On Monday 24 April, Ralph McLean from Radio Ulster is hosting an #REM night from 8pm. Two hours of classics, covers, curious and more.
I was a late convert to R.E.M. In fact, I only heard about them in late 1989 when I was in my final year of the YTP programme I was on after leaving school. When speaking to some of my classmates at the time the discussion was around who was the best band in the world. 17-year-old me doesn’t know any better as U2 were the biggest band for me which laid to comeback argument, no R.E.M. are the biggest band having just signed to a major label Warner Bros. releasing Green which came out in 1989.
At this stage I’m ignorant of the band. I have never heard of them up to this point and being a U2 fan I should have known them as they supported U2 at Croke Park in 1985. They also supported them as part of The Longest Day event in Milton Keynes the same year.
I never followed up on the recommendation then and it wouldn’t be until 1991 that the band’s name was becoming familiar again. Out of Time was released in March 1991. The grunge revolution was just seven months away and my music taste hasn’t changed a bit. U2 are still my favourite band and I’m listening to a lot of metal then as well.
The first songs I heard from Out of Time were the singles, Losing My Religion, Shiny Happy People and Radio Song. Of all three songs I detested the most were the latter two. I was never going to give Out of Time a chance but later I would return to the album much after its release and appreciate it a bit better.
It’s 1992 and I’m consumed by the grunge tsunami. Nirvana opened the floodgates and my music taste is starting to change. Watching BBC2’s The Late Show special No Nirvana I got to experience a different side of R.E.M. that I wasn’t experiencing with the above singles.
Half a World Way from the same album suddenly gave me goosebumps. This song was so good.
It really got my attention and it’s not the hit singles that are my favourites here. When I finally got around to listening to it properly, it was the likes of Near Wild Heaven, Half a World Away, Low, Country Feedback and Me in Honey which were becoming my favourites.
The follow-up a year later, Automatic for the People for some reason didn’t grab me either. The album had six singles released from them and again I never gave the album a chance. Songs like Drive which was the first single should have appealed to me straight away and I think the heavy radio play of other singles such as The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Everybody Hurts, Man on the Moon and Nightswimming was kind of putting me off them. I really don’t know why.
October 1994 and I’m heading off to America for the first time. My flight from Dublin has been delayed and I am having to stay at the airport hotel until my flight gets rescheduled for the next day.
I had MTV on the TV, and this was the first time I had heard What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? I took to it straight away. I loved the fuzzy guitar of it, so different from the previous songs that I heard.
It came from Monster which got released in September 1994 whilst in America it was one of many albums that I bought, and it became a firm favourite.
Monster had five singles released from it and it included some of my favourites like Bang and Blame, Crush with Eyeliner, Strange Currencies and Star 69.
So, I am fully converted to R.E.M. It did take a while, but this album holds a special place in my heart and the following summer the band brought the Monster tour to Ireland with the band headlining Slane Castle. It remains the best outdoor concert I have ever been to.
The setlist heavily featured the material from Monster including two songs that would feature on the next album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi – Departure and Undertow.
By this stage I have now got familiar with their earlier works like Finest Worksong, It’s The End of the World As We Know It and So. Central Rain, along with the songs from Green, Out of Time and Automatic for the People.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi was more of a companion album to Monster rather than a new album with most of the songs soundtracked or written whilst on the Monster tour. It would also be the last album that drummer Bill Berry would feature on. This was R.E.M. at their creative peak. There are no dull tracks on his album which incidentally is my all-time favourite R.E.M. album – The Wake-Up Bomb, E-Bow the Letter, Leave, Bittersweet Me and Electrolite all being my favourites.
I continued to follow the band since, including their late 90s-early 2000s output which many don’t consider to be their best works but amongst those albums released during that period songs from Up (1998) – Daysleeper, At My Most Beautiful and Suspicion are quality songs.
Reveal (2001) included my favourites Imitation of Life and All the Way to Reno. From Around the Sun (2004) stand-out tracks include Leaving New York and Wanderlust. Accelerate (2008) would be their biggest seller since New Adventures in H-Fi. Collapse into Now (2011) was to be their last before the band would call it a day and disbanding.
I was late getting into REM but since 1994 I have got to see the band five times, the last one being their first ever and only gig in Belfast at the Odyssey Arena in 2005.
Hoping to hear some of my favourites being played on Monday night. You can listen to Ralph’s show on the BBC and also on BBCSounds from 8pm Monday 24 April 2023.