Let’s Active – Every Word Means No…. Power Pop Friday

This is great 1980s college radio power pop. Everything is there you want…the jangle and the jangly hook.

Let’s Active was formed in 1981 by Mitch Easter, a guitarist and songwriter best known as a record producer, with Faye Hunter on bass. Drummer Sara Romweber, then 17 years old, joined to form the original trio two weeks before their first live performance. Their first performance was opening for R.E.M. in Atlanta, Georgia in 1981.

Let’s Active was critically praised but like their peers did not sell a ton a records. This song was on the 1983 EP Afoot and they would go on to release three more LPs in all before breaking up in 1990.

Mitch produced REM on their Chronic Town EP, Murmur, and Reckoning. Easter also produced Marshall Crenshaw, Suzanne Vega, and bunches of indie acts. He also took a trip to Memphis in 1978 with members of the dB’s to meet two members of Big Star.

Romweber quit the band in 1984 after the release of the Afoot EP and their debut full-length, Cypress. Later, she co-founded the group Snatches of Pink and performed with her brother as the Dex Romweber Duo. In 2014, she reunited with Mitch Easter as Let’s Active for a benefit show. She would die of a brain tumor in 2019. Bassist Faye Hunter died in 2013.

Mitch Easter:

“I could not imagine myself singing in a Johnny Winter-style voice about ‘I just wanna make love to you,’ but the new goofball lyrics were something I could pull off,’ “I read an article with Andy Partridge of XTC back then where he was saying at no other time in history would he have been allowed to be the singer in a band. And I felt just like that, you know.

“I had this weird voice, but now maybe I could be allowed to sing without suffering some hopeless comparison to Gregg Allman.’

Every Word Means No

Watching for a sound to lead me to where ever you are
I can’t help it I will always love you

It used to be no words could come between us
Any time was right for secret meetings
It’s different now and when you speak
Every word means no
Every word means no

I’m thinking, of things that never come to life
You’re going through some things so shallow
There’s nothing to fight

It used to be no words could come between us
Any time was right for secret meetings
It’s different now and when you speak and
Every word means no
Every word means no

And it’s just anathema
I haven’t lost my way
I’m looking around in directions
‘Cause all I ever thought about was you
I never noticed anything but you
Predicting, puts me down on shaky ground
I keep on thinking your looking at me
Do you want me around

It used to be no words could come between us
Any time was right for secret meetings
Now and then I forget the rules have changed
You always remind me
That every word means no, every word means no

REM – Superman …. 80’s Underground Mondays

I was surprised back when I found out that REM didn’t write this song. This song was originally recorded by a late 60’s band from Beaumont, Texas called The Clique, who released it as the B-side of their only Top 40 hit… “Sugar On Sunday.” The song was written by the group’s producer Gary Zekley along with Elliot Bottler, Mitchell Bottler and Brandon Chase.

The Clique didn’t have massive success in the charts but they toured nationally with popular acts, including Tommy James and The Shondells, Grand Funk Railroad, Brooklyn Bridge, and The Dave Clark Five. They had a brief reunion in 2008.

I like the Clique’s version of this also. It has a psychedelic vibe to it which is cool. REM stuck close to the original. Mike Mills the bass player is singing lead on this song because Michael Stipe refused to play it in concert. He told a London crowd in 2008 “We’re definitely not doing that one” after a fan request in 2008.

The scratchy spoken intro is credited to a Japanese pull-string Godzilla doll. Translated loosely from the Japanese, it says, “This is a special news report. Godzilla has been sighted in Tokyo Bay. The attack on it by the Self-Defense Force has been useless. He is heading towards the city. Aaaaaaaaagh….”

The song was on the album Life’s Rich Pageant released in 1986. Superman peaked at #17 in the Mainstream Rock Charts. The album peaked at #21 in the Billboard Album Charts, #39 in Canada, #24 in New Zealand,  and #43 in the UK. 

From Songfacts

This is a slightly stalkerish song about a guy who sees himself as Superman. He believes he can “see right through” the girl (presumably using his X-ray vision) so he knows that she doesn’t really love the guy she’s with. Where it gets a little creepy is when he threatens to find her even if she’s “a million miles away.”

It’s all in good fun though. R.E.M. don’t take it too seriously – Mike Mills sang lead on the track instead of Michael Stipe.

311 covered this song at one of their Halloween shows. Lead singer Nick Hexum dressed up as… you guessed it… Superman. On their DVD Enlarged To Show Detail 2, you can see them practicing it in the bus before the show, and then you see them perform it in concert. 311 site R.E.M. as one of their major influences. Hexum and Doug “S.A.” Martinez have both commented on their love of R.E.M.

