Night Garden: Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe [R.E.M.]1981-1996 Song-by-song*

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Lance LaSalle, May 23, 2021.

  1. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    In honor of the 40th anniversary of the release of the Radio Free Europe single....

    My intention with this thread, starting Monday May 24th, is to discuss the music of Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe -- i.e., R.E.M., on a song-by-song basis.

    I will be going through all of R.E.M.'s songs, one by one, day by day: not only their originals, but covers too. Songs co-written by any of the four or with prominent lead vocals by one of these members will also be covered too, as long as if falls within the years mentioned in the title.

    Discounting myriad bootlegs, R.E.M. has an admirably streamlined discography: while they certainly released their share -- maybe more than their share!-- of one-offs, B-sides, bonus tracks, etc, it all is pretty much tidily collated and largely available for purchase, download or streaming.

    I will not to pretend to be the most knowledgeable expert of all of R.E.M.'s catalogue -- especially when it comes to side projects -- not even on this forum! But I do think I can reliably post one song per day and the experts will chime in and help me.

    I will also be rating songs on a 1-5 scale, 5 being the best. I like doing this simply because, a) for some reason it helps me to focus my mind critically when I'm listening and b) although individual users' ratings mean nothing, collectively, when averaged, they are an interesting statistic. And I like to make playlists from the more highly-rated songs!

    Having said that one does not have to rate songs to participate in the thread. The main thing is to discuss the music of R.E.M., song-by-song and learn more about the music of this incredibly talented man.

    One more thing: I do not play on holding up unreleased songs for rating; that does not mean that they cannot be discussed or referenced in their appropriate era by those who know about them; it only means that I won't make a separate entry for them. Ditto for side projects, where members may have contributed instrumental parts or backing vocals. So, for example, I will not be separately holding up for discussion the songs from Robyn Hitchcock's and the Egyptians Perspex Island, which contains numerous contributions from Peter Buck and one prominent vocal contribution by Michael Stipe; but I will be holding up "Dark Green Energy" by the same band, which is basically a duet with Stipe and Hitchcock.

    Question: Why only the Bill Berry years? Aren't you missing a third of the catalogue?
    In order to do one of these threads I need a certain amount of passion in order to show up everyday. While I quite enjoyed UP when it came out, I found myself uninterested in -- or even unaware of in some cases --subsequent releases, and I never bought them. And have given most of them only cursory listens. Simply put, I'm not excited by them, and it seems that due to the line-up change, I will definitely be able to justify ending the thread at that point.

    While I'd be thrilled to see another thread that covers their last five album's worth of stuff, I don't personally feel excited or confident about running a thread myself on that.

    Just for tidiness's sake, the albums and releases I'll be covering are:

    • Radio Free Europe (three song single)
    • Chronic Town (5 song EP)
    • Murmur
    • Reckoning
    • Fables of the Reconstruction
    • Document
    • Green
    • Out of Time
    • Automatic for the People
    • Monster
    • New Adventures in Hi-Fi
    I'll also be covering any unique songs released as B-sides or bonus on in later collections or reissues, as well as "Revolution" from the Batman & Robin soundtrack and "#9 Dream", a John Lennon cover which briefly saw Bill Berry returning back to the fold. I'll also allow one day each for any live album/video that has been officially released.
    Last edited: May 23, 2021
    rbichamp, groover, John Adam and 37 others like this.
  2. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    An introductory note:

    R.E.M. came together in the underground music scene in the otherwise sleepy college town of Athens Georgia, the home of famed New Wave band the B-52s in January 1980
    Members Mike Mills (born December 17th, 1958) and Bill Berry ( born July 31st, 1958) had been high school friends who had migrated to Athens to go to school: Berry was studying pre-law.

    Mills was a multi-instrumentalist and singing son of an opera director and Berry was a singing drummer who also played keyboards and guitar. The two spent their teenage years playing as a rhythm section playing covers in high school bands, including a band called Shadowfax before moving to Athens to study.

