Jun 302011
 

The following post was submitted by my close personal friend E. Pluribus Gergely.

Hi y’all,

I’d like to get this whole thing settled…once and for all.

For years, the Moderator has been relentlessly jabbing at me for having the first three R.E.M. IRS long players in my record collection. Granted, I haven’t listened to them in years, but I decided to do just a few days ago. I’m here to to tell one and all that they are nothing to be embarrarassed about. They’re actually pretty solid. They feature a bunch of winners: “Gardening at Night,” “Radio Free Europe,” “South Central Rain,” “Pretty Persuasion”…all are tracks that still sound pretty friggin’ good. And “Rockville” borders on great. That’s right, great.

I caught them live as well, right around the release of Murmur. I saw them at the University of Pennsylvania, Bucknell, and the Tower Theater. They were phenomenal. Take a good look at the Letterman clips. That’s more or less what they looked like. To put it bluntly, they were cool, really cool, which is something that some of us (eg, Hrundivbakshi) refuse to admit is, was, and should always be a major point of criteria when judging a pop band.

All that pretty much ended when Stipe began to see himself as a visionary of sorts and dress accordingly. The debut of the shaved head along with the Harlequin coats and similar multilayered atrocities introduced the public to a new insufferable pompous ass that did nothing but make one’s stomach turn. You wanna bust on the band after the six-lane highway was crossed? Go for it. I’ll help throw the rotten eggs and tomatoes.

True, their initial trinity has been tarnished by a series of continual Hershey squirts comparable to what the Stones have served up post Some Girls. That said, those early efforts still manage to make me tap my feet. If you’ve got beefs with those records, I’d like to hear what they are. And I’d especially like to hear from the Moderator. And I’d also like the Moderator to be painfully honest about what bothers him most about R.E.M. He knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about, and believe me, brothers and sisters, when the truth rears its ugly head, it will be offensive on all levels, thoroughly offensive in the same way as his highly negative critique of Stevie Wonder‘s Songs in the Key of Life.

In the words of the Moderator, I look forward to your responses.

E. Pluribus

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  120 Responses to “R.E.M.’s First Three IRS Long Players: Certainly Worthy of Discussion”

  1. “Stand” remains the best thing REM have ever done. Why? Because these pretentious, smug jangle-rock weenies let down their guard for once and got silly and stoopid, and in the process created a dumb pop masterpiece that would have done the B-52s proud.

  2. Musical taste is personal and subjective. If it does something for you (i.e., makes you happy, makes you think) in the context of your life, then it has served its purpose. There really isn’t any valid basis to criticize another person’s taste (but that would take all of the fun out of this place!).

    That being said, the only R.E.M. albums that do anything for me are the first two LPs. The 3rd one has a few moments too, but isn’t as consistently interesting. When I hear those records, I’m immediately taken back to Ann Arbor circa 1984, but they still sound great to me today, so it’s not all nostalgia.

  3. machinery

    I have the first two albums. In my college days I remember kinda digging the low-fi production and, since you couldn’t really make out Stipe’s vocals clearly, it usually served as background studying music. That being said, they were a solid southern pop band with hooks and harmonies which I always admired. I never put them on the turntable with the same enthusiasm as say, the dbs, but if I was in a mellow mood, they were a good go-to band.

    I also recall they were a go-to call if a lady was in the room, if you know what I mean. Like Avalon.

    They played the 930 when I was at school and I always regretted not seeing them in that small venue. Saw them at GW a year or so later when they really got big … but they didn’t seem to translate to the big stage.

  4. When I heard Chronic Town, I was hooked. They did no wrong through Lifes Rich Pageant. In fact, who has a better 1980s catalog than R.E.M.? Here’s my list of R.E.M. favorites through the years:
    http://mog.com/playlists/567586
    Orange Crush
    Leaving New York
    Radio Free Europe
    Pretty Pursuasion
    Driver 8
    Bang And Blame
    Man On The Moon
    Imitation Of Life
    (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
    Cuyahoga
    Near Wild Heaven
    Catapult

  5. Funoka – we have many of the same REM faves.

    Growing up in Atlanta in the 80’s, REM were always a big band. They headlined The Fox Theatre in 1985 and headlined The Omni in 88 and had hit songs on the rock stations.

    I defend the IRS years as just about perfection (1983-1987) – A full length release evey year plus the EP/b-sides LP.

    Green remends me of being on the Chattahoochee River with my friends and these were some of the first songs I learned on guitar (I had been a bassist but never had an acoustic until about this time). For Out of Time was exciting to see them get HUGE all over the world when I was in school in Athens,GA. Peter Buck was at every concert I went to in Athens and was cool to me when I would talk to him. When Automatic came out they stayed in Athens and did their press – MTV came to them, and they did their only live show at 40-Watt using 100% solar power.

    The music has been hit and miss since then, but they are still my local garage band made good.

