REM – Radio Free Europe

I didn’t first hear this song when it was originally released in 1981. I had a friend who played it to me a few years later after it was re-recorded. It was an important song in REM’s career…it broke them on the charts…not super high but on the charts just the same.

This song was R.E.M.’s first single, released in 1981 on the short-lived independent record label Hib-Tone. The single received critical acclaim, and its success earned the band a record deal with I.R.S. Records. R.E.M. re-recorded the song for their 1983 debut album Murmur.

The re-recording was released by a larger I.R.S. and peaked at #78 in the Billboard 100 and #25 on the Mainstream Rock Chart.

Radio Free Europe is a radio network run by the United States government that broadcasts to Europe and the Middle East. The mission of the broadcasts is to promote democracy and freedom, but R.E.M. makes the point that this can easily cross the line into propaganda.

Drummer Bill Berry: “This song was pivotal to the continuation of our career,”  “Most fans may not realize that for two years before Murmur was released, we barely made financial ends meet by playing tiny clubs around the southeast. Our gasoline budget prevented us from venturing further. Put simply, our existence was impoverished. College radio and major city club scenes embraced this song and expanded our audience to the extent that we moved from small clubs to medium-sized venues and the additional revenue made it possible to logically pursue this wild musical endeavor. I dare not contemplate what our fate would have been had this song not appeared when it did.”

From Songfacts

There was a good reason for Michael Stipe’s infamously indecipherable lyrics on this song: he hadn’t finished them by the time they recorded it. In a 1988 NME interview, Stipe described the lyrical content as “complete babbling.”

R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe said in a 1983 interview with Alternative America: “We were all so scared of what the other one would say, that everyone nodded their head in agreement to anything to come up. The earlier songs were incredibly fundamental, real simple, songs that you could write in five minutes. Most of them didn’t have any words. I just got up and howled and hollered a lot.

That’s true. I’ve got to write words for ‘Radio Free Europe,’ because we’re going to re-record that for the album. It still doesn’t have a second or third verse. I think there are actually lyrics to every song on the EP.”

Stipe noted being apparently unaware of his own genius: “The guys always said I do something harmonically here that made them all go ‘whoa,’ because it was so advanced … or something, in the ‘straight off the boat’ part. I wonder if I tricked them by accident? I still have no idea what it is they’re talking about.”

The video for this song, directed by Arthur Pierson, was shot in the famed Paradise Gardens, a folk art sculpture garden crafted by artist Howard Finster in Pennville, Georgia. Finster, a Baptist minister, also painted the album art for R.E.M.’s second album, Reckoning.

This version is the original Hib-Tone version.

Radio Free Europe

Beside yourself if radio’s gonna stay
Reason: it could polish up the gray
Put that, put that, put that up your wall
That this isn’t country at all

Raving station, beside yourself

Keep me out of country and the word
Deal the porch is leading us absurd
Push that, push that, push that to the hull
That this isn’t nothing at all

Straight off the boat
Where to go?

Calling on in transit
Calling on in transit
Radio Free Europe
Radio

Beside defying’ media too fast
Instead of pushin’ palaces to fall
Put that, put that, put that before all
That this isn’t fortunate at all

Raving station, beside yourself

Calling on in transit
Calling on in transit
Radio Free Europe
Radio

Decide yourself
Calling on a boat
Media’s too fast

Keep me out of country and the word
Disappointers into us absurd

Straight off the boat
Where to go?

Calling on in transit
Calling on in transit
Radio Free Europe
Radio Free Europe

Calling on in transit
Calling on in transit
Radio Free Europe
Radio Free Europe

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

63 thoughts on “REM – Radio Free Europe”

  1. the first song I ever heard from them- on a local college station–then went out and bought the album. i wasn’t disappointed.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s a good one! I didn’ t hear anything off Murmur when it was released but did hear ‘Pretty Persuasion’ off their next album on radio now & then which got me interested. I first heard this song when I bought the ‘Eponymous’ greatest hits IRS put out…it has the original Hibtone version

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I heard it from my hip friend back then that liked alternative…he turned me on to all of those bands…and the Replacements.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nice! I remember hearing a bit of a “buzz” about REM for murmur, but don’t think I heard any of the music. then with ‘Reckoning’, “Pretty Persuasion” was a minor hit locally but I still didn’t really register who they were, but the third one got them good TV play on Much Music and I really started to pay attention and be a fan.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This was a strong single…although it wasn’t following the trends at the time…it was great that bands like this was playing this kind of music and getting noticed….and their name wasn’t ZZ Top or Van Halen.

