Sunday, 25 July 2021

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

For the mere handful of you who are still with me, this final installment is going to cover three singles. "Why?" I hear you ask. "There are four albums left." You're right of course, but for one of those albums, there's only one track on the table, and for another there's nothing - nada, nil, nowt - even worth considering. The only time for debate is for R.E.M.'s final two. So, we're starting off with a simple one:

#13: An Imaginary 7" from 'Reveal' (2001)

'Reveal' is so terrible, it doesn't warrant even discussing here. At least it wouldn't if there wasn't one single track that delights. And there is. Just the one. And it wasn't put out as a single which means I get to talk about it a bit.

I've Been High is a delicate love song featuring little more than a keyboard drone, a drum machine and Stipe's fragile, almost vulnerable vocal. It sits nicely next to Hope as an example of where R.E.M. could - and perhaps should - have gone. It's the one song from 'Reveal' I would put on an R.E.M. mixtape/playlist without hesitation.

As a treat, you get two b-sides today. Well, sort of. Free Form Jazz Jam was included in the original tracklisting of 'Reveal' but was ditched very late on. I doubt it was for the purposes of running time - it is only 18 seconds long after all. Still better than at least 10 of the tracks on the album though. Your b-side 'proper' is a version of Cuyahoga recorded live in Cologne, Germany in 2001. This was definitely a period of the band's career when you needed to be reminded of how great they once were, and this song always does it!

The artwork depicts a rough sketch of a bird. Because birds can get high, right? I don't just throw this stuff together with no thought, you know!

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #13

A: I've Been High
Free Form Jazz Jam
B2: Cuyahoga [live]

side A: from the album 'Reveal'
side B: both tracks previously unreleased

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

#14: An Imaginary 7" from 'Around The Sun' (2004)

Ha! Just kidding...


#14: An Imaginary 7" from 'Accelerate' (2008)

Yes, a quick sidestep, avoiding the record that should never have been made to one that still sparks joy in me. I love 'Accelerate', particularly coming as it did off the back of two total duds. It had four singles released from it, including a couple on good old-fashioned 7" vinyl, but there were a couple more that could have been put out.

I'm Gonna DJ dates back to 2004 when it was played as the set closer during the 'Around The Sun' tour, which is ironic as it is so resolutely anti-'Around The Sun'. It's quite a silly song sharing a similar sentiment to an old classic. Stipe is stating that come the apocalypse we're all going to have one big party and he's taking control of the decks. "Death is pretty final/I'm collecting vinyl/I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world." Yeah, I know - hardly profound, but that's the point. The world is ending. What good is philosophy and deep thinking when we're all about to snuff it in a big mushroom cloud? It's the end of the world as we know it - and we feel fine!

But while I'm Gonna DJ is the fun option, I simply cannot overlook the opening track on 'Accelerate'. Now I know I've rejected songs as singles during this series owing to them already being featured as official b-sides, but I'm making an exception for this one. Living Well Is The Best Revenge is without a doubt the R.E.M. single that got away. It deserved far more attention than it got, and was their best and most impactful album opener since Finest Worksong some 21 years earlier. The live version on the Man-Sized Wreath single (titled Living Well Jesus Dog) is great, but the album version is my imaginary 7" as I'll never forgive myself if it isn't.

The b-side is a track written for 'Accelerate' and played live during the Dublin residency the year before (as later released on 'Live At The Olympia'). On The Fly didn't make the album and to date no studio version seems to be available. However, here's a live acoustic version recorded at Michael Stipe's house by film-maker Vincent Moon for La Blogotheque's brilliant Take-Away Sessions. If you've never visited La Blogotheque before, get yourself over there. It really is one of the best places on the Internet.

The artwork is pieced together from logos and fonts from the 'Accelerate' theme and a city skyline drawing.