    Stipe and his sister came out to see my band play one night and I missed the show (stuck in Atlanta in bad weather) and Mike Mills tried to get me to change my band’s name from The Stonesouls to The Stencils (maybe I should have listened to him)

  6. I’m waiting, Moderator. And there better be mention of angling headwear or you’re gonna get it when we get together

    E. Pluribus

  7. Good point, tonyola. This gets at part of my longtime beef with the band. I’ll stay in touch on this post and deliver on EPG’s request when I have time.

  8. There really isn’t any valid basis to criticize another person’s taste (but that would take all of the fun out of this place!).

    If we ever require participants to check an agreement/waiver before entering the Halls of Rock, this statement may need to be part of the language.

  9. Never did anything for me – still don’t. Don’t despise ’em, but they just never connected with me. Think I may have owned the “Chronic Town” EP at one point, but I never bought anything else by them. The biggest impression they ever made on me was when “Stand” was used as the opening theme for Chris Elliott’s “Get A Life”, the greatest network sitcom in the history of television.

  10. I discovered the music of R.E.M. in the mid 80s when I was in junior high school. For some reason they sort of became OUR band. Their music was accessible enough without being too “alternative” (like Dead Kennedys, for example). They were cool without being extreme.

    I suppose this conenction has helped me maintain a relationship with the band. The I.R.S. catalogue is as solid as they come. The Warner Bros. records are hit-or-miss, but there’s some real gems in there. I really like their last two records, while not on a level of the 80s stuff, I think they are pretty good. They haven’t been the same since Bill Berry left.

    I still hold on to R.E.M. as one of my favorite bands and I adore the early records.

    An aside, being from the South, I remember getting Fables of the Reconstruction while in Buffalo, NY, after being away from home for a couple of months. Those songs really hit me in all the right ways. It was only later that I found out about the miserable, homesick conditions the band was in when they made that record in rainy England with Joe Boyd. It’s definitely the most rustic of their records.

    TB

  11. That’s pretty much how I view REM – mostly inoffensive but nothing to make me run to the CD store for. However, there is one exception that makes me dive for the remote or mute: “Everybody Hurts” – both the song and the video. Unbearably morose. That song alone negates a lot of the goodwill generated by their more upbeat numbers.

  12. hrrundivbakshi

    REM is the quintessential C-60 band for me. “Murmur” is about half-great and mostly good; the first EP has its charms, and the rest of their mid-80s catalog has odd moments scattered here and there. But talk about flogging a dead horse, style-wise — I got so damn sick of that whole jangle thing.

    And Plurbie — what’s this about me not caring about Look? Hogwash! Look/apparent coolness is easily 30-40% of the deal for rock and roll — and in some cases, it accounts for a *lot* more. See my comments about the evolution of Stipe’s Look elsewhere in the Hall.

  13. Alright Hrundi,

    If such a thing was possible, that someone could be defined as objectively cool, who would be included in your top ten? The list should include names with approx. years in which the indcutees were at the height of their coolness.

    Think real hard before you compile your list. There’ll be hell to pay for years if you make a taste mistake.

    E. Pluribus

  14. If the bar EPG set for me were not so high, this might suffice as my answer. I know, however, that my soul has been summoned on this issue. I can assure you I am looking deeply within.

  15. And all that leads to an even greater inquiry. What musician maintained their coolness for the longest period? I defy anyone to come up with a better choice than Keef (1963-1972). That’s a pretty good run.

    E. Pluribus

  16. This is a really important side question that I hope other Townspeople will answer as well!

  17. The IRS years — Certain albums I love: Murmur, Reckoning, Document. Fables and Pageant I can kinda do without, believe it or not, aside from an absolute winner like “Driver 8” and “Fall on Me.”

    The WB years — I am biased because I was young and impressionable, but I remember fondly their days as the biggest band in America. Out of Time, Automatic, Monster, New Adventures, and even Up are not perfect albums, but there is some great stuff from this era. If there are Townspeople who will defend Mighty Like a Turd, but not songs like “Half a World Away,” “Find the River,” “I Took Your Name” and “The Wake-Up Bomb,” then I will be bummed, but not particularly surprised.

  18. Driver 8’s a good one. That’s the best thing on Fables. Can’t speak for all (what else is new), but Fables was the beginning of the end for me. The seeds of what were in store were beginning to sprout. Costello’s Trust, which I love, has a similar smell.

    E. Pluribus

  19. ladymisskirroyale

    Ah, machinery, I also strongly associate those albums with certain study diversions…

  20. alexmagic

    I like this even better than a Top 10 Objectively Cool List for a potential stand-alone topic, since we can get down into fighting over exact moments/years when people lost it.

    Is there anything that disqualifies James Brown between 1956 and 1976? The appearance in Ski Party in 1965 would seem to be the biggest stumbling block, but I think it only adds to his legend.

  21. Give me a few minutes to set this up…

  22. hrrundivbakshi

    Well said re: “Trust.” That’s one of my fave EC albums, but it’s bittersweet for the reasons you cite. Elvis was prairie-doggin’ for sure.