 

Superman

I am, I am, I am Superman and I know what’s happening
I am, I am, I am Superman and I can do anything

You don’t really love that guy you make it with now, do you?
I know you don’t love that guy ’cause I can see right through you

I am, I am, I am Superman and I know what’s happening
I am, I am, I am Superman and I can do anything

If you go a million miles away I’ll track you down, girl
Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart

If you go a million miles away I’ll track you down, girl
Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart

I am, I am Superman and I know what’s happening
I am, I am, I am Superman and I can do anything

I am, I am, I am Superman and I know what’s happening
I am, I am, I am Superman and I can do anything

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

REM – Drive

Whenever I hear this song… I think of David Essex’s song Rock On. It makes sense…Michael Stipe wrote this as a tribute to Rock On.

They recorded a demo version of this song at John Keane Studios, a favorite place for the band to work in their hometown of Athens, Ga. Before the bulk of the Automatic for the People sessions were to take place in March and April, the group spent a little more than a week in New Orleans, playing and recording in Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio.

The ended up recording a complete demo of the song in New Orleans they would use as the basis of the song.

Automatic For the People was released in 1992.  The album title comes from a sign at “Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods” diner in Athens, Georgia. It read, “Delicious Fine Foods – Automatic For The People.” The diner was near the university in Athens, and was a regular hangout for Stipe and his friends in the band’s early days.

The song peaked at #28 in the Billboard 100, #7 in Canada, #11, and #5 in New Zealand in 1992.

Michael Stipe: There were, before Punk, a few songs that resonated with me. One was David Essex’s ‘Rock On.’ ‘Drive’ is a homage to that. It was the first song I wrote on computer. Before, I had a typewriter. The reason is my handwriting changes dramatically day to day. I don’t trust it. I will write one of the best lyrics ever and discard it because the handwriting looks like s–t. Or the handwriting looks good but it’s a crap lyric, lo and behold, it’s in the song. Too late.”

Mike Mills about the video: “I’m not much of a symbolist. There’s something messianic about being passed over the heads of the people like that, and yet we’re anything but messiahs. That was always a strange thing to me. I mean, yes, they get to touch you, but at the same time they’re holding you up like a saint.”

Michael Stipe: “The other interesting thing about that video was what happened backstage,” he added. “We shot it in Los Angeles with a thousand people as extras. River Phoenix came, hang out in the trailer. We had a great time, until Oliver Stone showed up. I think they had both been drinking, and they got in a fist fight in my trail (gaffaws heartily). I think River won, to tell you the truth. I know he did, in fact.”

From Songfacts

The central lyric, “Hey kids, rock n’ roll,” was borrowed from “Rock On” by David Essex. The words may be the same, but the mood is completely different. This is a much more somber song.

Lead singer Michael Stipe explained in the November 12, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone: “

Guitarist Peter Buck used a nickel as a guitar pick for the mid-song guitar solo to get a sharper sound. He overdubbed the track six times.

There is a line in the song that goes, “Smack, crack, bushwhacked.” This can be seen as an indictment of then-U.S. President George Bush (the first one). Lead singer Michael Stipe had taken out ads in college newspapers in 1988 saying, “Don’t Get Bushwhacked. Get out and vote. Vote Dukakis.” They weren’t very effective.

This was released two months before the national election between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Clinton won that one, but eight years later Bush’s son became president. When the younger Bush ran for re-election in 2004, R.E.M. performed concerts to benefit his opponent, John Kerry.

This song has no chorus. That doesn’t happen very often in hit songs.

This was the first single released off the album. It was issued a few days before the album came out.

At live shows, R.E.M. played a funk-rock version of this song because its ambient atmosphere was difficult to duplicate. This version appears on a 1993 benefit album for Greenpeace called Alternative NRG.

Director Peter Care shot the black-and-white music video at Sepulveda Dam in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles. The clip mostly has Stipe crowdsurfing as he performs the song.

The implication was unclear; is the audience protecting him, or ready to tear him apart? Stipe told Mojo it was both. “It’s everything. I’m about to be devoured.”

Drive

Smack, crack, bushwhacked
Tie another one to the racks, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby

What if I ride, what if you walk?
What if you rock around the clock?
Tick-tock, tick-tock
What if you did, what if you walk?
What if you tried to get off, baby?

