.’s instrumental trio kept at it, the song began to develop a more soulful feeling.

“We went through about four different ideas and how to approach it and eventually came to that Stax, Otis Redding, ‘Pain in My Heart’ kind of vibe,” Buck recalled, “I’m not sure if Michael would have copped that reference, but to a lot of our fans it was a Staxxy-type thing,”

With Mills playing Booker T. Jones to Buck’s Steve Cropper, “Everybody Hurts” became something of a soul ballad. It had the some of the trademarks of a Stax ballad, including an arpeggiated guitar part, electric piano and 12/8 time signature.

“But then it’s shuffled through us. Like the bridge is in a way-weird different key,” Buck said in 1992. “We’re not Otis Redding. But given that, we took some of the influence, that music we loved for years.”

Berry, Buck and Mills didn’t think that Stipe would respond to their slow and simple approach, and that this track would be consigned to the b-sides and rarities bin. But the singer ended up taking to “Everybody Hurts,” which displayed a much different approach – both in lyrics and performance – to early R.E.M. While Stipe would play fast and loose with enunciation on songs such as “Gardening at Night” and “9-9,” that habit had slowly faded with R.E.M.’s rise to rock prominence. “Everybody Hurts” took one more step forward in being clear and direct. “There’s a time for obfuscation,”said Mills . “But this wasn’t it.”

Many times since the release of Automatic, R.E.M.’s members have discussed the lyrical ideas of “Everybody Hurts,” explaining that the anti-suicide sentiments of the song were directed at teenagers – or anyone, really – who might need to be reminded that so many people share pain, sadness and dark thoughts. The band had written political songs before (and elsewhere on this album), but this was R.E.M.’s first “message song.” And the message was, “You’re not alone.”

In an ironic twist, the man who was most responsible for the song ended up barely playing on it. Instead of Berry’s drumming, the majority of the track features a metronome-like beat created by a $20 Univox drum machine, although Bill was the one who programmed it.

Stipe “and I cut it live with this dumb drum machine which is just as wooden as you can get,” said the drummer  in 1992. “We wanted to get this flow around that: Human and non-human at the same time.”

Berry’s normal drums show up for the song’s bridge, and again at the end, when his crisp pounding helps bring “Everybody Hurts” to a soaring conclusion – aided in no small part by full complement of strings. The orchestration was the work members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, supervised by John Paul Jones. Via producer Scott Litt, R.E.M. had asked the Led Zeppelin bassist about arranging strings for “Everybody Hurts” and three other Automatic songs. He agreed and collaborated on the overdubs in the spring of ’92.

“John Paul Jones was great to work with,” Buck said in Reveal: The Story of R.E.M. “He knows his way backwards and forwards on just about every instrument. He’s a great arranger and a super sweet guy.”

“Everybody Hurts” became the fourth track on Automatic for the People, which came out in October 1992, as well as the fourth single R.E.M. released from the album. The song became a smash overseas, hitting No. 7 in the U.K., No. 4 in the Netherlands and No. 6 in Australia, where it remains the highest-charting hit of the band’s career. “Everybody Hurts” also went over well in R.E.M.’s home country, going to No. 29 on the charts, The commercial success was helped, maybe even overshadowed, by the song’s music video.

In one of R.E.M.’s most iconic clips, the band finds themselves in the middle of a traffic jam (shot by Jake Scott on a freeway in San Antonio). Subtitles flutter between song lyrics and – in a Fellini-esque touch – the unheard thoughts of R.E.M.’s fellow motorists, in snippets that are funny, strange and devastating. The band gets out of their car, Stipe starts to sing and everyone is moved to just get out and walk.

Michael is probably the best artist I’ve worked with in terms of understanding his performance, even though he’s so insecure all the time,” Scott, who is the son of big-time film director Ridley Scott said in 1995. “In ‘Everybody Hurts,’ he felt exposed and agoraphobic and I think that worked for the video. It’s rare that somebody has the confidence and awareness to look awkward and quite afraid in front of the camera.”

MTV agreed, playing the video early and often and awarding it multiple Moonmen at 1993’s Video Music Awards, at which R.E.M. performed the song for only the second time in public. (As with Out of Time, the band had again chosen to forgo a tour to promote Automatic.) But in the following years, “Everybody Hurts” became a frequent part of R.E.M.’s set and was featured at the band’s final full performance in 2008 in Mexico City. It’s been part of each best-of collection that includes the group’s Warner Bros. years.

