The first thing that hit me about REM was that anguished, pained, majestic, melancholic muezzin-like wail emanating from the voice of the enigma that is Stipe.
Next came his lyrics, what he said, and the way he sang the words, the words he used, some of the most haunting, intelligent & enigmatic. Half of the time I didn’t know what he was singing about but it just sounded right, it sounded complete & it moved me.
A few of my creative writing pieces were published many moons ago & in one poem (one I was probably most proud of) ran the line ..”As Michael Stipe says…..to improve their business acumen…” from “Exhuming McCarthy”. That’s how much he meant to me, he infiltrated my life in this way.
The first REM record that I heard was Document & it was a grower, took me some time to appreciate its real beauty, took a few listens to really get into it but once it gets into your skin, it never leaves.
This has some truly amazing and unique sounding tracks on it and most notable for me were tracks like the Indian-sitar inspired epic King of Birds, The One I Love and the brilliantly named Lightnin’ Hopkins who was an awesome blues guitarist but I don’t think the song has anything to do with him…the enigma that is Stipe!
The first REM record that I fell in love with & which is still my favourite is Green. The whole album is solid from start to finish including the last hidden track which is one of my faves on the whole release. From the same album, my all time fave REM song is “Hairshirt”. I had no clue what a Hairshirt was and I didn’t really care. I love being in love with something that I don’t fully understand. All I knew was that here was a man who was hurting real bad. The track just knocked me out, it didn’t feel of this world, it came from somewhere else, very deep, spiritual & transcendental. Indeed, upon writing the foreword to the mix, for the first time I looked up the definition of Hairshirt & it means exactly how that track made me feel:
“self-imposed punishment, suffering, sacrifice, or penance”.
Out of Time sound tracked a period of my life when I was living in London. When I first heard Country Feedback, it took me days to recover from the anguish of it. A song that pierces right thru you! This album was their most commercial offering to that date and spawned the incredible Losing My Religion which still sends shivers down my spine. Other faves include Belong, Half a world away, Endgame and the exceptionally awesome Texarkana which is the best track that my Birmingham homies Duran Duran never made.
The album also offered 2 of the most irritating tracks in the whole REM catalogue, Shiny Happy People and Near Wild Heaven!
Automatic for the People was the one & only album that my GF at the time & now wife has ever purchased for me, it was a birthday present & so that also holds a special place in my heart. Plus John Paul Jones from Zeppelin arranged the strings on it. It was probably the most cohesive & complete album after Green. Once again, this is a pure delight from start to finish albeit I wasn’t into the Sidewinder track and Everybody Hurts is a little cheesy.
Monster saw them taking a departure from the REM we knew & I really loved the harder, more experimental nature of this release. Plus it contained my second most beloved track “Let me in” which Stipe recorded in tribute to his friend Kurt Cobain. But I do not think of Cobain when I listen to this song, it transcends that context and becomes a song about “me”, about “us”. Stipe always makes you feel that he is singing about “us” & that is magical.
I felt that REM lost a bit of their gravitas after Monster but New Adventures & Up really had some special moments on them like E-Bow, Electrolite, Be Mine & At my most beautiful.
Not one to delve into people’s personal lives, especially of the famous, I only found out most recently that Stipe came out as a “queer artist” as he himself puts it. Not that this matters, it doesn’t matter. It matters as much as some dude saying he’s hetero but it sort of made sense of the pain that this man was communicating through his music and words. Being in a world where he was probably made to feel different, disenfranchised, unequal, scared, weird, of not belonging, being made to feel like an outsider!
For me Stipe is one of the greatest white male rock vocalists of all time. No-one else sounds like him; he is in a league of his own. Very few are able to express a heart-felt anguish & pain like he does. No-one else sounds quite as genuine & sincere as he does. Few others have the muezzin like wail that he has in his voice. That is his trademark!
This mix is full of the tracks from the REM catalogue that mean so much to me. There are a whole bunch of acoustic tracks on the mix making it sound like an unplugged session but this was for me REM at their most beautiful. Of course I love stuff like Man on the Moon, Frequency, So Central Rain, One I love & so many more but I wanted to keep this mix personal & cohesive to me. So lots of great stuff that the casual REM listener is likely to be more familiar with are missing.
This is my personal & beloved collection of Outsider Songs from REM at their most beautiful!
Unfortunately, Mixcloud keeps deleting my upload for copyright and I won’t risk uploading it on to Soundshite and so here’s a We Transfer link that expires in 7 days on 7th March:
- Country Feedback
- E-bow The Letter
- Let Me In
- Be Mine
- Why Not Smile
- Half A World Away
- Losing My Religion
- You Are The Everything
- The Wrong Child
- Gardening At Night
- King Of Birds
- Find The River
- Star Me Kitten
- At My Most Beautiful
- New Orleans Instrumental No. 1
Feel free to share your R.E.M. appreciation with us.