Hey, kids, where are you?
Nobody tells you what to do, baby
Hey kids, shake a leg
Maybe you’re crazy in the head, baby

Maybe you did, maybe you walked
Maybe you rocked around the clock
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Maybe I ride, maybe you walk
Maybe I drive to get off, baby

Hey kids, shake a leg
Maybe you’re crazy in the head, baby
Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, Ollie
Ollie, Ollie in come free, baby
Hey, kids, where are you?
Nobody tells you what to do, baby

Smack, crack, shack-a-lack
Tie another one to your backs, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby

Maybe you did, maybe you walk
Maybe you rock around the clock
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Maybe I ride, maybe you walk
Maybe I drive to get off, baby

Hey kids, where are you?
Nobody tells you what to do, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby
Baby
Baby

REM – Orange Crush

This song is for Song Lyric Sunday for Jim Adams’s blog. This week’s prompt is  Apple/Banana/Cherry/Olive/Orange/Strawberry… I hope all of you have a wonderful Sunday!

I really liked REM when this came out but with this album I became a huge fan. The song was off of their album Green. Orange Crush peaked at #1 in the Billboard Alternative Charts and Mainstream Rock Hits, #28 in the UK, and #5 in New Zealand in 1989. (sorry I could not find Canada)

Orange Crush was my favorite soda growing up but this one is not about that. They got this name from Agent Orange…an awful chemical used in the Vietnam war.

Agent Orange was used to devastating effect during the Vietnam war. A toxic mix of herbicides and defoliants, nearly 20 million gallons of the it was sprayed over forested areas by the US military over a nine-year period up to 1971.

The idea was to root out guerrillas from rural communities and force people into American-controlled urban cities. It’s estimated that 400,000 were killed or maimed and it caused 500,000 children to be born with severe defects. Veterans on both sides of the conflict, meanwhile, have shown increased rates of cancer and nerve disorders. Returning US soldiers were also subject to accelerated instances of their wives having miscarriages or infants born with abnormalities.

The song was credited to all members of REM as were their other songs. The drill sergeant heard in the background during the middle is an imitation by Stipe.

Michael Stipe: “The song is a composite and fictional narrative in the first person, drawn from different stories I heard growing up around Army bases. This song is about the Vietnam War and the impact on soldiers returning to a country that wrongly blamed them for the war.”

Guitar Player Peter Buck: “I must have played this song onstage over three hundred times, and I still don’t know what the f*** it’s about. The funny thing is, every time I play it, it means something different to me, and I find myself moved emotionally. [Playwright/composer] Noel Coward made some remark about the potency of cheap music, and while I wouldn’t describe the song as cheap in any way, sometimes great songwriting isn’t the point. A couple of chords, a good melody and some words can mean more than a seven-hundred-page novel, mind you. Not a good seven-hundred-page novel mind you, but more say, a long Jacqueline Susann novel. Well alright, I really liked Valley of the Dolls.”

From Songfacts

Orange Crush was an orange flavored soft drink. In this case, though, it was meant to refer to Agent Orange, a chemical used by the US to defoliate the Vietnamese jungle during the Vietnam War. US military personnel exposed to it developed cancer years later and some of their children had birth defects. The extreme lyrical dissonance in the song meant that most people completely misinterpreted the song, including Top Of The Pops host Simon Parkin, who remarked on camera after R.E.M. performed the song on the British TV show, “Mmm, great on a summer’s day. That’s Orange Crush.”

Stipe’s father served in Vietnam in the helicopter corps.

Stipe sometimes introduced this in concert by singing the US Army jingle, “Be all that you can be, in the Army.”

This was not the first R.E.M. song to deal with the Vietnam War. That distinction goes to “Body Count,” an early unreleased song that they played live many times.

This was used in the 2007 drama Towelhead, starring Maria Bello, Chris Messina and Summer Bishil.

The song’s meaning keeps changing for Peter Buck. He wrote in the In Time liner notes:

Orange Crush

(Follow me, don’t follow me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(Collar me, don’t collar me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(We are agents of the free)
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time
To serve your conscience overseas (over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me

(Follow me, don’t follow me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(Collar me, don’t collar me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(We are agents of the free)
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time
To serve your conscience overseas (over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me

(Follow me, don’t follow me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(Collar me, don’t collar me)
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
(We are agents of the free)
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time
To serve your conscience overseas (over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me

REM – Losing My Religion

I hope everyone is having a happy Monday…at least as happy as it can be.

I heard early REM albums from friends. They really made an impact with college kids and built a following. Then they released The One I Love and the dam burst. This song took it a step higher.

Peter Buck has commented that after this song’s success that the bands popularity soared. He mentioned that R.E.M. went from a respected band with a cult following to one of the biggest bands in the world.

