Friday, April 15, 2005

REM - A Personal History - Part 1

In Australia in the late eighties there was a music clips show on late Tuesday nights on the ABC (the government funded television station). Although it had the rather unimaginative title of ‘Rock Arena’ it was different to all the pop shows aimed at the ‘single’ buying teen market. It was on at 11 o’clock at night and it's focus was the album buying adult market featuring artists that were basically unheard of on Australian broadcast media. As a teenager who had just started working on a very conservative AM radio station 'Rock Arena' opened me up to such artists as Stan Ridgeway and Wall of Voodoo, Talking Heads and on an episode in 1987 a band from Athens Georgia called R.E.M.

They played some black and white documentary with Michael Stipe standing at a pedestal periodically flailing his arms around as if hit by an unseen force. It was different from anything I’d seen before. The music was different to the pop that was flooding the market at the time. I have no idea what the doco was and I haven’t seen it since. They also played the clips for 'The One I Love', 'End of the World' and a couple more I can’t recall all these years later.

I was given a box of about 400 promotional seven inch vinyl singles from various artists that the radio station didn't want, either bands that weren’t the right format or stuff that didn’t sell so nobody wanted to hear it on the radio. It was beneficial for me at the time that R.E.M. didn’t have a commercial success in Australia because I scored about five singles that now have a prize place in my record collection. I think there was ‘End of the World’, ‘The One I Love’, ‘Superman’, 'Fall On Me’ and ‘So. Central Rain’.

1989 was, of course, pre-internet and keeping up with what a band was doing was with Music press and magazines (how did we get by?). The next time I heard of REM was just after ‘Green’ was released when they charted quite well in Australia with ‘Orange Crush’ it even ending up on one of those yearly compilation albums.

By 1991 I had been working as a DJ in nightclubs for a number of years when ‘Losing my Religion’ became the mega hit it was around the world. I was surprised that I could go to work and play an R.E.M. song and have a packed dance floor and 400 people singing along. This hit was followed up by the infamous ‘Shiny Happy People’ which again was popular at the club. This period of REM single chart hits coincided with the most fun I had working at clubs and is a lasting fond memory.