Hanspostcard has a song draft challenge. This is my Round Six pick.
Moving into 1986… My first introduction to R.E.M. wasn’t the radio or MTV. It was an odd video channel on Cablevision in the early 80s in my NC hometown (my mom only had basic cable…no MTV). I’ve talked at great length with Max (Powerpop Blogger) about this obscure video channel. I remember two VJs, one named “Dr. John” (not the musician) that wore blue scrubs and one named “Carrot Top” (not the comedian), that, of course, was a red-headed dude. I have no idea where this channel broadcast from but, it was a seriously stripped down operation. It was just rotating VJs, sitting at a desk, talking into a camera…and playing music videos. The first video I recall seeing was Radio Free Europe, the Murmur version, not the Hib-Tone single (I later found out). I was immediately hooked but, totally missed who the band was. (Interestingly, the Hib-Tone version was recorded at Drive-In Studios in Winston-Salem, NC and the Murmur version was recorded at Reflection Studios in Charlotte, NC.) Fast forward to the end of my senior year of high school and I see some of So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry) on MTV. I had no idea that this was the same band. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college, when Driver 8 came out (another one I like), that a buddy of mine told me who R.E.M. was…a college band out of the University of Georgia (Bulldogs). Every piece of music of theirs that I was lucky enough to catch, I loved. Finally, in 1987, The One I Love broke thru to #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and they seemed to be everywhere. Their highest charting hit was Losing My Religion, getting to #4 in 1991. Out of their entire catalog, which is gi-hugic, Fall On Me wound up being my favorite, with my introductory piece, Radio Free Europe, coming in second. I wish I had seen them live.
Bit of odd trivia…five strange degrees of separation. R.E.M. had a manager by the name of Jefferson Holt. He was with them until 1996 when they got rid of him for sexual harassment. Jefferson Holt is from Chapel Hill and his mother is named Bertha “B” Holt. She was an NC State Rep. from 1975 to 1994, representing my home county (and another one). She was quite the pioneer, advocating for the ERA and married rape victims (which is ironic as hell considering her son’s behavior). My paternal grandmother was in Democratic politics in the 60s, 70s & 80s, running for local office, herself (and on first-names basis with several governors). She campaigned heavily for her favorites and “Bee” Holt was one of them. I met Bee Holt several times as a kid and remember all of her “Bee” 🐝 paraphernalia all over my grandmother’s house.
I guess this makes me closer to R.E.M. than Kevin Bacon! 😉 😊 ~Vic
Released 0n August 11, 1986, it was the third track from the album Lifes Rich Pageant. It debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #96 the weekend of October 4, peaking at #94 on October 11 before finally disappearing from the chart on October 25. It did better on the Album Rock Tracks, making it to #5 for one week on September 6.
“Of the genuinely new songs, Peter Buck’s basic music track for Fall On Me dated back to July of 1985, when Stipe had written a lyric about acid rain [but], the song had been virtually re-written, melody and lyrics, by the time it came to be recorded. Stipe, who declared in 1991 that “…this may be my favourite song in the R.E.M. catalogue…”, has described the final version as “…pretty much a song about oppression.” Trainspotters might like to know that the counter-melody used in the second verse is actually the song’s original tune.
Johnny Black (2004)
Reveal: The Story of R.E.M.
His Favorite Song
Forty years ago, today, the #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart was Heart of Glass by Blondie. Written by Harry and Stein in 1974-75, its working title was Once I Had A Love. The inspiration for its writing came from The Hues Corporation‘s song Rock the Boat.
From The Guardian:
Heart of Glass was one of the first songs Blondie wrote but, it was years before we recorded it properly. We’d tried it as a ballad, as reggae but, it never quite worked. At that point, it had no title. We just called it “the disco song”. Back then, it was very unusual for a guitar band to be using computerised sound. People got nervous and angry about us bringing different influences into rock. Although we’d covered Lady Marmalade and I Feel Love at gigs, lots of people were mad at us for “going disco” with Heart of Glass. There was the Disco Sucks! movement, and there had even been a riot in Chicago, with people burning disco records. Clem Burke, our drummer, refused to play the song live at first. When it became a hit, he said: “I guess I’ll have to.” The lyrics weren’t about anyone. They were just a plaintive moan about lost love. At first, the song kept saying: “Once I had a love, it was a gas. Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass.” We couldn’t keep saying that, so we came up with: “Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.” We kept one “pain in the ass” in – and the BBC bleeped it out for radio. ~Debbie Harry
As far as I was concerned, disco was part of R&B, which I’d always liked. The Ramones went on about us “going disco” but, it was tongue-in-cheek. They were our friends. In the video, there’s a shot of the legendary Studio 54, so everyone thought we shot the video there but, it was actually in a short-lived club called the Copa or something. I came up with the phrase “heart of glass” without knowing anything about Werner Herzog or his movie of the same name, which is a great, weird film. It’s nice people now use the song to identify the period in films and documentaries. I never had an inkling it would be such a big hit, or become the song we’d be most remembered for. It’s very gratifying. ~Chris Stein
In season one, DJ Johnny Fever not only plays Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” on his broadcast but, home audiences actually hear him announce the band’s, and the song’s, names. It was fantastic promotion for the up-and-coming Blondie, whose huge breakthrough album, Parallel Lines (with other seminal singles like Hanging on the Telephone and One Way or Another), came out the same month WKRP in Cincinnati debuted. The band reportedly gave the show a Gold record plaque celebrating the album’s major sales numbers as a “Thank You” card. It can be seen in the background as set design on several episodes in later seasons.
Unlike many DJs from that era, Fever played punk as well as rock and soul. The range of music on the show gave this fictional radio station a better playlist than most of the era’s real ones. […] although the show helped break Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” big, the exception, in Fever’s case, was disco. “I asked him to play one disco record and he threatened to throw himself in front of Donna Summer‘s tour bus,” Travis complains in “Baby, If You’ve Ever Wondered,” from season two.
As of April 20, 2011, Heart of Glass is #259 of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.