This song was released in 1991 and on their Out of Time album. The song did very well. It peaked at #4 in the Billboard 100, #6 in Canada, #19, and #16 in New Zealand in 1991.

The title is based on the Southern expression “lost my religion,” meaning something has challenged your faith to such a degree you might lose your religion or cool.

REM was surprised when their record label chose this song as the first single from Out Of Time. Running 4:28 with no chorus and a mandolin for a lead instrument, it didn’t seem like hit material, but it ended up being the biggest hit of their career.

Michael Stipe revealed the lyrics about obsessional love were heavily influenced by The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” which he called “the most beautiful, kind of creepy song.”

This won the Grammy in 1991 for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Peter Buck: “The music was written in five minutes. The first time the band played it, it fell into place perfectly. Michael had the lyrics within the hour, and while playing the song for the third or fourth time, I found my self incredibly moved to hear the vocals in conjunction with the music. To me, ‘Losing My Religion’ feels like some kind archetype that was floating around in space that we managed to lasso. If only all songwriting was this easy.”

From Songfacts

R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe wrote the lyrics, which he has said are about “obsession” and “unrequited love,” which is powerful and dangerous combination. Throughout the song, he is baring his soul, searching for hidden meaning and hopeful signs, but driving himself mad in the process.

“I love the idea of writing a song about unrequited love,” he told Top 2000 a gogo. “About holding back, reaching forward, and then pulling back again. The thing for me that is most thrilling is you don’t know if the person I’m reaching out for is aware of me. If they even know I exist. It’s this really tearful, heartfelt thing that found its way into one of the best pieces of music the band ever gave me.”

This song has its origins in guitarist Peter Buck’s efforts to try learn to play the mandolin. When he played back recordings of his first attempts, he heard the riff and thought it might make a good basis for a song. Explaining how the song came together musically, Buck told Guitar School in 1991: “I started it on mandolin and came up with the riff and chorus. The verses are the kinds of things R.E.M. uses a lot, going from one minor to another, kind of like those ‘Driver 8’ chords. You can’t really say anything bad about E minor, A minor, D, and G – I mean, they’re just good chords.

We then worked it up in the studio – it was written with electric bass, drums, and mandolin. So it had a hollow feel to it. There’s absolutely no midrange on it, just low end and high end, because Mike usually stayed pretty low on the bass. This was when we decided we’d get Peter (Holsapple) to record with us, and he played live acoustic guitar on this one. It was really cool: Peter and I would be in our little booth, sweating away, and Bill and Mike would be out there in the other room going at it. It just had a really magical feel.

And I’m proud to say every bit of mandolin on the record was recorded live – I did no overdubbing. If you listen closely, on one of the verses there’s a place where I muffled it, and I thought, well, I can’t go back and punch it up, because it’s supposed to be a live track. That was the whole idea.”

The video was directed by Tarsem Singh, who also did En Vogue’s “Hold On” and the Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell. It’s a very ambitious video filled with striking, vivid, biblical imagery.

The concept is based in part on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. The novel tells the story of an angel who falls down from heaven and is displayed for profit as a “freak show.” Michael Stipe is a big Marquez fan and the whole idea of obsession and unrequited love is the central theme of the author’s masterpiece, Love in the Time of Cholera. The first line of that novel is: “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” 

Michael Stipe’s dancing ties the video together as he moves like he is in the throes of revelation, a contrast to all the other characters who are barely moving. He wasn’t supposed to dance: The treatment had him singing lines from various poses, but when they shot it that way, it didn’t work at all. This put director Tarsem Singh’s grand production in jeopardy; he was so upset, he went to the bathroom and threw up. When he emerged, Stipe said, “Let me try to dance.”

There was no choreography – Stipe just let the spirit move him, and the results were sublime. He says his dancing is a mashup of Sinead O’Connor’s moves in her “The Emperor’s New Clothes” video and David Byrne’s gyrations in his “Once In A Lifetime” performances.

Stipe remembers being hot and bothered when recording his vocal. His heartfelt lyric needed a certain feel that was hard to achieve in the studio, so he recorded a lot of takes. He wasn’t happy with the engineer, who seemed out of it. “I was very upset,” he told Top 2000 a gogo. “I also got really hot because I was all worked up, so I took my clothes off and recorded the song almost naked.”

This was given the working title of “Sugar Cane” when the band demoed it in July 1990 at a studio in Athens.

A common misinterpretation of this song is that it was about John Lennon’s death, with the lyrics, “What if all these fantasies come flailing around” being a reference to Lennon’s last album Double Fantasy.