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #14
'Living Well Is The Best Revenge'

A: Living Well Is The Best Revenge
B: On The Fly [Take-Away Session]

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

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

There's no video for the album version of Living Well, so instead, here's the Vincent Moon version for La Blogotheque. This was filmed in Michael Stipe's Volvo (driven by the late Bill Rieflin) around Athens, GA. in 2007.

#15: An Imaginary 7" from 'Collapse Into Now' (2011)

And finally... I wondered how I could finish this series. The thing with 'Collapse Into Now' is it had a range of moods and sounds so this one could have gone anywhere. I thought about a slow ballad like the band's actual farewell single, which means Everyday Is Yours To Win was in for a shout. I really love Discoverer though and would love to have that as a 7". But it was an official single in the UK (albeit digital only) so sadly that's been ruled out.

I decided in the end to finish on a high, a good strong track like we started with. 'Collapse Into Now' does have a couple of good loud rockers. The aforementioned Discoverer, or the track that follows it on the album All The Best. But in the end I went for the fastest, hardest song on the record.

Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter features vocals by Peaches, an artist who I'm aware of but whose music has passed me by. She has albums called 'Fatherfucker' and 'Impeach My Bush', and songs called Lovertits and Dick In The Air. Thankfully here, she behaves herself and turns in a more than decent vocal performance. Essentially, Alligator... is a punk song, a good one. I can't tell you what it's about (which in many ways makes it like some of the band's earliest work), but to me it sounds like the protagonist is conflicted, feeling anger and frustration but wanting to remain peaceful and conciliatory. Whatever it all means, it's a great way to finish.

The b-side is a version of Mine Smell Like Honey, one of 'Collapse Into Now''s real singles, recorded live at Hansa Studios in Berlin in front of family, friends and associates. It was the very last time Buck, Mills and Stipe played together as R.E.M. Some of the other tracks they performed that day have been put out as bonus tracks on various versions of the album, but as far as I can tell, this one remains unreleased. For the artwork I've tried to incorporate the visual feel of the album, while making the lettering bold and in-yer-face like the song itself.

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #15

A: Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter (ft. Peaches)
B: Mine Smell Like Honey [live in the studio]

side A: from the album 'Collapse Into Now'
side B: previously unreleased

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

There's an official video for this one. Stipe is seen in a myriad of, erm, interesting(?) costumes, while Peaches looks like she stepped off the set of Barbarella. Or something.

That's it then. Fifteen R.E.M. singles that weren't R.E.M. singles but should have been. Coming up next week and throughout August, more R.E.M., this time focussing on some albums. I'll also be welcoming a very, very special guest. I wonder who it could be...???

Saturday, 24 July 2021

L #6 (the next decade)

Today's 'L' is represented by the artist rather than the song title...

The 2020s

To herald in my 6th decade, we come bang up to date with a track and video from 2021 that blows my fucking mind! It's not the sort of thing I usually listen to, but the wonderful Mary Anne Hobbs played it on her BBC 6 Music show one weekday lunchtime and I immediately had to find out what it was. It was Introvert by Little Simz.

Her new album 'Sometimes I Might Be Introvert' is out in September and it sounds like it's going to be one of the best of the year! The video takes the song to a whole new level.

Tomorrow we return to the R.E.M. Imaginary Singles...

Friday, 23 July 2021

L #5

The 2010s

Today's 'L' track comes from one of the debut albums of the decade. Dublin's new favourite sons Fontaines D.C. piledrived their way into my consciousness after seeing them support Shame in Bristol in 2018. The following year they released their first album and to describe it as an instant classic is putting it mildly. Definitely one of my favourite records of the 2010s.

Here's a version of Liberty Belle performed on US TV.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

L #4

The 2000s

While most people give up on music when they hit their 30s, I was still making life-changing discoveries. The White Stripes definitely saved me from a life of buying Coldplay records when Jack and Meg pummelled my lugholes into submission with their primal garage blues. And they looked fucking great as well!