    Peter Buck (born December 6th, 1956) in the late seventies, a native of California, was attending night classes in Atlanta while he spent his days playing guitar, acquiring records and working in Wuxtry Records in Athens.

    Michael Stipe (born January 4th, 1960) was a visual art student at the university who frequented the record shop Buck worked in. Noticing Stipe's interest in punk and new wave records, Buck struck up a friendship with the shy, retiring singer and the two began writing songs.

    Not long afterwards, they were introduced to Mills and Berry by mutual friend Kathleen Bryan and, after an initial jam that seemed promising decided to collaborate for a while.

    After three months of heavy rehearsal at at a deconsecrated Episcopalian church where Buck was living, they played their first gig in April 1980 at the church for Bryan’s birthday party, in support of another band, to an enthusiastic response. They called themselves R.E.M., a name that Stipe claims he had chosen at random from a dictionary.

    Bertis Downs IV, a lawyer fresh out of law school who would later become the band's lawyer and an equal share-holder in the group attended the first concert.

    The band subsequently dropped out of school and over the next year and a half embarked on a series of short tours in the south of the USA, travelling in a van driven by their manager, Jefferson Holt, and living on 2$ a day. Within six months of their first show, the band had honed themselves into the most popular band in Athens, drawing crowds far beyond the creative but small southern bohemian scene they had been a part of, playing many shows at the local 40 Watt, a now-legendary club where the careers of many southern alternative bands were launched. (Peter Buck's first wife, eventually would buy the club.)

    The four continued to write songs, with all four of the members contributing. Peter Buck's encyclopediac knowlege of rock music and its history led them, once they published the songs, to credit all of their songs together: as Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe. They would share credit, copyright and royalties equally and thus avoid the pitfalls that had befallen many bands before them, for whom credits could be source of friction. (This may have been privately amended in later years but certainly they retained equal ownership in the publishing company, which they called Night Garden Music.)
    Last edited: May 23, 2021
  3. Exitmusic

    Exitmusic Forum Resident

    Leicester U.K
    I'm looking forward to contributing!
  4. Bob C

    Bob C Forum Resident

    So Cal
    My copy of Radio Free Europe only has 2 songs!
  5. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Yes, my mistake. However “White Tornado” was recorded at the same session and I’ll hold it up after the other two.
  6. brownie61

    brownie61 Forum Resident

    Absolutely looking forward to participating in this!!
  7. prymel

    prymel Forum Resident

    I think you should include Dead Letter Office in the mix. Also Lifes Rich Pageant.
  8. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Ha, I can't believe I didn't include Lifes Rich Pageant. Just overlooked it.

    I will be including the songs on Dead Letter Office as "extra album" tracks connected to the albums from whose sessions they were taken. I may give a day to talk about that album as a whole -- even though it is just odds and sods, it's one of my favorites.
    Last edited: May 23, 2021
  9. TexasBuck

    TexasBuck Forum Resident

    Dallas, TX
    Count me in. My favorite band of all-time.
  10. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    The Cassette Set/Do Not Open

    In the late 70s, drummer Bill Berry, keenly interested in the business side of the music buisness, had done some office work with Ian Copeland , the brother of Police drummer Stuart Copeland. With that connection, R.E.M., played a high profile gig opening for the Police in early 1981. They began playing further afield.

    Early in 1981, they recorded a demo cassette of their songs played live in the studio that remains unreleased but the idea was to have something to help them obtain gigs. Not happy with the results, the tape remains unreleased but several songs later released featured on it. Later, their manager Jefferson Holt managed to hook them up with Mitch Easter, a fledgeling producer and leader of the power pop group Let's Active.