Michael Stipe took a laid-back approach with this song: “I remember that I sang this in one go with my shirt off. I don’t think any of us had any idea it would ever be … anything,” he noted in Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011. Peter Buck added that Warner Bros. didn’t even want the song as a single, and everyone was surprised when it took off. “It changed our world. We went from selling a few million worldwide with Green to over 10 million. It was in that area where we had never been before which isn’t bad,” he said.

Peter Buck recalled to Uncut: “I bought a mandolin on tour in ’87, I think. It became a good songwriting tool. It never occurred to me to play mandolin in a bluegrass style. For me it was a rock instrument.”

Producer Scott Litt recalled his contribution to Mojo: “I remember mixing ‘Losing My Religion’ at Paisley Park. I had Bill (Berry, drums) nudging up to me and saying, ‘You know, I think the drums could be louder’, and he was spot on. The strings and the vocals are maybe more memorable, but the drums are really important. He’s even doubling the mandolin figure at the beginning. The last mix on that song was ‘drums boosted’ and that became the track.”

When introducing the song during an appearance on MTV Unplugged, Stipe pointed to the audience and said, “This is about you.” Mojo asked him what he meant. He replied shrugging, “No idea. It’s something I said on a night in 1991. I have no idea why I said it. Of course we attach the narrative in a song to the person with the voice, which is me. And so I get that. But it was not autobiographic.”

Artists to cover this song include Tori Amos, Lacuna Coil, Trivium and Swandive. Two versions have charted in America: the Glee Cast took it to #60 in 2010, and Dia Frampton’s version went to #54 in 2011.

The video was the big winner at the MTV Video Music Awards, winning six moonmen, including Video of the Year and Breakthrough Video.

Losing My Religion

(One, two, three, four, one, two)

Oh, life is bigger
It’s bigger
Than you and you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip
That brought me to my knees
Failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
Try, cry
Fly, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream

Big Star – #1 Record…Desert Island Albums

This is my third round choice from Hanspostcard’s album draft…100 albums in 100 days.
2020 ALBUM DRAFT-ROUND 3 PICK 6- BADFINGER20 SELECTS- BIG STAR- #1 RECORD

“Big Star is like a letter that was mailed in 1971 but didn’t arrive until 1985.”
Musician Robyn Hitchcock 

I never travel far, without a little Big Star
The Replacements

“We’ve sort of flirted with greatness, but we’ve yet to make a record as good as Revolver or Highway 61 Revisited or Exile on Main Street or Big Star’s Third.”
Peter Buck

The band didn’t chart a record when they were active. I still hold their music up along with The Who, Beatles. and Kinks…they never had the sales but they did have a giant influence. They released this album as their debut in August of 1972.  I had to stop myself from writing an open love letter (I may have failed) about this band. Was it the mystique of them? Was it the coolness factor of liking a band that not many people knew? No and no. It’s about the music. Mystique and coolness wear off and all you are left with is the music…We are fortunate to have 3 albums by Big Star to enjoy.

In the early eighties, I heard stories from an older brother of a friend about Big Star out of Memphis…but their records were hard to come by.  I loved what little I heard and it got lost in the shuffle but it planted a seed for later. 

By the mid-80s I heard more of their songs. In 1986 The Bangles released “September Gurls” and I knew it sounded familiar…and the DJ said it was a Big Star song…then came the song, Alex Chilton, by The Replacements and  I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t until the early nineties, I finally had Big Star’s music along with the Raspberries and Badfinger. My power-pop fandom kicked into high gear and I have never left that genre.

Big Star was the best band never heard. Such a great band but a long frustrating story. They made three albums that were among the best of the decade that were not heard until much later. They signed with Ardent which was a subsidiary of Stax Records.

A power-pop band on the soul Stax label doesn’t sound like a good idea now and it wasn’t then. Stax was failing at that time and could not distribute the records to the stores. Kids loved the music on the radio only to go to a record store with no Big Star records. Rolling Stone gave them rave reviews…but that doesn’t help if the album is not out there to purchase. They were through by 1974 after recording their 3rd album.

When their albums were finally discovered by eighties bands, they influenced many artists such as REM, The Replacements, Cars, Cheap Trick, Sloan, Matthew Sweet, KISS, Wilco, Gin Blossoms, and many more. They influenced alternative rock of the 80s and 90s and continue to this day.

Listening to this album with each song you think…Oh, that could have been a single. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell wrote most of the songs and wanted to emulate Lennon/McCartney and they did a great job but with an obvious American slant to make it their own. After the commercial failure of this album, Chris Bell quit but the other three continued for one more album and then bass player Andy Hummel quit after the second album, and Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens recorded the third.

