Friday Night with Guitar George: R.E.M. Edition


R.E.M. is proof that the 1980s were not a complete disaster. By the time R.E.M. released their debut album Murmur in 1983, the Cars and the Police had worn out their welcome, the Eagles had imploded, and the Clash had lost its edge. R.E.M. saved a decade that threatened to be permanently defined by Phil Collins and Duran Duran. In the following decade R.E.M.’s Out of Time and Automatic for the People gave us pillars on which to lean as we watched with bemused detachment the rise and inevitable self-destruction of “grunge rock.”

We don’t usually think of R.E.M. as a singles band, yet looking backwards we notice their slow but steady stream of really strong singles. But it was their albums that fascinated us. The albums took us on walks through Michael Stipe’s mind as Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry provided the soundtrack for the adventure. We didn’t always know exactly what Stipe was saying, but whatever it was he meant every single word—but not in the vein of John Mellencamp’s self-righteous scolding or U2’s sociopolitical commentary.

Included in the aforementioned string of hits is “Losing My Religion.” The song has lost some of its original punch due to radio overplay, but the reason it gets played frequently is because it is a really, really good song. This great rendition of “Losing My Religion” was filmed in Athens—the one in Greece, not the band’s Georgia hometown.

One of my personal favorite R.E.M. songs is “Me in Honey” partly due to the exquisite background vocals provided by Kate Pierson from the B-52s. In this live performance of “Me in Honey” bassist Mike Mills does an admirable job of approximating Pierson’s original vocals.

Just for our friend and official BGS German translator @ohkiv, here is a 2003 live performance of “Man On the Moon” filmed in Wiesbaden, Germany. From the same concert is this video of “The One I Love.” The entire concert was released as a DVD titled Perfect Square in 2004.

For tonight’s featured video I have selected a high energy performance of “What’s the Frequency Kenneth,” partly because of the monster guitar riff by Peter Buck and partly because of the song’s enigmatic lyrics which include the wonderful line “You said that irony was the shackles of youth.” The song’s protagonist looks at Generation X and decides “I never understood the frequency.” But then, none of us really do, right?

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