R.E.M., Ten Years Onward – What’s The Frequency (Bryan) Kenneth?

I took this picture when I visited Athens, GA, over the summer. The 40 Watt Club is a venue that R.E.M. frequented back in the 1980s.

Good day, listener!

GM Bryan here! You may know me as “Chill Bry the Music Guy” from my show on WGMU. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I’ll have time to produce a show this semester, so I’ve decided to start writing editorials instead. Thus here’s the first one of hopefully a recurring series; I’m calling the series “What’s The Frequency (Bryan) Kenneth?” The editorial’s name, of course, is a reference both to a phrase uttered by assailants of Dan Rather as well as a R.E.M. song of the same name. Speaking of R.E.M., they’re the topic of this editorial!

On July 8th, 1981, R.E.M. released their first single, “Radio Free Europe.” The song is a jangly post-punk anthem criticizing the titular government-funded organization for spewing propaganda to developing countries. However, you’d never figure that out without reading the lyrics; lead vocalist Michael Stipe’s singing is nearly incomprehensible!

Those factors (jangly guitars, post-punk rhythm, political commentary, and indecipherable vocals) might be the perfect summary of why R.E.M. as a band works. Through the success of “Radio Free Europe,” R.E.M. became one of the first superstars of alternative rock in the 80s before their mainstream explosion in the 90s with “Losing My Religion.” However, all good things come to an end.

Ten years ago today, on September 21st, 2011, R.E.M. announced that they were “calling it a day as a band.” It’s still not entirely known what caused them to break up, with people suspecting things from record label mismanagement to lackluster album sales. Nonetheless, all members of the band, while remaining amicable, declared they would never reunite.

Ten years on, the R.E.M. legend has only grown. Rolling Stone recently declared Radio Free Europe as the 174th greatest song of all time (alongside two other R.E.M. songs: Nightswimming at 160 and Losing My Religion at 112). Additionally, Michael Stipe will be covering the Velvet Underground classic “Sunday Morning” on a Velvet Underground tribute album, releasing this Friday, September 24th. Though I appreciate that members of the band are still creating music, I can’t help but wish they were still making music together.

If it wasn’t evident through reading, R.E.M. has slowly become one of my favorite bands, if not my absolute favorite. In fact, my family and I made a small road trip through Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia this summer, and one of our stops was Athens, GA, where R.E.M. formed! Over the past year and a half, I’ve found solace within R.E.M.’s music, with their 1992 album “Automatic For The People” being my most-streamed album last year. So while I wanted to write this editorial to talk about one of my favorite bands, I also wanted to share some music that’s helped me through these stressful times.

I hope you enjoyed reading my first editorial. Until next time! Excelsior!

You can listen to R.E.M.’s “Ten Years On” playlist here.

1 comment

  1. Enjoyed this write up, Bryan.
    – an Athens fan.

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