I could have gone with ANY three of their albums. I picked this one because of Chris Bell. The songs are a bit more polished on this one than the other two but it fits the songs they present. Chris Bell added a lot to Big Star and after hearing his solo song I Am The Cosmos you see how much. Radio City, their second album, with Chilton in charge many consider their best and their third album, Third/Sister Lovers is not as commercially accessible but I still love it. All three are in Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums of all time.

I’ll go over four songs.

The Ballad Of El Goodo  A song about Vietnam conscientious objector…but it is much more than that. It is one of the most perfect pop/rock songs recorded to my ears. This would make it in my own top 10 songs of all time. The tone of the guitars, harmonies and the perfectly constructed chorus keeps calling me back listen after listen. This is when pop music becomes more.

In The Street is a song that everyone will know. It was used as the theme of That Seventies Show. Cheap Trick covered it for the show. I was not a teenager in the early seventies but with this song, I am there front and center. Steal your car and bring it down, Pick me up, we’ll drive around, Wish we had, A joint so bad.

Thirteen is a song that Chilton finds that spot between the innocence of childhood and the first teenage year where they meet and intertwine with confusion. Won’t you tell your dad, “get off my back” Tell him what we said ’bout “Paint It Black”

When My Baby’s Beside Me has a great guitar riff to open it up. This is power pop at it’s best. A nice rocker that should have been blaring out of AM radios in the 70’s.

I’m not going over every song (but I could easily) because reading this won’t do it…you have to listen if you haven’t already. You will not regret it. Not just these songs but the complete album.

It’s a mixture of songs on the album…rockers, mid-tempo songs, and ballads. Even the weaker song called The India Song is very listenable. My favorites besides the ones I listed are  Watch the Sunrise, Don’t Lie To Me, Feel, and Give Me Another Chance.

I now have rounded out my albums on my island. The variety of The White Album, The rock of Who’s Next, and the ringing power-pop beauty of Big Star…swim or use a boat and come over to my island and we will listen…the Pina Coladas and High Tides (hey it’s an island) are flowing… let’s drink to BIG STAR.

On a side note. If you want to learn more there is a good documentary out about them called: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

Feel
The Ballad Of El Goodo
In The Street
Thirteen
Don’t Lie To Me
The India Song
When My Baby’s Beside Me
My Life Is Right
Give Me Another Chance
Try Again
Watch The Sunrise
ST 100/6

  • Chris Bell – guitar, vocals
  • Alex Chilton – guitar, vocals
  • Andy Hummel – bass guitar, vocals
  • Jody Stephens – drums

 

 

 

REM – The One I Love

I remember this song well…it was a breakthrough song for REM. I knew some very intense REM fans and they were not happy that they were in the top 10. The cat was out of the bag and the band was not their secret anymore.

The moment that guitarist Peter Buck played that riff on his Rickenbacker 325 I knew I liked this song. It had the jangly sound that previous REM songs had but this one had a larger commercial appeal. This song broke them through to the masses.

The song peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100, #11 in Canada, #16 in the UK, and #6 in New Zealand in 1987.

It was on the album Document and it peaked at #10 in the Billboard Album Charts, #13 in Canada, #28 in the UK, and #17 in New Zealand.

Michael Stipe describes this song as about using people over and over. It sounds like a love song until the line, “A simple prop to occupy my time.”

Mike Mills (Bass Player): “Peter Buck came up with the riff on his porch. I remember Peter, showing me that riff and thinking it was pretty cool, and then the rest of the song flowed from there. We played the whole song as an instrumental until Michael (Stipe) came up with some vocals for it.”

 

From Songfacts

The lead vocal on the chorus contains just one word: “Fire,” which Michael Stipe draws out into a long wail. In the background, you can hear bass player Mike Mills singing, “She’s comin’ down on her own, now.”

This is not based on any real person or event. The band made up the lyrics while they were on a tour.

For a while, Stipe thought this was too brutal a song to record. He told Q magazine in 1992: “It’s probably better that they think it’s a love song at this point. That song just came up from somewhere and I recognized it as being really violent and awful. But it wasn’t directed at any one person. I would never write a song like that. Even if there was one person in the world thinking, This song is about me, I could never sing it or put it out… I didn’t want to record that, I thought it was too much. Too brutal. I think there’s enough of that ugliness around.”

This was R.E.M.’s first hit song. They had been recording since 1981 and growing a following.

Bush played this at Woodstock ’99 with a much harder sound. 