  23. ladymisskirroyale

    That EP and those first 2 albums are some of my all time favorites. REM (and U2) were the first bands that provided a bridge from Arizona radio mainstays (“classic rock,” “southern rock” with a bit of B52s thrown in for spice) to the bigger world out there, and although I had always been very interested in music, REM was one of the first bands that I really studied and tried to learn as much about as I could. (And discovered I.R.S. records and that a label could give you an idea about other bands in their catalogue that you might want to try next.) I had Murmur and Reckoning on constant loops – they were the records that elicited the “Turn off that music – it’s too jangly!” comment from my Dad. I loved Stipes lack of enunciation – it was mysterious to me at that age, not pretentious – and that some of the lyrics were in French. I liked the simplicity of the sound and rhythms (this is direct reaction to Queen who was a fav of mine a few years earlier) and that it could be created by a basic 4-guy group of musicians. But at the same time, there were the “arty” touches that added the extra gloss: the album art/lettering, the echoing billiard balls.

    When I started djing at my grad school college radio station, “Radio Free Europe” was the first song I played on the air.

  24. Moderator.

    I just watched that clip of “Radio Free Europe” again. What am I missing? Go back to the early 80s and pretend your were checking out the band at a venue like Tops. You wouldn’t be excited by that performance? Or at least jealous? If you’re response is “no”, you’re a liar. Period. The only apparent flaws are the bassist’s wrist bands and the drummer’s sleeveless T shirt. People who still find these modes of fashion acceptable should most probably be placed in a mental institution. In other words, our buddy McSnydes should most probably be placed in a mental institution.

    I’m getting off track here. And I’m also getting fed up waiting for a decent reply. Get your priorities straight. The wife and kids can feed themselves should a pink slip find itself on your desk. What are your thoughts about all this shit?

    E. Pluribus

    P.S. Know who I really wanna hear from? My man Whelan. He used to love R.E.M.

  25. A few thoughts as I wait for a virus to be wiped from my computer…

    Love Radio Free Europe. One Million and Gardening at Night are winners too, although the latter is tough on my deepest manliness. I had hopes for this band, and yes, they looked and sounded cool.

    Then, it seemed like a month later all bell broke loose with Murmur. The album screamed THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, but. multiple spins in coming weeks were highly satisfying. The mumbled lyrics and the excitement peers felt over the mystery of them really bugged me. I don’t care for anyone’s air of mystery. As my Mom taught me, that’s a sign someones hiding something. And in her strange way of seeing the world, since we are all guilty of something, why not lay it on the table and move forward as adults. This sticks with me to this day.

    Part 2 later.

  26. misterioso

    The recent spate of postings by EPG is causing some problems–like I am starting to agree with him. Chronic Town is good, Murmur is really good, Reckoning is absolute genius, Fables is pretty good. Life’s Rich Pageant has moments. Am I wrong that there are a couple of good songs on Document? After that, I have no interest; actually I have active hostility towards a lot after that.

    Yes, I’ll say it again: Reckoning is absolute genius. Rockville doesn’t border on great, it is great. Absolutely haunting.

    By the way, in the So. Central Rain clip from Letterman, note how Stipe is off hiding somewhere during the “interview” segment. My theory is that he was thinking of ways they could totally suck a mere four years later.

  27. Should have read DEEPSET MANLINESS and Highly UNsatisfying.

  28. misterioso

    I should add that “I think” Life’s Rich Pageant has moments. Doubt I have listened to it in over a decade.

  29. misterioso

    Oh, really? What would Dr. Freud say about that? Your slip is showing?

  30. He would advise me to turn off autocorrect on my snazzy new phone.

  31. Misterioso,

    You appear to be a big Miles fan. Me too. Looking for an education here.

    About two months ago, I get this call from an electrician. Someone who knows I love records gave him my phone number The electrician tells me he recently completed a job in Camden, in a basement that needed to be rewired. For years, the basement served as an illegal bar catering to the local community until it was finally found out about and shut down. Maybe the pay off money wasn’t there. Anyhoo, when it came time to pay the bill for the electrical work, the owner of the premeses was a little short on cash. The remainder of the bill was paid off with the records that were played in the bar -thousands of records, 45s and LPs. In the haul were literally hundreds of clean classic jazz LPs. The only drawback, and it was a big drawback, was that none of the LPs had covers. To make a long story short, I bought the entire lot, and that’s all I’ve been listening to for the last 4 weeks: Miles, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, lesser cats like Jackie McLean, etc. Easily one of my greatest scores.

    All the Miles Prestige LPs are in there, and I’ve been listening to them. What I love best about him is that he wants you to believe that he’s the nastiest mother on the planet, but all that falls apart once you listen to him play. He’s an absolute sweetheart inside which is readily apparent as soon as those Prestige LPs are flopped on the turntable. Hands down, there’s no greater jazz romantic when it comes time for a ballad.

    Gotta know this. Of all the Prestige LPs, which is your favorite? As soon as I find out, I’m going to focus on that LP and that LP only for a week. When the week is over, you and I will have our Miles gab. How does that sound. I come off like a real prick, but I’m actually a lot like Miles inside when it comes down to the nitty gritty.

