Sunday, 20 June 2021

An R.E.M. summer: The Imaginary 7"s - part 3

#5: An Imaginary 7" from 'Lifes Rich Pageant' (1986)

I've long felt that the opening four songs on 'Lifes Rich Pageant' form as good a sequence of songs as you'll find on any record anywhere ever. For all those fans who came into LRP from any of the first three albums it must have been a bit of a shock to hear something so loud and brash from a band who had been tagged as 'folk-rock'. For me, it was the second R.E.M. album I heard, having worked back from 'Document', so it was of no surprise to me.

For the really early fans though, perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of a number of the band's oldest songs. Were they already struggling for material? Did they have to look to the past in order to move forward? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever, it didn't stop them releasing one of their finest ever songs (Fall On Me) as the album's first single. A shame the second single (Superman) was a cover version tacked onto the end of the album at the last minute. For me, there were three better choices.

Cuyahoga is a wonderful song, but perhaps a little too similar in tone to Fall On Me, while I Believe was an immediate fave of mine, maybe helped by that frantic banjo solo in the intro. But there can be no disputing that in Begin The Begin we have a song that smacks you square between the eyes from the off. Buck's riff, Berry's pounding drums, screeching feedback, and a snarling, sneering Stipe. This was R.E.M. as they'd never been heard before - and to this day it sounds incredible. That's why it's my imaginary single #5.

The b-side is an outtake that remained unreleased for 20 years before it appeared on the limited edition 2-disc version of the 'And I Feel Fine...' compilation. An earlier demo also appeared on the 25th anniversary edition of 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. Theme From Two Steps Onward is regarded by fans as a bit of a lost gem which, considering the brevity of the album and the seeming lack of new material, really ought to have been included in the set.

The sleeve is a segment of a larger picture I found featuring Michael Stipe and a friend. The original also shows Peter Buck on the other side of the road. I added some colour and a couple filters to give it a kind of LRP-type feel.

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #5

A: Begin The Begin
Theme From Two Steps Onward

side A: from the album 'Lifes Rich Pageant'
side B: outtake from 'Lifes Rich Pageant' sessions

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

No video for this one, so I've gone for the performance of it captured on The Green Tour a few years later, as released on Tourfilm, arguably one of the greatest concert films ever made.

#6: An Imaginary 7" from 'Document' (1987)

For once R.E.M. (or the record label - whoever was pulling the strings) got it right and released the three most obvious tracks from 'Document as singles. This was the record that started it all for me, a life-changing record in fact, and that's no exaggeration. I therefore wanted to choose a song that was worthy of being an imaginary fourth single from it.

As well as the obvious ones, the song that struck me immediately on first listen was King Of Birds, opening with Peter Buck playing a dulcimer (which ultimately led to him picking up the mandolin for the next album). It's a completely different-sounding song with its marching rhythm. It's one I even recorded myself one weekend after borrowing a neighbour's four-track. I played acoustic guitar, mandolin and some random things I could hit as percussion instruments which may or may not have included a cardbord box. You will never hear it. N.O. No!

But despite my affection for King Of Birds, I've gone for Disturbance At The Heron House, one of my favourite R.E.M. songs of the IRS era. It's probably one of their most overtly political songs and draws comparisons to Orwell's 'Animal Farm', though you'd not really get that from Stipe's rather obtuse lyrics. Still a great song though, a big sound and another one I love to play on guitar.

In the spirit of the b-sides from the first two 'Document' singles, I've chosen another track from the McCabe's Guitar Shop benefit show from May 1987, three months before the album came out. To my knowledge, it's never been officially released. And the sleeve art is a photo I saw when looking for potential things to use. It stood out as such a great shot to me. Unfortunately I saved it before noting who the photographer was and typically I can't find it again so if he wants a credit, just get in touch!

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #6
'Disturbance At The Heron House'

A: Disturbance At The Heron House
B: Finest Worksong [live at McCabe's]

side A: from the album 'Document'
side B: previously unreleased

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

Next week, imaginary singles from the first two Warner Bros. albums 'Green' and 'Out Of Time'. What do you think they should be?


  1. I can't fault either of these choices, Robster, but I really enjoyed reading how you came to decide on the respective selections. Like you, Document was the first R.E.M. album I heard, but Life's Rich Pageant was the first that I actually bought. Whilst they are both very special, LRP nudges it as my favourite album.

  2. Begin The Begin makes perfect sense. These Days nudges it for me as a song but BTB is the single out of the 2.

  3. Wonderful displays of logic, and the cases are perfectly argued.

    But, again, it's the extras that make it the real treat...not only the clever and imaginative sleeves, but the fact you've dug so deep and in relatively unknown places for these b-side.

    It's fanatastic.

  4. Am loving these imagined posts, properly excellent - my cap is doffed.

    Picking from Green is hard. The four obvious single choices were all released as singles.... so I'm thinking maybe World Leader Pretend. It would need a little edit to get it to the 4 minute limit, of course.

    Similarly, with Out Of Time, all the obvious single choices were singles. So I'd go for Country Feedback (a) because it's amazing and (b) because I'd like to see the feedback and pedal steel soaring up the charts. And besides, it would be too easy to pick Half A World Away, with its mandolin to capitalise on the all-conquering Losing My Religion... and who wants to do easy? Not REM.

  5. For me, Exhuming McCarthy, which is my favourite on this album. Then, World Leader Pretend, and Country Feedback, a little obviously. Another great series. Thanks.

  6. From 'Green' it must surely be 'World Leader Pretend', but flicking through Out of Time for the first time in ages, nothing immediately leaps out - as Martin says, all the obvious choices were taken. I really like 'Belong', but I'll plump for 'Texarkana'.
    Another brilliant post Robster.