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  3. I didn’t hear this until I bought my first REM album, which was quite awhile after it came out. I don’t think this song got radio play in my area. But from first listen on the album, it got played on repeat in my car. I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics except the chorus, which I loved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like I’ve listened to more alternative 80s lately than I did then…all of these bands like REM and The Replacements had pockets through the US where they would tour…not a load of money but enough to get by usually.

      It would have been fun to be a college student then.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t realise this song was released in 81. A nice wee piece of trivia for me to take home. It’s not a favourite, but I can see why it might just have saved them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The two versions are different for sure but yea I didn’t know either…with that small of label at first…I’m sure not many did.

      Like

  5. Yep. THIS song (re-recording) was the one I heard & saw on that obscure little video station on Cablevision in my hometown. I have no clue where they were broadcasting from (Greensboro, maybe?). The VJs were crazy. There was a dude that called himself Dr. John and he wore scrubs. Another dude called himself Carrot Top (not THE Carrot Top comedian). Thinking back, it was a silly jack leg operation. 😄 But, they were a local version of MTV and it worked. I wish I could find something on that station.

    I didn’t hear the original Hib-Tone version until the I.R.S. hits album came out. I immediately did not like the first version because I loved the second one. I have grown to appreciate both.

    REM was alternative rock before it was a “thing.” When the 80s hair bands were hot and Madonna was everywhere, REM was an undercurrent, paving the way for Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the like in the grunge movement.

    There’s not much in REM’s entire catalog that I don’t like.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That show sounds cool. You don’t remember the name of the station? They didn’t like the first one either.

      I would say REM and the Replacements were the two biggest American alternative bands in the mid 80s. I do like REM…it’s the Monster album I like the best though.

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      1. I have dug & dug, looking all over the Internet for a cablevision video station in my hometown. Except for a UNC-TV branch, Burlington never had its own TV station so, it had to come from somewhere else. I assumed it was out of Greensboro because our local station line-ups for CBS, ABC & NBC were all Greensboro, High Point & Winston-Salem. I have no clue what the name of the station was other than it being a video channel. I wish I knew. In my brain, REM will always remind me of it…and the crazy VJs.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Someone has to know that answer…Are you sure it was coming from within the state?

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      3. No. Not really. If I search for Dr. John, I get the musician. If I search for Carrot Top, I get the comedian. I search for video station on Cablevision in the 1980s, I get videos of Cablevision from the 80s. I’m pretty good at search terms and I got squat.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I just looked that up. John Garabedian and Arnie Ginsberg were too old. Those VJs I saw were in their 20s.

        V66 signed on in Feb. 1985. The video channel I was watching was when I was in high school. In Feb. 1985, I was in my freshman year of college.

        The information led me to something else I used to watch…The Box. I never saw that living in Burlington but, when I moved to Durham, Cablevision, there, carried The Box. That was a cool station.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yea now you have ME hooked on this…we gotta find this stuff. Someone has to have a line on what you watched…

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      6. Somebody would have to have data on what channels were on Cablevision in any given market. The one thing I am sure of is, they weren’t broadcasting out of Burlington. We didn’t have the ability back then.

        Sorry…

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Someone does lady…and we will find it. So Carrot Top and Dr John…that is so odd…anything else you remember about it? Do you think it was out of North Carolina?

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      8. I honestly thought it was out of Greensboro since Burlington’s local line-up was attached to Greensboro and everything west…WFMY, WGHP, WXII…nothing came from the east like what I have now. My home county was the dividing line.

        The “Dr. John” was a dark-haired guy wearing light blue scrubs. “Carrot Top” was red-haired guy (and, I think he had a beard). I saw the first guy more often but, I distinctly remember the first time I heard of and saw Scott “Carrot Top” Thompson. I remember thinking “Hey! Wait a minute! “Carrot Top” was the dude on the video channel! And, he ain’t it!” 😄 I clearly remember that.

        And, when I say “jack leg operation”, I mean, these guys sat at a table/desk and just talked into a camera…very stripped down.

        I imagine the only folks that would remember this channel would be former local Cablevision employees.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. It sounds like it was a Waynes World and out of someones basement lol.

        So they played videos correct? Is that basically what they were? Just a music channel? This was strictly a cable channel right? Not an over the air channel.

