When Was The Last Time You Played This Album?

R.E.M. “Murmur”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#131 in the Series is) R.E.M., Murmur.

I’m actually surprised it took me until the 131st entry to feature this album. Why, well you’ve all heard of Desert Island Discs.  Those would be the ten albums that you’d take to an island if you only were able to live with ten.  Well, this would be one of the first I’d toss into the boat if I was starting a three hour tour.

I had heard REM’s Chronic Town EP a few times when this was released.  So I was aware of them.  I was quickly falling in love with their Rickenbacker led jangly guitar riff sound.

Murmur was REM’s first full length album and was recorded in Charlotte, NC. It’s an interesting choice for this Athens, Ga. band.

Every song on Murmur clicked.  No filler here, from the opening track of Radio Free Europe to the last notes of West of the Fields.

All the songs receive writing credits by all four band members. Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Mike Mills. (note: Neil Bogan also got a writing credit for West of the Fields.

Ok, here’s my interesting story about Murmur. In 1983 I was working as an assistant managing editor for Night Rock News magazine.  So I was able to get backstage for events from time to time.

I happened to get backstage at REM’s show at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri.  It was a great show.  They did all of the album and most of Chronic Town’ I still have vivid memories of the show.  The opening act was ‘Let’s Active’ which included Mitch Easter.  Mitch along with Don Dixon produced Murmur.

After the show I had a chance to have a nice conversation with Peter Buck.  There wasn’t that many people back stage.  REM wasn’t close to being a house hold name yet.

As I’m on talking to Peter, his manager called him aside.  They spoke for a few minutes and with a huge smile on his face, he returns.  He grabs me by the shoulders and starts shaking me, saying, “Do you realize you’re talking to someone with an album that’s in the top 100!! The top100!!!”  His manager had just found out that Murmur had gone into that coveted chart position.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It’s was quite the moment.  I wonder what he did when he first hit #1 a few years later!!

I learned something else from him while discussing the recording of Murmur. Check out the song We Walk. Give a listen to what sounds like thunder in the back round. It sounded more muffled when listening to it on vinyl.   Those sounds are actually the sound of himself and a roadie playing pool directly beneath the vocal both!  Once you know that, you can clearly hear the sound of a ‘break,’ Give it a spin, you can tell easily.

I had the chance to see REM about seven years ago.   I had been following their set lists on the internet.  I had seen that about the fourth of fifth song that they would pull out some real old tune that they had not played for years.  Well on this night they played Shaking Through. They said they had not played since something like 1985. Did I pick the right show to see!!  Long live REM.

Here’s a video of REM performing Radio Free Europe on Letterman’s NBC show back in 1983.  They were the first band to play with themselves on the show.  Previously, all the acts played along with Paul Shaffer’s band.

The second video is a compilation of many early REM songs. It was nicely put together by madreamax9 on YouTube.

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One response

  1. jameseves

    Great post larry. Love the insider story.

    September 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm

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