Monday, 19 February 2018

The hidden world of R.E.M. #22

I never had satellite or cable TV growing up - still don't now, and never will - so I didn't get to see much in the way of MTV or VH1. The latter ran a series called Storytellers which involved getting an act in to play a live set, but between songs telling the stories of how the songs came into being. Hence the title of the show - clever, eh? I've heard a few bootlegs over the years and I have the Bowie one which I ought to post a bit of sometime (though I did post a track from it in last year's Bowie Week).

Recently I acquired a copy of the R.E.M. show recorded in 1998, the very day 'Up' was released in Europe. It's a gem. Some wonderful stories that display the band's humour - particularly Michael Stipe's - and gave an insight into the band's writing processes. So today, here's a couple of highlights. Ironically, I'm starting off with one that isn't prefaced by a story. I'm Not Over You appeared on 'Up' as a hidden track at the end of Diminished. Michael Stipe started playing it solo, accompanying himself on guitar, during the subsequent tour. He would take to the stage at the start of the encore and nervously strum the first few chords as the crowd fell silent. His playing was tentative and his singing delicate - he was outside his comfort zone for sure. Here he has a bit of accompaniment from the band, which now included Joey Waronker (on drums), Scott McCaughey and Ken Stringfellow on guitars, keyboards, percussion etc.

There's no doubt that, while 'Up' spooked some fans out with its experimental approach post-Berry, and by it being a bit too long, it certainly did contain a couple of wonderful, wonderful moments. One such moment came in the form of At My Most Beautiful, which remains one of the band's greatest songs. Here, Stipe tells how it was a deliberate attempt to pay tribute to The Beach Boys and that it was his present to his bandmates. Mike Mills goes on to explain how the music came together in the studio before Stipe asks Mills, McCaughey and Stringfellow to perform the chorus backing vocals a capella. The result will make the hairs on the back of your neck stick up.

To round off, another solo effort. This time, Mike Mills regales us with the story of how he wrote (Don't Go Back To) Rockville before delivering an abridged, yet astonishing, version of the song at the piano. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Mike Mills - DO A SOLO RECORD, DAMMIT!

And here's a clip from the show:


  1. Greetings from Rockville, MD! -- a DC suburb. I have lived here for 30 years and was never able to confirm that this was really the town the REM song was referencing. Thanks! - Barry

  2. That version of 'Rockville' is just magnificent. It's like Mike somehow transposed himself back into his younger self, feeling those old emotions all over again. A very special performance, thanks for sharing it Robster.

  3. The one time I went to the Washington DC area on business a few years ago, I took the train out to Rockville just so that I could say I'd been there. It's one of my all time REM songs.....

    Great summary of Up and of what was a really enjoyable promo show that I reacll watching at the time