Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for September 23, 2011

R.E.M. then (circa 1982) ...

... and shortly before the end in 2011

[R.E.M.ember] -- On Wednesday, September 21, R.E.M. posted the announcement they were officially "calling it a day." In other words, as of the other day, R.E.M. is no longer operating as a band. For the remainder of that Wednesday, I mentally played R.E.M.'s catalog as I mourned their passing. An era is officially and sadly over.  Of course I had to make them the focus of this week's Flashback!  With a career that spans 31 years, R.E.M.'s catalog is massive (15 studio albums, 2 live albums, 10 compilation albums, 3 EPs, 64 singles, 12 video albums, 56 music videos, and 1 soundtrack according to Wikipedia). I'll bet you're wondering what tracks I selected for this R.E.M.embrance post. Did I hit upon one of your favorites? Well, read and hear more after the break.  

Flashback #1"Did you never call? I waited for your call."

R.E.M. formed in 1980, and even had released their first single in 1981, but I did not learn of the Athens, Georgia-based band until my freshman year at PSU in 1986. I quickly devoured their first four releases on the IRS label: Murmur (1983), Reckoning (1984), Fables of the Reconstruction (1985), and Life's Rich Pageant (1986). They were critical darlings and in heavy rotation on college radio. Their jangly, guitar driven sound -- buoyed by Michael Stipe's nigh-incomprehensible lyrics -- endeared them to art students as well as roots rock aficionados. 1983 saw the band making their first TV performance on the Dave Letterman Show. The tune from that performance, initially unnamed but eventually titled "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" was the first single off Reckoning, and it is our first Flashback of the day. And the Letterman clip makes an appearance here for the video entry. If you want to see Dave introduce the band, check this video. Otherwise, enjoy this clip that dive's right into R.E.M.'s first live TV performance:

Flashback #2"The time to rise has been engaged. You're better best to rearrange."

During my sophomore year of college, R.E.M. released the brilliant Document (1987). A watershed album in many ways, Document heralded a keener edged, albeit newly polished, sound as well as the band's most politically open lyrics to date. It also marked the band's jump from cult status to mega-popularity. And R.E.M. knew they had an audience. They flexed their pop-culture appeal in service of causes close to their hearts, such as the environment. I recall when R.E.M. came to Penn State with the Document tour, "Think Global, Act Local" was the mantra they championed. I also recall I was dating Julia J. at the time. This was very early in the relationship, According to my friend Rob, Julia and I were a perfect couple because we "both have the same crazy eyebrows." When I pressed him for an explanation, he merely answered, "You know. Animated." And then he shrugged. Well, we ended up being not so perfect together after all. But we had a great time at the concert (she was particularly happy  when "Superman" was performed), and even to this day that show is a treasured memory. From the opening strains of our second Flashback, "The Finest Worksong," to the band's cover of Lou Gramm's "Midnight Blue," it was probably the best concert I've ever attended ... in a gymnasium.

Flashback #3"Carry a compass to help you along."

After Document, R.E.M. closed a chapter with I.R.S. Records and made their major label debut with Warner Bros. Green (1988) took four months to record and mix. During that time, the band experimented with new ways to record, leading to different instrumentation in use on this record than previous ones. Peter Buck introduced the mandolin, Mike Mills played keyboard, and Michael Stipe ... well, he sang through a megaphone on one song ("Orange Crush"). Green reached double platinum sales, likely driven by the album's two number one singles. One of those chart toppers is our final Flashback of the day: "Stand." In reviewing tracks for today's blog post, I was amazed at the prominent sneer in the lyrics. True, the lyrics are heavily contrasted with the pop-friendly music, but it still strikes me unusual that it was embraced so broadly -- how many casual fans realized they were the point of the song's joke?

There are so many songs I could have chosen to punctuate this week's Flashback post, but I like this one because it reminds me that R.E.M. will always stand in a prominent place in my memories, and in my heart.

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

I'll see you in seven!

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