What’s a deep cut? It’s an outstanding tune, tucked away in a long forgotten corner of an album. It’s a ‘B’ side that should have been an ‘A’ side. It’s the bonus track on the CD reissue that’s better than anything else on it. In short, a deep cut is a tune that, despite its brilliance, doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. We’re not talking “obscure for the sake of it” – this isn’t an “I’m so hip because I’ve got the bootleg of the unreleased track that they only played once before they burned the mastertape and scattered the ashes across four continents” game – all the tunes here have been officially released and they’re all available for everyone to listen to, even if it’s in some dusty part of YouTube.

Ready to take a trip off the beaten path…?

R.E.M. DEEP CUTS

R.E.M. are without a doubt one of the most influential bands of all time. They blazed a trail for alternative music across the USA in the early eighties, but were destined to be nothing more than a cult band, selling records to the hip cognoscenti and no-one else. But something weird happened…maybe the rest of the world caught up with them and following the most unlikely hit single in “Losing My Religion” they enjoyed years of top ten albums and sell out tours until they called it a day in 2011. Scattered among even their most popular albums are hidden gems – sometimes low key, sometimes unusual and occasionally brilliant. The band, especially in their early years, were prolific and singles were crammed with unreleased material. Add a bunch of fan club releases and you’ve got a huge back catalogue. Here are ten songs which you may have missed first time around…

“Romance”

Appears on “Eponymous” (1988)

A song from R.E.M.’s club days, “Romance” is notable for being their first collaboration with Scott Litt – the producer who guided them into the mainstream with albums like “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People”. Recorded for the 1987 film “Made in Heaven”, the song was released on the “hits” compilation “Eponymous” in 1988, before vanishing completely. “Romance” is a lovely, straightforward pop tune that’s insanely catchy, hanging on a nagging, “Easy come, easy go” refrain. Not an easy track to get hold of, but it’s available on YouTube and Spotify.

“Ages of You”

Available on “Dead Letter Office” (1987)

This almost made it onto the “Chronic Town” EP – their first release on IRS, but was edged out by “Wolves, Lower”, finally making it onto vinyl as the B side to “Wendell Gee” in 1985. It’s easy to see why it didn’t quite make it onto the EP as “Ages of You” is a bright, jangly singalong, lacking the darkness of the other tracks on “Chronic Town”. It would have fitted nicely onto their debut album “Murmur”, sharing a similar aesthetic to “Shaking Through” and “Sitting Still”.  It was a live favourite for a while and it’s easy to see why – tight and melodic, from an era where the band were casually churning out classics on an almost daily basis.

“Gardening at Night”

Available on “Dead Letter Office” (1987)

One of the first R.E.M. songs to deviate from the typical garage band format “Gardening at Night” is a college radio classic and rightly so. Judged by the band to be their first “real” composition, it’s pretty much the template for their sound for the next seven years – simultaneously dark, melodic, memorable and impenetrable. There are numerous versions of this available and alternative mixes and live versions abound – I’d urge you to seek out the version on the “Dead Letter Office” CD with an alternative vocal. American music rarely – if ever – gets better than this.

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“Crazy”

Available on “Dead Letter Office” (1987)

With “Crazy”, R.E.M. tipped their hat to Pylon– another band from Athens, Georgia – with a reverential cover. Pylon specialised in angular new wave and had a huge influence on R.E.M.’s early work. Stipe does a decent job of aping Vanessa Briscoe’s vocal mannerisms and the early eighties “new wave dance” feel is present and correct. R.E.M. played and recorded numerous cover songs in their career – from the sublime to the ridiculous, but this is one of the best.

“Maps and Legends”

Available on “Fables of the Reconstruction” (1985)

“Fables of the Reconstruction” was made by a road beaten band who were thousands of miles from home. Recorded in a cold and rainy London, the album has a dark, almost narcotic feel and “Maps and Legends” sits perfectly within it. Inspired by many of the unique and colourful characters Stipe knew from his hometown he compares them to maps, giving the line “Maybe these maps and legends have been misunderstood” an extra layer of poignancy. The album is seen by many as a misstep, but “Maps and Legends” is a classic, wistful, yearning R.E.M. song.

“Femme Fatale”

Available on “Dead Letter Office” (1987)

R.E.M. loved the Velvet Underground – the idea of a band totally at odds with their contemporaries and ploughing their own furrow in the music industry must have resonated in their collective mindset. “Femme Fatale” first appeared on a flexi disc given away with Bucketful of Brains magazine in 1986, later cropping up as the B side to “Superman” before ending up on the rarities compilation “Dead Letter Office”. It could almost be an R.E.M. song – Buck jangles prettily while Stipe sings one of his most tender vocals and Mills and Berry provide a sweet counterpoint. It’s a mix tape favourite for R.E.M. completists.

“King of Birds”

Available on “Document” (1987)

Originally recorded as an eight-minute psychedelic instrumental for the “Lifes Rich Pageant” album, “King of Birds” combines the melodic and the esoteric with ease. Buck strums a newly acquired dulcimer and Berry rattles the kit in a tribal marching band fashion. R.E.M. were to revisit this approach for parts of the “Green” album and for their breakthrough album “Out of Time”. It’s strangely beautiful.

“The Wrong Child”

Available on “Green” (1988)

Inspired by “Under the Eye of the Clock”, a novel by Christopher Nolan about a handicapped child, destined to spend his life indoors, “The Wrong Child” is a million miles from “Shiny Happy People”. It’s practically a folk song – predating “Losing My Religion”, the song places a mandolin at the centre of the production, with just an acoustic guitar and an eerie mellotron to support it. Stipe’s lyric is heart-breaking and direct – the last line is especially chilling “I’m not supposed to be like this, but it’s okay. Okay?” From playing drunken versions of Sex Pistol’s tunes to “The Wrong Child” took just eight years.

“Academy Fight Song”

Available as a fan club only single (1989)

Like the Beatles before them, every year, R.E.M. would release a fan club only, Christmas single. For these releases, anything was fair game – covers of songs by Television, Big Star and The Vibrators amongst others, would be backed up by twisted versions of seasonal songs like “Silver Bells”. Their 1989 offering was “Good King Wenceslas” paired with “Academy Fight Song”, a song originally by Mission of Burma, a little known but massively influential punk band from Boston. It had been in their live repertoire, on and off for years, but it became a mainstay of their set on their 1989 tour for the “Green” album. The fan club version rocks along nicely, but try and track down the live version from their April 30th 1989 show in Orlando Florida. It was recorded as a Westwood One radio show and has appeared a number of times as a semi-legal bootleg. It’s available on Spotify and worth the hunt.

“Sweetness Follows”

Available on “Automatic for the People” (1992)

“Automatic for the People” is the high-water mark of R.E.M.’s success. Stadium shows and multiplatinum albums were the order of the day and Michael Stipe was “A” List celebrity gold. Almost to prove that they weren’t corporate rock sell-outs, the album still contained a little from the left field. Tucked away at the end of side one is “Sweetness Follows” – a cello lead, Velvet Underground inspired drone-fest with a surprisingly candid lyric. The track has a mood similar to that of the third Big Star album with Buck forgoing his trademark, ringing guitar for atonal feedback. On an album of fairly conventional songs, “Sweetness Follows” is an off kilter delight.

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