Robert Longo directed the music video for this song, which has images of tenement buildings, dancers and lonely couples, mixed with sweeping clouds, lighting bolts and bursts of flame. The director of photography was Alton Brown, who would go on to be a Food Network star with shows like Good Eats, Iron Chef America and Cutthroat Kitchen.

Speaking to Mojo in 2016, Stipe said that he wasn’t at all dismayed that so many people misinterpreted the sarcastic and spiteful lyrics as a straightforward love song. “I didn’t like the song to begin with,” he explained. “I felt it was too brutal. I thought the sentiment was too difficult to put out into the world. But people misunderstood it, so it was fine. Now it’s a love song, so that’s fine.”

The One I Love

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love

Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love

Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
Another prop has occupied my time
This one goes out to the one I love

Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)

 

REM – What’s the Frequency Kenneth?

REM really let loose on their album Monster. I love the tone on Peter Bucks guitar and the loud in your face production. Peter Buck played the late Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jag-Stang, which he plays upside-down because Cobain was left-handed.

This song is about an incident that took place on October 4, 1986, when the CBS news anchor Dan Rather was attacked on a New York City sidewalk by a crazed man yelling “Kenneth, what is the frequency.” The man turned out to be William Tager, who was caught after he killed a stagehand outside of the Today show studios on August 31, 1994. Tager, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison, said he was convinced the media was beaming signals into his head, and he was on a mission to determine their frequencies.

Lead singer Michael Stipe says this is an attack on the media, who overanalyze things they don’t understand.

The song slows down at the end because of bassist Mike Mills. They noticed he was in pain, but everyone followed him and finished the track. After they were done, Mills was taken to the hospital and it was discovered he had appendicitis. They never got back to redo the song.

This song peaked at #21 in the Billboard 100 in 1994.

 

From Songfacts

When Michael Stipe wrote the lyrics, Tager had not yet been identified as Rather’s assailant. He wrote the song after becoming intrigued by the case and the media reaction to it, calling it “The premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century.”

Tager got out of jail in 2010.

After this song came out, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth” became a catchphrase and was a running joke on The David Letterman Show (for a short time, “Kenneth” also became a term used for a clueless person). Rather had a good sense of humor about it and later appeared on the show, singing this with R.E.M. backing him.

Peter Buck remembered the experience in the liner notes for In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003: “I like Dan Rather. He’s a fine newsman, an interesting person to talk to, and quite a bit nuttier than most of those media types (I consider that a good thing). That said, nothing in my rich and varied life prepared me for the experience of performing behind him as he ‘danced’ and ‘sang’ ‘What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?'”

There is a song by Game Theory on their 1987 album Lolita Nation called “Kenneth, What’s the Frequency?” It was produced by Mitch Easter, who was R.E.M.’s producer for Chronic TownMurmur, and Reckoning. Coincidence? 

Despite his painful ordeal, Mills notes this as “one of my favorite rockers in our canon, touching on pop culture and yet with balls” in Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011.

The line, “Richard said, ‘Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy,'” refers to Richard Linklater, director of Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993). More recently, he directed Waking Life (2001) and the acclaimed “Before” trilogy: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013).

In the liner notes for the compilation album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011, Stipe says he quoted the director “to aid in a fictional narrative that details a generational belly flop the size of Lake Michigan.”

This was the first single released from the album, which indicated the harder edge that R.E.M. took on Monster, their ninth album.

This single was the first piece of music to be released by R.E.M. that included a lyric sheet. The first R.E.M. album to include printed lyrics was Up, from 1999.

The music video, directed by Peter Care, shows the band performing this song under multicolored flashing lights and is notable for debuting new looks for Michael Stipe, who shaved his head, and Mike Mills, who grew out his hair and decked himself out in a rhinestone suit borrowed from Gram Parsons.

This was featured on Friends in the episode “The One with Two Parts: Part 2” and on Beavis and Butt-Head in “Wet Behind the Rears,” both in 1995. It was also used in the 1999 Martin Scorsese film Bringing Out the Dead, starring Nicolas Cage and Patricia Arquette.

What’s The Frequency Kenneth?

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I’d pegged you an idiot’s dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider’s screen

I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh

I’d studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
Richard said, “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy”
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rearview mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand

You said that irony was the shackles of youth, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand
I never understood, don’t fuck with me, uh-huh

 

REM – Fall On Me

The song peaked at #94 in the Billboard 100 in 1986. The song was on Lifes Rich Pageant which peaked at 21 in 1986. A musician friend of mine invited me over to listen to this album. We must have played it 5 times through by night time.

