Friday, 8 August 2014

50 songs to take to my grave 12: Country Feedback

You know sometimes how you really love a record so much but just can’t explain why? This is one of mine. Country Feedback is a song buried away near the end of R.E.M.’s 7th album ‘Out Of Time’. It is pretty much exactly what it says it is: a country song swathed in feedback. It’s a slow, lazy plod through a hot, arid, sun-scorched landscape. It’s one of the greatest songs R.E.M. ever recorded.

So what’s so great about it? Well as I said, I don’t know. It sticks out like a sore thumb on its parent album. It is easily the most downbeat, maudlin number on an otherwise upbeat record. It was probably best suited to its follow-up, the brooding multi-platinum classic ‘Automatic For The People’, but R.E.M. kind of did that – each album seemed to contain an oddity that provided a clue as to what might follow. Maybe that’s one reason – it was the antithesis of the happy, cheerful feel of ‘Out Of Time’.

Another reason may be its deliberate under-production. The version on ‘Out Of Time’ is basically the original demo (with only some subtle backing vocals by Kate Pierson added) featuring local producer and musician John Keane playing the unmistakable pedal-steel. Stipe’s vocals were recorded in a single take (“I sang it and I walked out,”) the lyrics largely improvised on the spot. They never bothered re-recording it, it was good enough as it was.

Perhaps it soundtracked the darkness in my life at the time (which I’ve spoken of enough already, so I won’t bang on about it). But you know how music strikes chords with you at certain times in your life – it just comes along at the right time and its impact remains with you for the rest of your life? I think Country Feedback fits in with that. Or maybe it’s just that I managed to play it in Our Price during peak hours several times before the store manager realised Stipe swears in it!

Or maybe it's because it's an incredibly easy song to play on guitar, even for someone with such rudimentary skills as me. It is in essence a repeated loop of Em - G - D - C - G - D - Em; four of the easiest chords over and over again, so simple even I've mastered it. Michael Stipe cites Country Feedback as his favourite R.E.M. song, but then, he's never heard me play it...

There have been several cracking live versions released of it too. One features an extended jam with none other than Neil Young, while another version recorded in Germany in 2003 contains alternative lyrics taken from a later R.E.M. song called ‘Chorus And The Ring’. Stipe even weaved in lyrics from Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone when they performed it for MTV's Unplugged in 2001.

Whatever the appeal, I adore this song. I so rarely play much R.E.M. music from that period nowadays, but this one always gets an airing.


Soundtrack:

Country Feedback – R.E.M. (from ‘Out Of Time’) - audio starts at 0:18

Country Feedback [live, Bridge School Benefit] – R.E.M. with Neil Young (from the 1999 Christmas Fanclub single)

Country Feedback [live, Wiesbaden] – R.E.M. (from ‘Perfect Square’ DVD)

Country Feedback [live, MTV Unplugged] – R.E.M. (from ‘Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions’)

6 comments:

  1. Very familiar with the REM albums in the 90's, but completely forgot about this track. Thanks for the reminder.

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  2. Absolutely my favorite REM song! I love Buck's work here! And Stipe does a great job here too!

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  3. What a song. Unquestionably in my Top 5 REM songs. Funnily enough, I've been listening to this one a lot recently, but the background info is the icing on the cake. Thanks, as always. Still can't spot those Kate Pierson vocals though...(puts on headphones....)

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    1. I said they were subtle... honestly they are there, near the end during the "Crazy what we could have had" coda. Thanks for all the positive comments guys - I always felt this song was much overlooked. Happy that Im not the only one who feels this way.

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  4. One of their best without a doubt

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