    Just ask Milady.

    E. Pluribus

  32. Part 2. This may hurt you more than it hurts me.

    So I’ve already got these guys lining up as pussies in my world, and the hype only gets more intense. Why? Their next two albums have a couple of nice songs that sound like Neil Diamond jamming with the Byrds. Meanwhile the dBs have released 2 inspiring albums that it seems only I and 7 friends would rather listen to over REM. No wonder we weren’t getting laid. Why did girls go apeshit for Stipe? This question has nothing to do with his sexual preferences, by the way. I had no inklings of what he was interested in back then. How could anyone tell with all that mumbling? I just want a lover like any other what do I get?

    Intense jealousy is now beginning to play a major role in my beefs with this band. I want the dBs and Big Dipper to get their piece of the pie. I want my own band to get a slice. REM is mostly boring to my ears. That jangly term annoys me. They are twinkly to me. All those open chords. The mighty Clash is going going gone and this is the next great hope? Fuck that! I’m a good egg, a true rock n roll lover who would serve the masters as humbly as Peter Buck. I could be as cool looking as those guys. Shit, GIVE ME AND MY BAND MATES YOUR CONTRACT!

    I am sorry for the pain and embarrassment this segment may cause you, but as a young man this burned hotter than a handful of hot peppers shoved up my ass. I lived through this pain more sincerely than I should ever admit, but I will. It even pissed me off when contemporaries – friends, no less – got to wipe up pie crumbs with their forefinger as a result of following the REM model more closely than I could ever imagine. It even pissed me off that our band’s showstopper original was a song I wrote that attempted to air my beefs with REM-style mystery in as jangly a musical style as I would ever attempt. My planned Trojan horse was welcomed as a harmless house pet.

    Over the years, bigger and better man that I’ve become, there is stuff I can more easily appreciate, and I think I’d dig the guys in person, but I still don’t find much of their music that interesting.

  33. hrrundivbakshi

    You typed all that on your PHONE?!

  34. Good points indeed, but I have yet to see any mention of angling headwear.

    E. Pluribus

  35. hrrundivbakshi

    Dude! Your long-awaited solo album MUST be called:

    “I, Stallion”

  36. I wouldn’t call those early records “low fi;” rather, Stipe purposely mumbled and gnarled his vocals. I always like that vocal-instrument quality better than when he started enunciating more clearly.

  37. Autocorrect has its merits after all!

  38. Peter Buck ’81 – ’85 was objectively cool.

  39. misterioso

    You’re a lot like Miles? That can mean a lot of things, as Cicely Tyson could tell you, our your lady. But anyway.

    Tough call on the Prestige records, they are all good, mostly great. I like Walkin’ a lot. But it is hard to go against the Workin’, Relaxin’, Cookin’, and Steamin’ quintet records, especially if you love apostrophes as much as I do. Seriously, they are wonderful records, beautiful and immediately accessible to non-jazz people; or so I think.

    By the way, Jackie McLean is a “lesser cat” in that period (50s) but most of his 60s Blue Note records, either as a sideman or a leader, are killer. Destination Out and One Step Beyond especially highly recommended.

  40. Yes, my fine typing skills are getting used to this virtual keyboard.

  41. misterioso

    I dunno, “tough on your deepest manliness” sounds about right.

  42. Yeah, I pretty much agree with this, except I’d say Chronic Town through Reckoning is one giant chunk of almost all great.

  43. The Moderator wrote:

    “Their next two albums have a couple of nice songs that sound like Neil Diamond jamming with the Byrds.”

    Ole! Couldn’t have said it any better.

    Well done. I needed to have all that in writing. And most importantly, issues regarding angling headwear are finally addressed with points well taken.

    You really bared your soul up here. Know that I am very VERY proud of you.

    Sincerely,
    E. Pluribus

  44. “It even pissed me off when contemporaries – friends, no less – got to wipe up pie crumbs with their forefinger as a result of following the REM model more closely than I could ever imagine.”

    I have a feeling I know who you are referring to, here!

  45. I agree with all that, but again, which is your favorite of the ending apostrophe Prestige Miles LPs? It is a tough call because they work together like chapters in a novel. That said, I need a title.

    Hope to hear from you soon,

    E. Pluribus

  46. misterioso

    Probably Relaxin’. I have a special fondness for it as it might have been the first Miles record I bought. But, geez, Workin’ is great, too, and I love “It Never Entered My Mind” off that. Is this helping?

  47. Rock on, brother! It’s a wonder I maintained any friendships in those days.

  48. misterioso

    I definitely think that hurt you more than it hurt me.

  49. Who’s the character in your new avatar? I like.

  50. misterioso

    It’s from the cover of Monk’s lp Misterioso. It’s a de Chirico painting called The Seer. It only took me a year and a half or something to figure out how to make one of those things.

  51. alexmagic

    Was about to chime in and ID it as the de Chirico painting, but didn’t realize it had also been used as an album cover. I like his stuff.

  52. 1. All of Mummer except for Talk About the Passion;
    2. Gardening at Night and Carnival of Sorts off the EP;
    3. Rockville and
    4. Driver 8.