    Mitch Easter owned a primitive studio called Drive-In Studios: literally a garage-turned-recording studio, with eight tracks, it was situated in the back yard behind Easter's parents' house. The session took place on April 15th, 1980. During the session only three original songs were recorded:

    1. Radio Free Europe
    2. Sitting Still
    3. White Tornado
    The demo cassette, which they titled The Cassette Set was recorded and mixed in a day. It also contained another version of "White Tornado" that broke down, and one hundred copies included a bonus "dub" version of "Radio Free Europe", created by Easter on April 23rd.
    Last edited: May 24, 2021
  11. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Todya's song is "Radio Free Europe", written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe; produced by Mitch Easter and R.E.M. and engineered by Mitch Easter.


    This is the single version. I Plan to hold the later album version up for discussion separately when the time comes.

    Four hundred copies of the The Cassette Set were sent out and at some point local musician and law student Johnny Hibberts got a hold of it and approached the band with the intent of releasing a single on his new label which he called Hib-Tone Records. The deal was that he would own the masters and all the publishing rights of the song would belong to him. The band, still being ignorant and having yet to set up their own publishing company, readily agreed.

    On the 23rd of April, they returned to Drive-In Studios to record some overdubs and remix the first two of the above two tracks. With Hibberts overseeing the overdubbing and remixing, the single was cut. Easter and Peter Buck were not fond of Hibberts' mix, finding it murky and too bassy; Easter remixed the track later "remixed" Hibberts mix, though on his primitive set up, he really only re-equalized it for a slightly brighter sound.

    Michael Stipe: vocals
    Peter Buck: guitars
    Mike Mills: bass, vocals
    Bill Berry: drums, vocals
    Johnny Hibberts: backing vocals

    The band preferred Easter's mix but Hibberts sent his own mixes to be pressed up in an initial run of 600 copies, releaesd on July 8th, 1981. Later a second run was pressed of 6000 copies.

    Note: Easter's mix is generally better known and is the one featured above; it has been released on the following compilations:
    • Eponymous,
    • Complete Rarities 1981-1987 and
    • And I Feel Fine: The Best of the IRS Years.

    I found a different sounding mix on YouTube that may be Hibberts, but I can't be sure if it's his or not.

    Live versions of "Radio Free Europe" have been released on:
    • Live on WLIR
    • 1983-07-09 - Toronto, Canada - Larry's Hideaway

    In a smart marketing move, copies of the single were mailed out to college radio station and a number of rock critics and the result was that the Radio Free Europe was unanimously voted the top single of 1981 in the annual Critics Pazz and Jop Poll in the Village Voice, which was a crucial step in securing them a record deal.


    Bill Berry:

    Last edited: May 24, 2021
  12. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    This is the unreleased "dub" version, from The Cassette Set.

  13. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    And the proper mix before the overdubs that resulted in the single.
  14. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    "Radio Free Europe" was also the song they played on their appearance on national TV, in October 1983, on Late Night with David Letterman.

  15. brownie61

    brownie61 Forum Resident

    Radio Free Europe (Hib-Tone version)

    I did not hear this version of this song until well after I knew the version on Murmur like the back of my hand, so I am rating it in hindsight, which is difficult.

    With that context, to me this version captures the essence of the song, albeit with a somewhat faster, more driving beat, and minus some of the more interesting production touches that show up in the later version.

    If this had been the first version I heard, would it have had the same effect on me as the Murmur version had? Hard to say for sure, but I’m thinking probably not. Having said that, and knowing what was to come (and that Murmur version truly did change my life, in just about every way a song/recording can change someone’s life), this early version does capture the essence of what is a truly great song.

  16. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    This was the first version of the song I heard, on Eponymous.

    I absolutely love it: it's punky and packed with energy, yet there's a super-catchy melodic sense: in the bass-line, in the chorus, in the arpeggiated guitars, and the pounding, trible beat; the vocal effects and reverb on the chorus make it really stand out and the song sounds like one of those hot summer days where you smoke weed with your buddies and drive out to the lake to drink beer and swim.

    I've never really got what the lyrics were about (natch) and seeing them printed out does not help that, if they are even the real lyrics and not just guesses.

