The Song that Defined R.E.M.’s Sound

Blog: 03.08.11

Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - 06:00 AM

Thirty years after defining “college rock,” today the legendary Athens, GA band R.E.M. releases their 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now.  Following 2008’s crunchy and aggressive Accelerate, everyone’s buzzing about this record’s return to the band’s signature acoustic-driven sound.

But long before career-defining records like Out of Time and Automatic for the People, there was "Radio Free Europe" – R.E.M.’s first officially released single.

Last year, “Radio Free Europe” was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress – but they didn’t choose the track as it appeared on R.E.M’s first full-length album Murmur, in 1983.  Instead, they picked the 1981 single recorded for the tiny Hib-Tone label. Written as the band’s "calling card" for clubs, the song fused jangly guitars and complex arrangements with raw punk energy – and sent rooms full of college students into pogo-stick dancing frenzy. And if the lyrics didn’t make sense, who cared?  “He could have sung the phonebook,” says band member Mike Mills.

Listen to our story about “Radio Free Europe” here:

And thanks to radio station manager Mike Henry, we got our hands on this recording of one of the band's first shows in Athens, Georgia in 1981 (with R.E.M.’s permission, of course):

While the new record gives listeners hints of classic R.E.M., Collapse Into Now is far from a simple recycling project. The album gets a refreshing burst of new energy via guest appearances from Peaches, Eddie Vedder, and Patti Smith. You can preview the record now at NPR Music.

The band also has a project in the works to produce a video for all twelve songs on the album.  Among those slated to direct the clips: everyone's favorite multi-tasker, James Franco.

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