Bill Berry (drummer) said the song was specifically about Acid Rain, which occurs when the burning of fossil fuels releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, causing rain to be acidic and threatening the environment.

Michael Stipe said about the song: “I was reading an article in Boston when I was on tour with the Golden Palominos, and Chris Stamey showed me this article about this guy that did an experiment from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, whereby he dropped a pound of feathers and a pound of iron to prove that there was… a difference in the… density? What did he prove? I don’t even know. They fall just as fast.”

From Songfacts

The video was filmed upside down in a rock quarry, and snippets of the environmentally concerned words flash on-screen throughout: “Buy” the sky, “Sell” the sky, etc. 

Before it ended up on the Lifes Rich Pageant album, R.E.M. performed a variation of this song on tour promoting their previous album, Fables of the Reconstruction. Peter Buck remembered in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011: “And pretty much every day Michael had different lyrics or a different melody; we changed the bridge a hundred times. On the Lifes Rich Pageant anniversary box set, there is a version that is kind of what we used to do on stage. Michael wrote new words and melodies during the making of the record, which all took a bit of getting used to since we were so used to the previous versions. But no question, the one on the record is so superior.”

We didn’t forget to add that possessive apostrophe to the album title. The band intentionally left it out, or so the story goes. “We all hate apostrophes,” Peter Buck proclaimed. “There’s never been a good rock album that had an apostrophe in the title.” Beatles fans may disagree – A Hard Day’s Night and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band both employ the punctuation mark. Maybe Buck’s oft-quoted comment is meant to be taken with a dose of irony, or maybe he’s just a Stones fan (that band shunned the apostrophe for Their Satanic Majesties Request).

Fall On Me

There’s a problem feathers iron
Bargain buildings, weights and pulleys
Feathers hit the ground before the weight can leave the air
Buy the sky and sell the sky and tell the sky and tell the sky

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

There’s the progress we have found (when the rain)
A way to talk around the problem (when the children reign)
Building towered foresight (keep your conscience in the dark)
Isn’t anything at all (melt the statues in the park)
Buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky and tell the sky

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Don’t fall on me

Well, I could keep it above
But then it wouldn’t be sky anymore
So if I send it to you, you’ve got to promise to keep it whole

Buy the sky and sell the sky and lift your arms up to the sky
And ask the sky and ask the sky

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Fall on me, don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Fall on me, don’t fall on me

REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

This song came off of the great Document album. With some REM songs it takes a few listens for me but this one… the first time was enough to know I really liked it. It was recorded in the Sound Emporium in Nashville, Tennessee. The song peaked at #69 in 1988. The song was inspired by  Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan and you can tell.

Michael Stipe said: “The words come from everywhere. I’m extremely aware of everything around me, whether I am in a sleeping state, awake, dream-state or just in day to day life. There’s a part in ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ that came from a dream where I was at Lester Bangs’ birthday party and I was the only person there whose initials weren’t L.B. So there was Lenny Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Leonard Bernstein… So that ended up in the song along with a lot of stuff I’d seen when I was flipping TV channels. It’s a collection of streams of consciousness.”   

From Songfacts.

Stipe claims to have a lot of dreams about the end of the world, destroyed buildings and the like. His stream-of-consciousness writing style in this is very similar to the way a dream moves.

This started off as a song called “Bad Day,” and had lyrics decrying the politics of the Reagan administration. R.E.M. finally released “Bad Day” on their 2003 hits compilation album, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.

When R.E.M. played this live, the audience reacted with a party vibe that threw off the band. They thought the apocalyptic lyrics would create a more subdued response.

Michael Stipe said that the lyrics were written to make people smile. The words he used tend to make your mouth smile when you speak them. >>

In the last verse, the line, “The other night I tripped at Knox” refers to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where the band had a night of fun.

This appears in the movies Dream A Little DreamIndependence DayTommy Boy and Chicken Little>>

The government of the Soviet Union allowed this to appear on a 1990 Greenpeace album that was distributed there.

Billy Joel had a huge hit two years later when he used the rapid-vocal, stream of consciousness lyric style on “We Didn’t Start The Fire.”

This appeared in an episode of The Simpsons when Homer and Moe are fighting about Moe’s new bar. Homer opens his own bar in his garage and then lies to REM about why they are playing there. >>

Brett Anderson, lead singer of the all-girl band The Donnas, told Rolling Stone magazine that she is an “R.E.M. geek” and can recite all of the lyrics to the song.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs,
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength,
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Six o’clock, T.V. hour, don’t get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
I feel fine (I feel fine)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

The other night I drifted nice continental drift divide
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck, right, right

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)