It’s not just that they amicably called it quits earlier this year. That made me a little sad, but I respect their decision. They certainly aren’t the first band I loved that broke up, and they won’t be the last.
But what I miss most is hearing them on the radio.
Their albums sales since 1990 have been even better. In fact, with one exception (2004’s “Around The Sun”), every album made the top ten in the U.S. Seven of them made the top five, and that includes their last studio album, “Collapse Into Now” (2011)!
As most singers and bands discover, the phrase “The secret is…” has no answer. What worked before doesn’t usually work again. And whatever secrets radio says will work are just lies.
Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon tale. Once-popular bands often find it difficult to get their music on the radio after a while, even if they still sell lots of albums.
Every single studio album by U2 has gone platinum. Platinum denotes one millions sales.
Yet, for some reason, radio turned their back on them around six or seven years ago. Their last big radio hit was “Vertigo”, and that may have had more to do with its inclusion in iPod ads. Sting did something similar with “Desert Rose” in 2000, forging a deal with the folks at Jaguar.
Is it that radio just has no respect for those who came before? Paul McCartney. Bruce Springsteen. The Rolling Stones. They all keep releasing music, and the best they seem to get might be a curiosity play once or twice when the new material comes out.
Classic rock stations do still embrace most of these artists, so you’ll still hear some of their earlier hits in that format.
Except, it seems, for R.E.M.
That’s one of the reasons for one hit wonders. It isn’t that the artist can only come up with one decent song. It’s that radio bludgeons it to the point that even they can’t take it any more.
Daniel Powter had a huge hit in 2005 with a song called “Bad Day”. There was a lot of promotion behind it. I remember seeing the video for it on a Spirit Airline flight long before it became a staple of some of my local stations.
That song went triple platinum. It was on top of the airplay charts for an entire year!
He’s had nine singles since then. Radio hasn’t given many of them much of a chance.
Neil Diamond had his first album debut at number one in 2008. His last big hit on the radio was in the early 1980’s. When was the last time you heard someone on the radio play something new from Neil? Or even one of his older, HUGE hits?
I don’t know what the secret is. These artists continue to sell albums. And they tour to capacity crowds. If you don’t get tickets to a Springsteen show the first hour they go on sale, you aren’t going. And that’s also true for U2. And Paul McCartney. And Neil Diamond.
But I keep coming back to R.E.M.
Maybe because I feel like I was there at the beginning, when their debut EP “Chronic Town” came into my local record store at the beginning of my senior year in high school. And while they weren’t quite local boys, they were regional, at least. Athens, Georgia wasn’t that far from where I grew up in Raleigh, NC.
But they couldn’t have just been a local story, if they sold so many albums, and had so many big hits. Southern hospitality will only get you so far.
I think they’re just one more band that seems to be falling through the cracks.
Thomas Paine once said, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” I’d like to substitute radio for government in that quote. Radio seems to be in such a hurry to find the next big thing, that it quickly casts aside all else.
Last week, there were new releases from the Dave Matthews Band, the Pet Shop Boys and ZZ Top. The week before – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Melissa Etheridge, Mark Knopfler and Dave Stewart. And the week before that – Bruce Hornsby, Alvin Lee and Saga. The Osmonds even released a new album.
While the Osmonds might fall into a slightly different category, the point is that so few of these ever get much notice. But they’re still out there, making new music despite radio’s stupid response.
I suppose a reunion is possible, even though they say no right now. I mean, the Eagles did get back together, and those guys hate each other. But for now, there’s no more new R.E.M. music to come. And radio seems to be erasing them across the board, even from the classic rock airwaves.
I’m not sure what more I could do, even if I won a ridiculously enormous lottery, to keep their music going. Other than jotting down my thoughts here, and hoping I’m not the only one with terrific memories of this band.
My workout mix yesterday was from my REM Playlist. You may or may not know all these, but hopefully they bring back great memories (for those of you old enough to have great memories of R.E.M.).
“Toys In Attic”
“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
“Living Well Is The Best Revenge”
From their final studio album “Collapse Into Now” I’ll leave you with one of my favorites. And they’re not just talking about the lottery.
P.S. - Hi Marvin! It's all there - "The secret is..." (but I don't know what it is), Thomas Paine and Southern Hospitality!