Monday, 22 January 2018

The hidden world of R.E.M. #21

Yep, I've decided to revive this series. Kind of. I don't know how long I'll keep it going, and it won't be as frequent as before. Best guess, it'll be monthly - or thereabouts - for five instalments. After that? Who knows. Maybe more, maybe not.

To kick us back off though, well it's been 25-plus years since 'Automatic For The People' cemented R.E.M. as major mainstream rock stars, although musically there was much about AFTP that was far from mainstream. The recent 25th anniversary deluxe reissue of the record scuppered my plans for some of the tracks I was going to post here. It's a very decent set though, especially the disc of demos. You really ought to check it out if you haven't done so already.

So I've decided to go for a couple other tracks from around that time. Star Me Kitten was perhaps the most downbeat moment on a rather downbeat album. The 'Star' in the title is actually 'Fuck' in the lyrics, but the band apparently didn't want a title including that word. This version was released on the X-Files tie-in sort-of-soundtrack album 'Songs In The Key Of X' and is basically the backing track of the original with William S. Burroughs reciting the lyrics in place of Stipe. I have no idea when Burroughs recorded his vocal, but it was released in 1995 when he was 80. It's certainly not an essential piece but worth hearing, for sure.

Either side of 'Automatic For The People's release were two fanclub singles. Each one featured a cover of a song originally by British punk bands. The 1991 single had a cracking take on the Vibrators' hit Baby Baby with Mike Mills taking lead vocal. The following year, a raucous rendition of Spizzenergi's Where's Captain Kirk? graced one side of the seasonal 7". Not sure who's singing lead here. It's not Stipe, though his voice is definitely in the mix. It doesn't sound like Mills either. Peter Buck never sang on an R.E.M. recording which just leaves Bill Berry. But it wouldn't surprise me if any member of the extended R.E.M. family (such as manager Jefferson Holt, lawyer Bertis Downs or guitar tech Microwave) was involved either. Great version though, and proof that the band still had what it took to rock out when they wanted to!


  1. Spizzenergi! I like R.E.M. just a little bit more today than I did yesterday. Sounds like I don't like them, but that's not what I meant.

  2. Great to see this series back. Loved all three of the tunes on offer here. Keep 'em coming Robster.

  3. This is what made R.E.M. such a fascinating band, even at the height of their global fame. They were a bunch of music fans who loved acknowledging and paying tribute to groups that very few, other than anoraks, had heard of.

    I avoided buying the anniversary edition of 'Automatic' on the basis that I really don't like simple cash-ins, but if you're making such a positive recommendation, then I'm going to get myself a copy.