    That’s all I need. I can listen to some others but those are the essential ones.

  53. Looks Iike I’ll be listening to both. “It Never Entered My Mind” is probably Miles his greatest ballad.

    Thanks for getting back to me!

    E. Pluribus

  54. Ah, I love de Chirico.

  55. BigSteve

    Yeah I saw them in a small club — once with maybe 30 people there (of of the most fun live music experiences in my life) and once packed, also pretty great. But then I saw them in a large theater later, not sure if it was after Reckoning or Fables, and they totally did not know how to translate. The dB’s, who opened, did a better job with much less experience.

  56. misterioso

    I know this RTH and the R is for Rock, not Jazz: but for those who don’t like jazz or at least think they don’t like jazz, those records are as good an entry point as any. Anyway, if you don’t like them, then you probably really don’t like jazz.

  57. Where is Whelan?

    Hey Buddy, don’t come over here expecting to borrow a tape deck if you can’t add your two cents to the convo.

    Be forewarned.

    E. Pluribus

  58. Perhaps as a big fan of that stuff he’s waiting for a mumbling app to download, allowing him to post his thoughts without any of us being sure what he means.

  59. mockcarr

    Those Prestige albums were recorded just a few blocks away from where I grew up (I guess about twelve years before I was there) – there was no lore whatsoever about it in town.

  60. mockcarr

    I can understand your point of view, but I believe every REM list needs Sitting Still.

  61. Great story. Too bad about the covers. Those records have great artwork.

  62. OK I got the tape deck so here is my spin Gurgley

    Chronic Town 1982 – a masterpice debut EP. (What else was going on in 1982? John Couger, Tommy Tutone, The Human League, Soft Cell, J Geils Band , Survivor, Asia… ) I’ll stick with REM ANY day.

    Murmer 1983 – Love almost everything on there, except for Radio Free Europe

    Reckoning 1984 – A couple of weak spots (Second Guessing) but overall I’ll have to say I love it. South Central Rain is a masterpiece and so is Rockville.

    Reconstruction of the Fables of the Reconstruction – 1985 – I’ll disagree with EPG and stand by this album except for “Can’s Get there from Here.” – I love the muddy production. They opened the show at the Tower with Feeling Gravity’s Pull – superb.

    Another thing to say about these first 4 albums is that the album cover art was superb. That used to matter.

    Life’s Rich Pageant – 1986 This is the beginning of the end and the last album I bought by them. I will have to say that Fall on Me is still one of my Favorite songs by them – a Chicken Little nightmare about ecological disaster, and the video was cool too. And I love Cuyohoga. But there are some major turds on here. You can feel them running out of steam.

    Everything past this point in their career I have pretty much ignored, although I like that mandolin stuff on Losing My Religion whenever I hear it.

    I am not sure I follow Mr Moderator’s train of thought. The “mighty Clash”? They wrote a couple of good songs but basically suck. The dBs & Big Dipper??? Come on! There’s a reason they never got popular. “Air of mystery” problems? Better start trashing a lot of John Lennon’s Beatle’s work too.

    EPG, you suprise me defending REM here. Maybe it’s time for The Elvis Burgers to reunite.

  63. Hey Whelan,

    Refresh my memory: What songs were covered by the Elvis Burgers?

    The Mighty Clash wrote a couple of good songs but basically suck? I don’t think so. You and I both know that’s a pretty big stretch. I recall you being a pretty big fan of “London Calling”. I’m not a big Clash fan either, but you can’t deny the power of that double long player.

    That said, I’m down with you when it comes to dissing the dBs and Big Dipper. No offense, but to get worked up about something so trite is mind boggling. Moderator, you’re a man’s man. You’re up there with Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, John Garfield, etc. The very idea that something so utterly THIN could be appealing to you causes me great discomfort. Please defend those leanings. I’ll give Big Dipper “All Going Out Together” despite the fact that it’s fueled by an irritating “Man or Machine” voice which I hate more than anything (XTC, Oingo Boingo), and I’ll give the dBs “Judy” and “Big Brown Eyes (or Whatever That Thing’s Called That You Put on a Comp Tape for Me about 25 Years Ago). And I’ll also give you those tracks despite the fact that the best thing you can say about them is that they’d be the best tracks on a $2.99 budget cut out. That’s not saying a whole lot.

    Again, post and defend those incredible songs that served as the soundtrack for your later teen / early adult years.

    I hope to hear from you soon,
    E. Pluribus

  64. Sitting Still is on my list under #1

  65. Thanks for a reasonable defense of the Clash. I know that mist have been tough on you, but it was the right thing to do.

    Listen, I’m a full-grown man, but the difference for me between the first 2 dBs lps and almost all REM is that the former attempted to write and record each song as a distinct, unique piece. They didn’t always succeed but each song puts afresh foot forward that has little to do with each musician’s personal agenda, style, or mystique.