The letter 'L' today is represented by Little Ghost, a track from the dynamic duo's 2005 album 'Get Behind Me Satan', and quite frankly if this wonderful live version doesn't have you grinning like a goon, then you're not alive!

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

L #3

The 1990s

The 90s could be described as my 'peak' decade. The money I spent on music-related activities in the first half of it is nobody's business. Most of my income (when I had some) went on music, booze and drugs. The rest of it I wasted. In 1992, I collected all of the Wedding Present's monthly 7"-only singles while working in Our Price.

Today's 'L' track was single number 9 released in September. The video contains semi nudity and garish colours. Not pretty...

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

'L' #2

The second decade of my life saw me fluctuate from musical style to musical style, but one band I discovered became probably the most important of my life. Guess who...

The 1980s

Bet you never expected to see any R.E.M. on this blog now, did you? From 1984's 'Reckoning', today's 'L' song is Little America, featuring a rather excitable Mike Mills...

Monday, 19 July 2021

'L' #1

To commemorate my 18,263 days on planet Earth, I'm posting a song a day, each representing one song from each decade of my life. For the most part, the letter L is involved, it being the Roman numeral for 50.Not much of a concept, but it's what I have and it's what you're getting. Today...

The 1970s

Nothing says 70s more to me than David Bowie, so from 1979's 'Lodger' (bonus point for the album title?), here's Look Back In Anger.


Sunday, 18 July 2021

Let's dance!

30 years ago, it was impossible to imagine I'd ever be 50, but here we are. Today, I've been part of this absurdity called life for exactly half a century. When you're young, you think you'll be young forever. I like to think that I am still young in many ways, but then my body decides to remind me that I'm actually an old git and to sit back down with a nice cup of tea. 50 is only a great age if you're a fine cognac or a bottle of Scotch...

I don't have much in the way of plans. I hate parties (something that 30 years ago I never thought I'd write) so it'll be a strictly family affair with good food and good music. Speaking of which...

This is the third attempt at writing something to mark this occasion. The second attempt was the definitive one before I changed my mind. It featured a song for each decade of my life so far, mainly centred around the letter L, which as you know is the Roman numeral for 50. I've decided to replace it with this one today, but I've divided that other planned post into six daily ones that will appear here throughout the week.

So today, despite my aversion to parties, I'm giving you a party mix which will be played this evening during a family dinner. It's very different to what you may expect from me as it's rather electronic-based, but I like to think I can still spring the odd surprise even at this ripe old age. I initially aimed to make it 50 minutes long, but I quickly realised that wasn't nearly enough time to include everything I wanted. So it's 20 songs over 70+ minutes. Please don't expect a professional-sounding DJ-type job, I'm not nearly skilled enough for that. Some of it is quite rough, in fact, but it does the job.

If you fancy having a birthday dance with us, please feel free. I'll probably be sitting on the sofa tapping my feet with a warm blanket over my lap whilst trying to remember the days when I could dance like Bez for hours on end without having to worry about feeling stiff as a board the day after! And the day after that...

Anyway, enjoy. Dance if you want to. And stay tuned for daily posts all this week...

50... and counting
compiled by TheRobster

Donna Summer - I Feel Love
Django Django - Glowing In The Dark
Björk - Big Time Sensuality [Fluke minimix]
Primal Scream - Don't Fight It, Feel It [Graham Massey mix] (segment)
New Order - Paradise [Robert Racic remix]
Arcade Fire - Sprawl II [Thunderlust remix]
Public Service Broadcasting - Theme From PSB [D/R/U/G/S remix]
Gulp - Morning Velvet Sky [Richard Morris remix]
Saint Etienne - Tonight
James - Wherever It Takes Us
Madonna - Sky Fits Heaven
Chemical Brothers - Hey Boy Hey Girl
Utah Saints - New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84
Depeche Mode - Enjoy The Silence [reinterpreted by Mike Shinoda]
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
Stone Roses - Begging You [radio edit]
Yeasayer - Ecstatic Baby
David Bowie - Dead Man Walking [edit]
Hafdis Huld - Fucked Up Mind