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      10. Yeah. It was just a video channel…music videos. I watched that one, TBS Night Tracks, Friday Night Videos on NBC and I even remember Night Flight on USA, which wasn’t just music videos.

        It was on Cablevision so, I assume it was a cable station. It could just as easily have been an over the air station but, given a slot on cable, just like the networks.

        Hell. It could have been in someone’s basement! 😄

        Liked by 1 person

      11. I remember all of the ones you just mentioned also… Somebody out there had to remember it and said something about it in some forum you would think.

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      12. Nope. Not sure at all. I was merely guessing about it being in Greensboro. Burlington was small town back then. Cable channels were few. It wasn’t a network, it wasn’t UNC-TV and it wasn’t the usual cable channels of USA, TBS, AMC, A&E…and, whatever else existed back in the 80s. TNT & VH1 didn’t even exist, yet. I don’t even recall getting MTV. I didn’t watch MTV unless I was at my aunt & uncle’s.

        Liked by 2 people

      13. That’s all I got. And, location, location, location… It would have to be chosen by the local Cablevision. We had one office in West Burlington (last time I checked, it was still there as Spectrum…). Other than that (and everything else), I was living with my mom in an apartment complex and watching TV on a huge console. Remember those? Great, big, ornate things on the floor?

        Liked by 2 people

      14. Oh yes I remember the consoles! You have any friends that you still know that watched it? I want at least one more clue…it would help

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I have listened to more 80s alternative lately than I did back in the day. REM and the Replacements were great American bands. I heard this album back then and liked it but I listened to it off and on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s lots of good 1980s college-rock stuff out there – it’s all tuneful, and barely any of it got on the radio so it’s sitting ready to be discovered. Husker Du, Robyn Hitchcock, The Go-Betweens, 10000 Maniacs, and XTC are all good too.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I do like the Go-Betweens and 10,000 Maniacs. I didn’t find XTC until late.
        The Replacements and 10,000 maniacs are the ones that I paid attention to in the 80s more than the others. I actually got to see 10,000 maniacs… I did like REM back then also.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I have a Canadian friend that blogs and I have learned more about them and through him I’m about to post one of their songs.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I do wish I would have broaden my musical scope then… I would have enjoyed the 80s much more music wise.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. For the last month or so after seeing your post on the Replacements something clicked in my mind and I started to remember and then I got that book. From the book I hear of other artists I’ll go check them out and so on.

        That is how I found The Who and the Rolling Stones… From Beatle books… Odd way but it works

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I was really into 10,000 Maniacs – really loved In My Tribe – I actually used Like the Weather when lecturing an undergrad class about depression once. The song was the best part of the lecture I’m afraid. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I also saw 10,000 Maniacs in concert – good show except during the encore, Natalie Merchant came out to do Verdi Cries, someone in the audience yelled out for another song, she got pissed and walked off in a huff. End of concert. Not cool actually

        Liked by 1 person

      8. That really sucked! She should not have done that. I did hear she could be tempermental…that is going way too far…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry that was the wrong message to the wrong person but it applies here also I guess. Murmur was the first album I heard by them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know why but I like Monster… know REM fans that don’t at all. I love the rawness of it. It must have been the grunge influence.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t get exposed to REM til Document came out. I may have been aware of Radio Free Europe but didn’t pay attention in college. A friend’s boyfriend was really into them and lent me their earlier stuff – lots of good stuff – talk about the passion, so. central rain, driver 8, fall on me, cant get there from here; damn, I’m going to have to go back and re-discover these albums again. ; I have always had a special place in my heart for Dont go back to Rockville since i grew up in Rockville…
    Was really bummed when they called it quits – I thought Collapse Into Now was a great album and had them poised for a comeback so to speak.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I heard about them from a friend around 84 or so but yes when they got popular is when I listened more. Back in that time I listened to more of the Replacements than REM…but I was listening to more Beatles, Who, Kinks, and the Stones more than anyone…Dont go back to Rockville…wow it’s been a while since I heard that.

      I was like you…I didn’t pay enough attention early on.

      It was fun seeing REM evolve into the band they became.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s funny listening to the first version and what gibberish it is compared to the remix with clear pronunciation. It’s funny I loved the song even not knowing what the heck they were singing. It’s the sound of it as much as the lyrics at least with this song. You gotta admit this sounds pretty danged good 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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