    REM, on the other hand, is what I call a plug-n-play band. The three front musicians have a distinct style they let roll for each song. The results are consistent and predictable. Yoi may dig them, just the way you may tend to dig redheads or English accents, but there’s not a lot of craft involved. And that monobrowed drummer doesn’t need to do much more than pound away competently. If REM is a redhead or speaks with a British accent, I guess that’s not exactly my thing. That doesn’t mean I look the other way at every song they strut out there, but how many times can i be expected to get a hatd-on for Mike Mills and his stock backing vocal approach. I’ve got other one-trick ponies if I need a money shot.

  66. Count the good Clash songs for me besides Police on My Back and please defend Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock the Casbah

    The Elvis Burgers covered Gardining at Night, Wolves Lower, Sitting Still, and 1,000,000 I think.

  67. Sir, do you hate the USA too?

  68. Come on, which are the GREAT Clash songs.

  69. As someone who loves 70% of their first four albums I won’t waste my time or yours with a list that won’t mean a damn to you. Until now I’ve only known one person who didn’t like pizza. Have you been a second all these years?

  70. Ah the pizza argument. Mr. Mod, is that the same one you used to defend Sgt. Pepper on RTH Chess?

  71. It’s an airtight argument, if you ask me. It says a lot about whether one is willing in any way to be part of society or not.

  72. The Moderator wrote:

    “Listen, I’m a full-grown man, but the difference for me between the first 2 dBs lps and almost all REM is that the former attempted to write and record each song as a distinct, unique piece. They didn’t always succeed but each song puts afresh foot forward that has little to do with each musician’s personal agenda, style, or mystique.”

    Yeah? Again, please post and defend these “another step for manikind” songs. I’m not hearing it. Frankly, I don’t see the difference between the dBs and a band like the Greg Kihn Conspiracy. Granted, both suck, but at least Kihn managed to pay some bills.

    E. Pluribus

    P.S. If you really wanna piss off Whelan, make a defense for the plight of the Irish.

  73. Yeah, I love the db’s too, but they have plenty of songs that are purely vehicles for an upside-down drum part or Stamey’s nasal vocal tone. Side 2 of Repercussion, in many ways, is just one long adenoidal vocal.

  74. Pizaa is good. The Clash are overrated – as songwriters. They were highly influential attitude wise, fashion wise, politically, etc. But their songwriting was not great on the spectrum of rock greatness

  75. Thanks, Oats! I knew this whole thing wasn’t just me.

    Again, Moderator, please post the so called life changing songs with a defense. Actually, just post the songs. If they’re life changing. they need no defense. As you’ve said time and time again, the music should speak for itself.

    E. Pluribus

  76. All joking aside, Buddy, we are getting to the point I figured we were headed. As with moviegoers’ commentaries on “the script,” as if they were following along with a copy on their laps as they sat in a movie theater, I think SONGWRITING is too often overrated. We too easily lose focus on THE SONG itself – what is ringing in our ears – when we pay undue attention to the craft that went into a song. When this happens we find ourselves making cases for the likes of Ron Sexsmith and Jellyfish. If we are to judge the Clash’s songs by their use of clever chord progression or turns of phrases, then sure, they were only decent SONGWRITERs. Judge the songs, though, and what they can make you feel (not just emotionally) and then, I say, the band’s pizza-like goodness comes through.

  77. I am defining songwriting the same way as you Mr.M – what is ringing in my ears. for instance – Train in Vain rings perfectly in my ears. So does Lost in the Supermarket.

  78. Big Brown Eyes, Judy, Neverland, She’s Not Worried, I’m in Love, I Feel Good, Ups and Downs, Black and White, Amplifier, and probably another 4-6 songs from the first two albums are interesting (from an arrangement/structure/chord progression/”scientific” standpoint) pop songs that display human desire, emotion, and humor in a way that’s not that unlike the best songs by Squeeze, The Turtles, The Beach Boys, and other “lightweight” pop bands that many of us grew up with. When I got those albums my senior year in high school or freshman year in college they meant a lot to me. They allowed me to draw the shades, shut my eyes, and try to figure out why I so wanted to be in love, why I was so far from reaching that state. I didn’t have to try to figure out what Stamey or Holsapple were singing about. I didn’t have to force the songs into some ridiculous “Southern gothic” tradition to compensate for the fact that they all sounded like variations on “Kentucky Woman” (in the case of REM, that is). Each song created its own “little world” for my limited emotional capacities at that age to explore. Those songs, even Stamey’s usually tedious scientific workouts on side 2 of Stands for Decibels, as Oats rightly points out, sure beat trying to convince myself that the post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys albums contained more than a good song or two per album. I still play those first two dB’s albums and feel in touch with my 19-year-old self and all the unfulfilled, idealistic jumble that I was working through. Maybe that’s what some of you still feel in touch with when you pull out your REM albums. Seriously, that’s cool.

  79. That’s cool, but again, no joke: what’s your opinion of Bo Diddley’s songwriting on his song “Hey, Bo Diddley?”

  80. All that’s fair. I’m not a fan, but your thumbs up of what I can’t understand now makes perfect sense.

    E. Pluribus

  81. The understanding that’s flowing through the Halls of Rock today is really encouraging. I look forward to how some of us will direct these positive energies to Oats’ newly posted Critical Re-upgrade of Husker Du!

