On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
R.E.M. – Radio Free Europe (1981)
It’s the end of 1981 as we know it and I feel fine, dear reader, and I hope you do as well. For the closing chapter of this year we return to the US and find ourselves in Athens, Georgia. No Ancient Greeks to be found here. Instead, we have a band by the name of R.E.M. who first formed in 1980 and were led by the distinctively vocalled Michael Stipe. When we pick up the group’s story in 1981 they are fledglings, playing gigs as far as their meagre petrol will take them, and their debut single has arrived in the form of Radio Free Europe.
The title Radio Free Europe is in reference to a US radio network run by the US government that transmits messages to Europe and the Middle East. Such messages are promoting the benefits of democracy but R.E.M. contemplated how such means of communication could also be a conduit for spreading propaganda to at least two other continents in the world. The song is notorious for some rather peculiar and incomprehensible lyrics. There were multiple reasons behind this. One was that Michael Stipe preferred songs where not all lyrics were audible. He’s not joking; I still sing the words to The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight wrong. My version is better! Another more important reason was when the track was being recorded, Stipe had not finished the lyrics so just ad libbed a load of nonsense into the microphone. Well, whatever works for you, Mike.
Radio Free Europe is a key track in R.E.M.’s canon, being picked up by college radio stations and gaining traction. The band released only a few thousand copies of the original track but such was its impact that the group were able to branch out and play new venues and pursue their musical dream. This song, in essence, was the band’s make or break moment and lucky for us they made it. The song would be re-recorded for the band’s 1983 debut album, Murmur, and would creep into the charts this time round. The original recording is raw but R.E.M. are already shaping their sound at this early stage. Better days would come for the group especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Happens we’ll see them again on our list.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
Ultravox – Vienna (1980)