Grab it here

Sunday, 11 July 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: The Imagainary 7"s - part 6

#11: An Imaginary 7" from 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' (1996)

Choosing an Imaginary single from R.E.M.'s magnum opus 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' is a daunting prospect. Only one of its three actual singles was an obvious choice, while there are around five or six tracks screaming out for release that were overlooked. Those I considered, but subsequently ruled out are: Be Mine (for reasons that will become apparent); New Test Leper (a version was put out as a b-side to Bittersweet Me) and The Wake-Up Bomb (the one everyone but the band wanted as a single, but again a version was a b-side to Electrolite).

So the two from my shortlist that remain are Leave and So Fast, So Numb. The former is the longest song in R.E.M.'s extensive catalogue, way too long for a single. But it just hits you hard, doesn't it? The fake (acoustic/harmonium) intro giving way to Bill Berry's pounding drums and that siren! It sounded like nothing the band had done before. The latter is the obvious "hit", one of the album's shortest, most melodic songs, but no less gnarly and energetic as the rest of it. It's the one I took to immediately when I first heard NAiHF and it's still right up there with my all-time R.E.M. faves.

So what's it to be? Well, even though my attepted edit of Leave was still slightly too long, I was so tempted to break my self-imposed 'max 4-minutes' rule. But I then remembered I have something lined up next month where you might hear that edit anyway, so for imaginary 7" number 11, I went for So Fast, So Numb (albeit with a very minor edit of its own).

In Europe and Japan, another odd choice for a single was made. How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us wasn't put out in the UK so we missed out on its b-sides. One of them was an exclusive version of NAiHF's love/obsession song Be Mine. Recorded live on the band's tour bus whilst travelling on Highway 35 during the Monster Tour, it has never been commercially released in the UK or US as far as I know. For the artwork, I chose a wonderful shot of a hut and old truck somewhere in South Dakota.

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #11

A: So Fast, So Numb [edit]
Be Mine [Mike On Bus version]

side A: from the album 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi'
side B: from 'How The West Was Won...' single (Europe & Japan)

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

#12: An Imaginary 7" from 'Up' (1998)

It's an intriguing record is 'Up'. R.E.M.'s first since Bill Berry quit, it saw the now 3-piece band experimenting with electronics and as such, it's all over the place stylistically. It still had some fantastic songs on it, but it was about 20-odd minutes too long and contained quite a bit of filler.

Three of the four UK singles were good choices, but one or two other tracks really should have been considered over the actual fourth single, the rather dull pseudo-soul ballad Suspicion. Walk Unafraid was a huge live favourite and thus would have made for a good single right in the middle of the world tour that was taking place at the time. But if I'm being honest, the live rendition beats the pants off the studio track. It would have to be remixed to lift that chorus up to the levels it deserved and duly received when played live.

I always liked The Apologist, with its "I'm sorry" refrain perhaps a nod back to So. Central Rain. But let's face it, at the end of the day, there's only one track that makes the cut. I'm sure you won't disagree - it's just got to be the Leonard Cohen-inspired Krautrock majesty that is Hope. No R.E.M. song ever sounded like Hope before or since, which is a real shame. I've given it a trim but I don't think it loses its brilliance because of it.

A live b-side for this one as I have very little in the way of demos or outtakes from this era that hasn't been released. So you're getting a live version of Walk Unafraid so you can appreciate how good it was live. This was recorded in New York City for MTV's Uplift show. For the artwork, I rolled with the electronic feel of Hope. I know, a bit obvious...

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #12

A: Hope [edit]
B: Walk Unafraid [live]

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

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

A brief pause to the series next week as there's a notable event that needs to be marked instead. Pop by to see what that is! The final THREE Imaginary 7"s will follow the week after.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: The Imaginary 7"s - part 5

#9: An Imaginary 7" from 'Automatic For The People' (1992)

So this is where this little project gets tough. How do you choose a single from an album that's extremely downbeat and gloomy, and that had a ridiculous six songs already put out as singles from it? There's not a lot left to pick from really, is there? What should have been a single from AftP that hadn't already been a hit?