    But though it is punky, it seems devoid of the more negative and darker aspects of that sub-genre: if there's any statement being made, it's not an angry one and it's ephemeral.

    I was only ten when this came out, and of course I didn't even hear it until I was nearly twenty. But it's one of those early REM songs that evoke something for me that I dimly remember form younger years: the promise and boundless optimism of immortal youths. It's just pure fun.

    But I think this is an utter classic that actually deserved all the critical accolades it got; and yet does stand out among R.E.M's songs.

    Last edited: May 24, 2021
  17. chrism1971

    chrism1971 Forum Resident

    Glos, UK
    I've not heard this before, which is how much of a completist I am. Fabulous song, not quite up there with the Murmur version, so 3.5/5. If I score too highly early one I'll run out of numbers. I love everything Easter did at this period especially the first Lets Active album.
  18. dlemaudit

    dlemaudit Forum Resident

    France, Paris area
    I did not hear this version until i got Eponymous . My first encounter with RFE and REM actually was putting the needle on side 1 of Murmur when it was released . I remember being a tad disappointed , well that whole album took a long time to grow on me . Its now one of my favourite . The single version is much better in my opinion , more punchy , less "new wave " sounding
  19. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Chicago, il
    RFE - 4/5 - Great song, kinda crude recording. I think the re-recorded version for the album works better. There is a lot of nervous energy here, to the point where it sounds a little shaky.
    The MEZ, Wordnat2, Remurmur and 7 others like this.
  20. irong

    irong Forum Resident

    Quebec, Canada
    Hey @Lance, great to see you start another Song by Song, Album by Album thread!

    I'm not the biggest REM fan but I own every major release of them between Murmur and Monster; I should be able to follow this thread for a while.

    So, about this version of Radio Free Europe, well, I like the energy but it's also very ramshacke. Much punkier than things to come. The album recording remains my go to version, but that's the one I discovered first and for year I did not know better.

    Anyway, I'll give 5 to both recordings: it's a monument of independent rock music. The bass line under "Radio Station Decide Yourself..." is probably the best I've ever heard.
  21. George P

    George P Notable Member

    I adore the Hibtone version of Radio Free Europe and I agree with Mike that it "crushes the other one like a grape." I wish they had done a whole album (or two) in that vein.

    Last edited: May 24, 2021
  22. Instant Dharma

    Instant Dharma Hendon!!!

    CoCoCo, Ca
    RFE. WHat a great song. Absolutely memorable. Love as always the background vocals. Mills always looked like the bookish nerdy square of the band...but he’s an absolute bada$$ on the early material.
  23. Bob C

    Bob C Forum Resident

    So Cal
    According to "A Few Chords And A Cloud Of Dust: The Complete Recorded History 1980 - 1990", it appears that this session took place on 4/15/81. The band previously visited Easter's Drive-In Studio on 3/5/81 to record a song called 'Jazz Lips'. Described as "late 1980", the band recorded several songs (Dangerous Times, All The Right Friends, A Different Girl, Narrator, Just A Touch, Baby I, Mystery To Me & Permanent Vacation) at an unnamed studio in Atlanta.

    'Radio Free Europe' and 'Sitting Still' are great in any version.
    Last edited: May 24, 2021
  24. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Yep, a typo on my part but a pretty bad one.

    I thought “Jazz Lips” was a Chronic Town outtake. (According to other sources.) Its pretty hard to listen too whenever it was recorded!
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  25. Bob C

    Bob C Forum Resident

    So Cal
    I've relied on A Few Chords since I bought it on release (sometime early '91). I've found it to be pretty accurate the vast majority of the time, but I can't say it's accurate 100% of the time... It lists several non-LP songs recorded during the Chronic Town sessions, but Jazz Lips is not one of them.

    I'd read about the Hib-Tone 45 at the time of release several places (NY Rocker maybe?), but didn't actually buy a copy until several years later. I subscribed to Trouser Press, so I got the flexi-disc, then Chronic Town, and have been a fan/collector ever since...

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