Song of the Week: “Radio Free Europe” by R.E.M.

by Douglas Cowie on 12 October 2018

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Radio Free Europe” by R.E.M.:

Bear with me here. I was listening to High on Fire the other day, and for reasons I really don’t know, it got me idly thinking about Taj Mahal, and in particular, about Taj Mahal as a kid, listening to music from around the world on his shortwave radio. The thought offered a brief moment of happiness, the idea of all that music channeling down the antenna and through the circuits and back out of the speaker into Taj Mahal’s ear, into his mind, and back out, eventually, through his guitar, his voice, his musicianship. It seemed a little absurd to be thinking about that while listening to loud and fast metal, but then again, I thought, that kind of eclecticism–not metal per se, but eclecticism–suits the music and legacy of Taj Mahal, so maybe it’s not quite as silly as it at first seemed to me. Then again, maybe it is. Anyway, I’ve posted High on Fire in the past, and I posted Taj Mahal’s wonderful interpretation of “Stack O’ Lee” a couple years ago, so I thought a song about the radio might be an apt alternative to one of those, and here you are with some early R.E.M. When you listen to this live version, and hear the way Michael Stipe sings “in transit,” you hear a little of where from Kurt Cobain was taking some of his vocal cues.

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