Songs Of The Day 2/4/2017: R.E.M. – “7 Chinese Bros.” + “Voice of Harold”


You Pick The Artist - The Final Picking  -- Stephen Arnold gave me R.E.M., which threw me into an extended tizzy that lasted until Saturday mid-afternoon, because for all that time I had no idea what my favorite R.E.M. song was. They were extremely important to music kids of my generation. A pastime in my youth was sitting around listening to R.E.M.'s debut album Murmur. A lot of people forgot this, but when Murmur hit the public in 1983 the big takeaway was that nobody could decipher what Michael Stipe was singing and R.E.M. didn't provide lyric sheets. So for about a year or so afterwards we'd sit around our stereos on Saturday afternoon and try to figure out the lyrics, because whatever they were, the more impressionable kids thought, they must be really important. Then later recording engineers boosted the sibilance on Michael's vocals and everybody was fairly well-informed.

Welp, I digress. R.E.M. presented such a unified body of work in the 80s and 90s that I really didn't even consider having a favorite song of theirs. Their albums all sounded like singular efforts unto themselves. My favorite R.E.M. album is probably Automatic for the People, but looking at the tracklist I couldn't pick one of those songs to extrapolate as my favorite. (I almost went with "Monty Got a Raw Deal.") (And if this had been ten years earlier I might have picked "Drive" without hesitation.) If I ever put on an R.E.M. album that came out on IRS I'd just let it go until the end. Even when they started having hit singles, they were still part of the same deal. I may have overthought this.

I finally went with "7 Chinese Bros."because of what might seem like dubious reasoning: It actually spawned two of my favorite R.E.M. tracks of all time. There's the original that came out on the album Reckoning in 1984, based on an old Chinese folk tale. And there's also "Voice of Harold" from R.E.M.'s outtake and B-side compilation Dead Letter Office, in which Stipe sings alternate lyrics over the track of "7 Chinese Bros." These alternate lyrics are simply liner notes to an old gospel record R.E.M.'s co-producer Don Dixon found lying around the studio: The Joy of Knowing Jesus by the Revelaires. Stipe actually sang the "Harold" lyrics first, to remove some sort of blocking issue he was having with the vocals to "7 Chinese Bros." According to Dixon it did the trick and Stipe did "Brothers" immediately afterward, in one take. A must!

Thanks Stephen!

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