Of the six tracks that didn't make it, we can immediately discount New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 for obvious reasons, the very sweary Star Me Kitten for also obvious reasons, and Sweetness Follows because it's just too dark and maudlin. So that leaves just three songs. I originally thought that, without question, it would be Try Not To Breathe, one of my faves from the record. But on listening to it again, I can't help thinking it's a bit too sparse in its arrangement. Great song, yes, but a hit? No.

Monty Got A Raw Deal is a better choice though, with Buck's little mandolin riff introducing the chorus as Stipe sings: "You don't owe me anything / You don't want this sympathy." But then Ignoreland bursts into life. It's the odd one out on 'Automatic', the sole loud-guitar song, bristling with vitriol and rage against America, or more specifically, America under Reagan and Bush. Meanwhile, Peter Buck drives the song with Neil Young-esque chords played on multiple guitars layered over each other for added dramatic effect. Stipe and Mills have subsequently questioned their decision to include it on the album, and just months after its release, Bill Clinton became the first Democrat president during the band's existence, rendering Ignoreland somewhat irrelevent. But I happen to think it would have made a great single. Today's date also hasn't escaped me...

I've made a radio-friendly edit, removing the swear words and shortening it slightly. For the b-side, a demo of a song that not only didn't make the album, but wasn't even deemed worthy of being a b-side at the time. Mike Mills sings rather trite lyrics over a pretty tune, somewhat rooted in 60s or 70s pop radio. The title says it all, I suppose. It's interesting in that it contrasts greatly against the material that did make the cut. And the artwork? Simple - it's the gruesome twosome.

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #9

A: Ignoreland [radio edit]
B: Mike's Pop Song

side A: from the album 'Automatic For The People'
side B: demo available on 25th Anniversary edition

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

No video made for this song at the time, but there's this lyric video from 2017 to promote the 25th Anniversary of AftP. Beware of the very fast-moving images if you suffer from epilepsy...

#10: An Imaginary 7" from 'Monster' (1994)

Some people hated 'Monster' when it came out, mostly people who only heard of R.E.M. through Losing My Religion and Shiny Happy People and never realised they'd been around more than a decade before that. But even some critics slated 'Monster'. They were all idiots as 'Monster' was, and still is, a fantastic record.

There were five singles released from it in the UK, and you can't really argue with four of them - only Tongue was a curious choice. There could have been, potentially, a few other songs in the running though. In fact, three different songs were issued as promos in the US. King Of Comedy wasn't, but I did consider it here. I always liked it from the first listen, but it was often singled out - somewhat unfairly - by critics and fans as being one of 'Monster''s weakest tracks.

I Took Your Name is one of my faves but it sounds too much like Crush With Eyeliner which has already been a single. I Don't Sleep, I Dream on the other hand is one of the album's best, most understated songs. Not sure it's quite up to being a single though. Which leaves us with Star 69, another one which kind of feels out of place. It almost sounds unfinished, like a demo, to me. Yet somehow, it might have made for a good single to round the 'Monster' phase off. It was often the last song played at shows on the subsequent tour with Stipe yelling and sustaining the final syllable.

B-sides are in short supply again, so I've gone for another Mike Mills-led demo taken from the album sessions, left unreleased until the 25th Anniversary set a couple years ago. The artwork is easily explained: in the US, *69 is the callback feature on telephone services. Of course, nowadays with mobile phones it has become somewhat redundant, but it does still exist.

An Imaginary R.E.M. 7" #10
'Star 69'

A: Star 69
B: Rocker (With Vocal)

side A: from the album 'Monster'
side B: demo available on 25th Anniversary edition

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

A much easier task next week - lots of songs to pick from 'New Adventures' and 'Up'.