“Everybody Hurts” also became bigger than just one of R.E.M.’s hits. In Nevada, a state that has a high rate of teen suicide, the legislature celebrated the song for its message. A U.K. counselling service based an ad campaign around the hit, hoping to help more young people who were contemplating suicide. And, in 2010, R.E.M. gave their permission for the song’s use (sans royalties) for an all-star charity single that sought to raise money for the people of Haiti after that year’s earthquake.

If the song has been perceived as too square, maudlin or basic by some music fans, Mills thinks that’s due to the song’s overexposure on the airwaves. But it’s clear that the members of R.E.M. take pride in it, especially Stipe.

“I don’t remember singing it, but I still kind of can’t believe my voice is on this recording,” he wrote in Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011. “It’s very pure. This song instantly belonged to everyone except us, and that honestly means the world to me.”

remoutoftime

On this day in 1991, R.E.M. released its seventh album, ‘Out of Time,’ featuring the singles “Losing My Religion,” “Shiny Happy People,” “Near Wild Heaven” and “Radio Song”

“Out of Time” was the seventh studio album by the American alternative rock band R.E.M., released on Warner Bros. Records in 1991. R.E.M.’s status grew from that of a cult band to a massive international act. The record topped the album sales charts in both the U.S. and the UK, spending 109 weeks on American album charts and enjoying two separate spells at the summit, and 183 weeks on the British charts, and spending a single week at the top. The album has sold over four and a half million copies in the US and over 18 million copies worldwide. The album won three Grammy Awards in 1992: one as Best Alternative Music Album, and two for the first single, Losing My Religion.”

Recorded between September to October 1990 at,Bearsville Studios, Woodstock,New York, United States; John Keane Studios, Athens, Georgia, United States (recording); Soundscape Studios, Atlanta, Georgia, United States (strings);Prince’s Paisley Park Studios,Chanhassen, Minnesota, United States (mixing), produced by Scott Litt and R.E.M.

“Out of Time” combines elements of pop, folk and classical music  as heard on their previous album “Green, with a new concentration on country elements that would continue on 1992’s “Automatic for the People“.

Preceded by the release ofLosing My Religion“, which became R.E.M.’s biggest U.S. hit, Out of Time gave them their first U.S. and UK #1 album. The band did not tour to support the release. In Germany, it is the band’s best-selling album, selling more than 1,250,000 copies, it was also the first R.E.M. album to have an alternative expanded release on compact disc, including expanded liner notes and postcards. Check out this different demo for the song ” Near Wild Heaven

The third single from 1991’s Out Of Time chronicles a relationship at loose ends: “Whenever we hold each other, we hold each other/ There’s a feeling that’s gone/ Something has gone wrong.” Despite the gloomy outlook, “Near Wild Heaven” sounds surprisingly upbeat. (Consider it the musical equivalent of winter’s chilly sunshine.) Chiming guitars, daybreak piano and lead vocals from Mike Mills provide graceful levity, while the chorus boasts Beach Boys-caliber harmonies dotted with longing falsetto and gorgeous counter-melodies. “Near Wild Heaven” both exemplifies Out Of Time’s plush instrumental palette and illuminates R.E.M.’s inventive perspective.

The supporting tour for Green had exhausted R.E.M., and they spent nearly a year recuperating before reconvening for the recording session for Out of Time. Where previous R.E.M. records captured a stripped-down, live sound, Out of Time was lush with sonic detail, featuring string sections, keyboards, mandolins, and cameos from everyone from rapper KRS-One to the B-52’sKate Pierson. The scope of R.E.M.‘s ambitions is impressive, and the record sounds impeccable, its sunny array of pop and folk songs as refreshing as Michael Stipe‘s decision to abandon explicitly political lyrics for the personal. Several R.E.M. classics — including Mike Mills Byrds-y Near Wild Heaven,” the haunting “Country Feedback,” and the masterpiece “Losing My Religion” — are present, but the album is more notable for its production than its songwriting.

In the hands of many bands, “Half a World Away” — a song about the persistent ache of distance, in both the romantic and traveling sense — would sound far too busy. R.E.M.’s lush arrangements, however, have the perfect balance of texture and velocity. “Half a World Away” is dominated by harpsichord and mandolin, which are braided together to create an ornate melodic foundation, and Michael Stipe’s conspiratorial vocal tone. Swaying organ provides oceanic swells underneath. And, near the end of the song, proud strings jump into the fray to underscore the music’s sweet melancholy.