  82. ladymisskirroyale

    Oh, you mean you don’t like the Production of those REM albums??? Or you don’t like the Consistency Of Sound?

  83. ladymisskirroyale

    What! Squeeze is a lightweight band? What is the difference between lightweight and well-written/performed pop song?

  84. Ok, though I’m not fully prepared, I feel I need to call bullshit on your concept of the “plug-n-play band.” It seems so vague as to be meaningless. How are the dB’s any less of a plug-n-play band than REM? They have as much of a specific musical approach as REM does; it’s just that the dB’s approach appeals to you more.

    Also, that “Kentucky Woman” remark was a cheap shot, and I would argue, baseless.

  85. Addendum: Mr. Mod, we anxiously await a comprehensive position paper on your objections to the Replacements.

  86. I’m not a big Squeeze fan, but “East Side Story” is great. And here’s a bill for ya: I saw Squeeze and Flock of Seagulls at Gettysburg college, right when East Side Story came out. Hands down, phenomenal show.

    E. Pluribus

  87. Mr M – Hey Bo Diddley is a fun song but let’s compare Mr Bo Diddley’s songwriting with Chuck Berry’s. I’ll vote for Chuck. Similarly, I would vote for Elvis Costello as a songwriter over the Clash

  88. Ha! I did many shows in Athens with a band called Forrest Of Fools who sounded exactly like REM circa 1985 (and this was in 1989-1990) They were pretty good but I always had a beef with them for playing the REM card on EVERY SINGLE song. Of course we ended up opening for them most of the time because the REM/Connells thing was huge (especially with the ladies)

  89. Squeeze, even at their sporadically brilliant best, is all about being clever. To me that’s one mark of a lightweight artist. How many times did the lyricist, Tilbrook, ever write a word that didn’t have the depth of the NYT crossword puzzle?

  90. They’re simply kind of boring for me. I only need a few of those A to D rockers. I have little interest in the joke songs. I HATE the crying in the beer ballads. I have no moral objections to them, them.

  91. mockcarr

    Yup, should have posted this under funoka’s.

  92. Hey, I like Kentucky Woman! I will make some time to more fully explain plug-n-play rock. It’s related to Olympic Rock, found in our Glossary.

  93. tonyola

    What is it with your distaste for cleverness? Are you so easily taken in by false authenticity (Lou Reed and Bob Dylan for starters)? Do you revel in deliberate stoopidity like AC/DC?Most rock – great or otherwise – is artifice. I don’t let concerns like self-conscious artistry, “weight”, or fashion sense get in the way of my enjoyment of the music. And Squeeze would still be damn tuneful if all they ever did was go “la-la-la”.

  94. Bashing sacred cows today?

    Squeeze is one thing, but you don’t like Gary’s Got a Boner?

    How about Run It?

    Red light red light run it
    Red light red light run it

    There ain’t nobody watchin’ — run it
    There ain’t nobody watchin’ — run it

  95. tonyola

    “Should I Stay” has crunch. “Rock the Casbah” has a fine piano groove. That’s all they need. I’m not a fan of the Clash but I don’t dismiss them offhand either. There’s a couple dozen of their songs that I genuinely enjoy.

  96. misterioso

    tonyola, see my question to Mod re: ‘craft.’ If I am reading him correctly they essentially mean the same thing. It’s ok to be clever or to display craft until it starts looking like what you are trying to do. So I read him.

  97. I am moral, I guess you might say, and didactic by nature. Cleverness and stoopidity are fine and have their place, but that’s not my calling, if you will. I like Squeeze, but I’m gonna call ’em as I see ’em.

  98. mockcarr

    Sometimes a song is just a song. Does it really matter what Stipe sings? It’s a lot easier for me to get past something incomprehensible than ignoring the puerile love/sex/narcissism of most lyrics.

  99. tonyola

    Sigh – maybe this isn’t the place to be a hardcore prog fan, where artifice, cleverness, and self-consciousness aren’t just the order of the day – they’re essential to the craft. Why, I can sit through all of Tales from Topographic Oceans without fidgeting.

  100. Don’t despair, tonyola, it’s partially the way the wind blows and the way this particular windbag is blowing. I don’t expect you all to follow my way of thinking. I’ve got my values to uphold and run up a flagpole and you are encouraged to do likewise with your values. I’ve actually been chewing on a piece entitled “Degree of Difficulty” that is centered around my deep appreciation for Yes. When I have time to set up the piece, your leanings will feel more at home.

  101. misterioso

    So can I, tonyola, so can I! Of course, if I am heavily sedated first…

  102. I loathe the “too clever” argument. There’s never anything wrong with being smarter than your audience. If your whole purpose is to write a tricky smart song without much emotional resonance, and it works; then that’s a success.

