Friday, 19 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #7

'Green' was R.E.M.'s first album for a *shock-horror* major label. It remains one of their best records, but also marked the beginning of a massive uplift in the band's career. The album spawned Orange Crush, the band's first Top 40 single in the UK (they even did Top Of The Pops - see this clip and the ignorant comment by the clueless presenter at the end...), another Top 40 single in the States (Stand) and was by far their biggest selling album to date. It continued - and indeed heightened - the band's political interest, this time bringing environmental concerns to the fore (hence the title). But perhaps most notably, the inclusion of three mandolin-led acoustic songs hinted strongly at a new direction R.E.M. would go on to explore much more deeply in the near future.

The Green Tour was massive. I saw them at Wembley Arena in London in July 1989, only my second ever gig. The shows on this tour are much vaunted, described as R.E.M. at their zenith. Visually, they were the most ambitious the band had put together with Stipe, always the focal-point, outdoing himself with stage props and acapella ad-libs. Some of the US shows were filmed and the concert movie 'Tourfilm' was made. That too has been hailed as one of the all-time greatest live concert films. Essentially, R.E.M. couldn't put a foot wrong at this point in their career - everything they touched turned to gold.

The now sadly defunct blog The Power Of Independent Trucking once posted a remastered audio of 'Tourfilm'. The guy behind the blog was known for his remastering work and he did a fine job of this. I've chosen a couple of things I think represent this era of live R.E.M. rather well. World Leader Pretend will probably forever remain in my personal R.E.M. top 10. It stood out the first time I listened to 'Green'. It's augmented here by an acapella intro from Stipe singing a snippet of Gang Of Four's We Live As We Dream Alone.

Similarly, I Believe (originally from 'Lifes Rich Pageant') was preceded by more Stipe improv. No one's quite sure where the spoken word bit comes from. In fact, in a 2008 Q&A, a fan quoted the whole piece and asked Stipe: "What is this?" His response was: "I don’t know but I recognize it. Did I write this? Where did it come from, it feels very very familiar and sounds like me." There's no doubt about the next bit though. Future 40's was a song by Vermont singer/songwriter Syd Straw. Stipe produced her debut album 'Surprise' and sang backing vocals on this song. Weaving it into the set no doubt helped to raise Straw's profile a little...


  1. The Power Of Independent Trucking post you mention is here: but note the audio files have since been removed. Still makes for interesting reading though.

  2. I saw them at Liverpool Royal Court on the Green tour. It was out of this world compared to the indie circuit gigs at the same time.
    Swiss Adam

  3. Great post. Wish they had included Tourfilm as part of the Green reissue.

  4. Never really thought of IRS as an independent label as it was a subdivision of A&M. By 'Green' I was kind of done with REM, for no good reason, but they were still a great live act.

  5. Another great post in this series. Like you, I caught R.E.M. for the first time on the Green tour, in, of all places, the Newport Centre, which I believe isn't a million miles away from where you live now, Rob. It still goes down as the greatest gig I've been to, because, quite simply, they were on fire at the time.

    And I too have fond memories of The Power Of Independent Trucking blog, and also got the quality audio rip of the Tourfilm video from there. Probably still one of the most played things I own (both the audio, and the video and more latterly the DVD) because, as you say, it's one of the greatest live videos ever, right up there with "Stop Making Sense" in my book.

    And finally, that clueless presenter is, if I'm not mistaken Simon Parkin, who, as we all know from a certain novelty record from the late 80s, is "always larking". Jez.

  6. It is to my eternal regret that I turned down the chance to go see R.E.M. at the Glasgow Barrowlands on the Green tour. It was a last minute offer of a ticket but I said 'no' as it would have needed me to kipping on a couch at my parents place before getting up at stupid o'clock to go to work in Edinburgh the next day. I didn't have the inclination to put myself to such bother....

    I don't have too many regrets in life but that is one of them.

  7. Have to admit I'm kind of like JTFL. Green is the last album I bought by them, but I love the passion you and your readers have for the period. The problem is obviously on my end.