    That argument reminds me of everyone who supported Bush the Younger because he seemed like the more “regular guy”. “I’d rather have a beer with him.” You always want your President and artists to be smarter and cleverer than you! That’s why they belong there. Dumb songs are fun. We already have lots of them.

    If someone writes a melodic explanation of Fermat’s Last Theorem, I want to hear it. I don’t care what a “clever” idea that is. How many more times do you want the moon and June rhyme? (granted that hasn’t been done in over 50 years)

    Go watch a re-run of The Hangover.

  103. The “too clever” argument is not what I’m making – and it has nothing to do with the audience. I’m saying that in the case of a band like Squeeze, almost ALL they do is “clever.” It’s sometimes tremendous, as on East Side Story, an album that I still spin on my high school-purchased vinyl every other month, but when I stack artists “against” each other (yeah, I know what you’re saying, Marlon Brando and others too cool to accept awards) I typically give bonus points to artists that occasionally lay their stones on the table and attempt to move me. That said, the collective value of the Replacements, who have turned out some bold, emotionally moving songs in my book, are outweighed by the collective cleverness and melodic invention of Squeeze. It’s not an either/or thing. I wish I were better at math so I could show it as a formula.

  104. misterioso

    I wouldn’t necessarily equate smart and clever.

  105. misterioso

    I came to work today with REM’s Out of Time (it’s my wife’s, ok? hasn’t been played for at least 10 years) fully intending to revisit it, as I did another terrible 1991 record, Mighty Like a Rose. How interesting that one record is pretty much universally seen as a low point and the other is widely seen (I think, anyway) as a high point.

    But, you know what: I can’t do it. I listened to the first cut, Radio Song. Annoying as hell. Talk about “too clever.” No way I am going to suffer through Losing My Religion again, ever. Skipped around a little through the rest of it. Not happening. Life is too short.

    Now it’s simply a question of whether, in some endurance test, I would opt to suffer through Out of Time or the other one–Automatic For the People? Is that the one with Everybody Poops?

  106. Clever is a subset of smart. You can’t be clever if you aren’t smart.

  107. Seriously, you can listen to a heap of garbage like “How to be Dumb” but you can’t give “Half a World Away,” “Texarkana” or any of the other fine, non-embarrassing songs on Out of Time a fair shake?

  108. misterioso

    Ah, well, sure. There is a distinction which perhaps is clear only in my mind. I would argue that (appearances to the contrary) Jagger-Richards are smart: that you do not create what they did by being stupid. I am not sure that Jagger-Richards would be said to be clever. Clever in this context signifies a certain superficial appearance of smartness, lacking depth. I realize that this is relative and, of course, subjective; and that, for example, to the blues purist, Jagger-Richards might be the last word in facile cleverness.

  109. misterioso

    It’s really not fair, you’re right. I’m not saying that makes MLAR better, by the way. But I guess I felt like I owe Costello the courtesy of giving it a try.

    I did listen to Texarkana all the way through. It almost sounded like earlier, good REM songs, only not quite. Half a World Away, that’s one of those plink-a-plink mandolin songs with Stipe mooning on about something in a way that sounds really serious, right? But that doesn’t really narrow things down, does it?

  110. hrrundivbakshi

    Is “Radio Song” the one with the KRS-One cameo? That song (and especially the video) always struck me as nadirs of 1990s “alternative” music. Seriously shitty.

  111. BigSteve

    Maybe Mick’s solo albums would qualify as clever but not smart.

  112. ladymisskirroyale

    Amen, tonyola!

  113. ladymisskirroyale

    Is now the time to start waxing about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences?

  114. misterioso

    Alas. Yes. In fact , 1991 has a lot to answer for. Subject for a future bitter dispute, I am sure.

  115. […] it time that we, the cogniscenti of RTH also review this important album? If REM’s I.R.S output and a critical upgrade of Husker Du elicited recent posts, shouldn’t we weigh in? Of […]

  116. ladymisskirroyale

    Simon Reynolds proposed 1986 as the nadir of Indie music, when it went from “Progressive” to “Regressive.”

  117. 2000 Man

    Hey! I saw Flock of Seagulls open for someone, too. I thought they were really good, and they had the place hopping. I totally didn’t expect that.

  118. 2000 Man

    Mick’s solo albums aren’t clever or smart.

  119. Lots going on while I was gone. One thing nobody mentioned was how REM was deliberately excluded from Azarrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life yet they hang over every chapter like the hated while whale you had to hunt down and kill as an American indy band in the ’80’s. I understand the Mod and T-Vox’s feeling that those pricks (not a comment on the actual members of REM) got there 1st and ate all of the golden eggs, leaving none for the Wishniaks, Nixon’s Head, Dream Syndicate, etc, etc.

    That said, the EP and the 1st 3 LP’s were an inspiration to any small scale college rocker in the early 80’s and 75% of the material still holds up. “Plug & Play”? Remember these were pretty unskilled musicians doing the only thing they could with their songs. Kind of Popeye Rock, to go back to the glossary.

  120. Popeye Rock! Good man, k. That’s the earlier Glossary entry I had in mind.

 
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