White Tornado, Windout, Rotary Ten, and Burning Hell

November 25, 2007

“White Tornado,” “Windout,” “Rotary Ten,” and “Burning Hell,” were written by R.E.M., but they aren’t really R.E.M. songs. They are essentially genre pastiches used to serve a function on stage, musical shorthand that they band outgrew once they had enough material to fill out a full concert. These aren’t serious compositions, but rather fun indulgences: “Windout” is a competent but uninspired garage rock rave-up; “Rotary Ten” is an amusing faux-jazz instrumental for an imaginary film;”Burning Hell” is ersatz badass riff rock; the alternative title for “White Tornado” was the bluntly descriptive “Generic Surf.” There’s not a lot to these songs that other artists haven’t made a career out of doing much better, but there’s a pleasant mix of irony and reverence in the way the band embraced these standard song forms while pushing themselves toward something more distinct in the rest of their material from the period.

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41 Responses to “White Tornado, Windout, Rotary Ten, and Burning Hell”

  1. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I think Burning Hell qualifies as an official song , and probably an imaginary place. They shoulda released it as a single.

  2. ScottMalobisky Says:

    what was that commercial -that cleaning product -used to be on TV..featuring the white tornado?

  3. ScottMalobisky Says:

    nuthin’ irrelevant to say about Rotary Ten at this time

  4. ScottMalobisky Says:

    White Tornado sounds like The Max Weinberg Seven without the horns.
    Windout is what the sidewinder is thinking as it uncoils in the corner after a deep , refreshing REM sleep. Wind Up by Jethro Tull is a better song for today–Sunday -especially considering that I didn’t go to church ….again ….which brings us back to Burning Hell. Anybody familiar with The Jim Carroll Band ‘Catholic Boy’, awesome.

  5. Alicia Says:

    Is “Burning Hell” the one with the line about picnics and ants, “Women got legs, men got pants”? I’m completely blanking on the exact wording of it, but it’s so goofy it always cracks me up.

  6. Dark Bob Says:

    “Fun Indulgences” Couldn’t have said it better. Windout rocks!

  7. 2fs Says:

    I love “Burning Hell” – exactly because it’s such a goof, but in some ways a better-done one than some of their others. Clearly, R.E.M. would never have made it as a hard-rock band – but a fun little number anyway. “Windout” is pretty fun too. As for the other two…I had to read your description to remember which songs they were, so…

  8. Andy Says:

    I was in a lousy little thrash band in high school (c. 1989). We managed to convince our church to let us play a show in the church’s assembly hall, and one of the covers we played was “Burning Hell.”

    We thought we were totally rock n’ roll.

  9. protimoi Says:

    If they brought back “Burning Hell” for even one live set, I could die happy. It’s a goof, and I can’t see it on any album, but it’s one of their most enjoyable fuckoffs. I couldn’t say it any better than Andy before me: Burning Hell is totally rock n’ roll.

    I haven’t listened to White Tornado more than maybe three times in my life, but it’s kind of cool in that it’s the beginning of R.E.M.’s alter-ego as a surf rock band. They’ve done other instrumentals (Tricycle, 165 Hillcrest) that go with this same sort of idea, and while it sounds nothing like them, it’s quite a trip.

    As for the other two….Windout is a good sample of “early” (read: pre-Chronic Town) R.E.M., and “Rotary Ten” proved R.E.M. could have taken a turn into soundtrack work if they chose. I long to hear the sequel someday (from an Out of Time b-side).

  10. Mr Cup Says:

    Women got legs, men got pants
    I got the picnic, you got the ants

    Yes Alicia, they don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

  11. Paul Alferink Says:

    I always liked the weird screechy noises Stipe makes in the background of Burning Hell. He should like a baby dinosaur or something. At least that’s the noise my friend made when she did her impression of a baby dinosaur.

    Also, I always get Burning Hell and Burning Down mixed up. I often caught myself singing

    Burning Hell
    can’t you see that my hands are bound.

    Best line: (Burning Hell)
    Women don’t fret, boys don’t bet
    Let me see your silhouette in hell

    I have no idea why, but that sounds sexy.

  12. Kirsten Says:

    White Tornado – I really like this song. I think they did a great job of of. The guitar work is fantastic and Bill’s drum solo – unbelievable (I just copied it on my desk and realized the drum beat throught the whole song is great – really drives the song forward!)

    Windout – Good enough (in my opinion) to have made it to a ligitimate album (Reckoning, maybe??). Also love the other version found as a bonus track on the re-release of the IRS CD’s (I think it was Reconing).

    Rotary 10 – I always got a “Dick Tracey” sort of feel from this song. A video clip made up of old comic book style pictures….

    Burning Hell – A great, funny song. Not to ever be taken seriously, though. Some of the worst lyrics ever, which is why I love it so. Fantastic ending aswell.

    All the best people are burning down in Heeeellllllllll.

    None of these songs will ever be the “best” REM, but the world would be worse off without them. DLO in general is just such a fun album.

    Just touching on what protimoi said, I’d pay good money to watch them do a concert just playing DLO from start to finish. That would be one hell of a fun show!

  13. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Flea lost his house in the Malibu Hills in the latest wildfire yesterday . I think he’s got another one in the area.

  14. Flandall Says:

    “White Tornado” blew my wife away when I first played it for her off my Reckoning album. She’s a huge fan of surf music and was thrilled that R.E.M. were eclectic enough to take the time to do a surfing jam. Just blew her away; which is good, I get to listen to Reckoning more often in the car than some others. Heh.

  15. Clive Says:

    I’m glad ‘Rotary Ten’ has been mentioned as it gives me the chance to ask the question – does anyone know if Rotary Ten was used in a TV advert in the 1980s??

    Reason for me asking is that when I first bought Dead Letter Office I was convinced I had heard this song before in my childhood sub-conscious!

  16. ScottMalobisky Says:

    no Clive, I don’t think so
    that would be shocking new info, no? :)

    to me the very beginning of Windout -that riff-is reminiscient of Baba O’Rielly..

  17. Jerad Says:

    “Rotary Ten” was at least serious enough to warrant a sequel as an Out of Time b-side – “Rotary Eleven,” naturally. The original is still better, but that’s what you expect with sequels, right?

  18. narcizo Says:

    White Tornado: kickass drums, pure fun. It’s great, because it shows their potential as musicians in an early age.
    Windout: you can also find it on the “Bachelor Party” OST (I remember ’84).
    Rotary Ten: one of the things I love the most is the sound that BB makes at the end of the session, leaving his drumstiks on his snare and standing up.
    Burning Hell: must be one of the songs they used to play at biker bars, when the club’s safety wire net in front of the scene couldn’t stand any more tossed beer bottles. And I think that it would probably work.

  19. adam Says:

    these were all amazing, and wish REM still bothered to fill out shows with songs as frivolous as these

  20. Ignis Sol Says:

    The surf sound comes as no surprise with Peter Buck and Mike Mills being in the band. Their love, especially for Peter, of the Beach Boys is well known. Like R.E.M., the Beach Boys became more inventive and creative with their music producing groundbreaking and influential music (inspiring the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album).

    Even though this specific surf and club rock sound does not appeal to my ear, I CAN hear and understand the appeal. In a club setting, this can be a fun and boozy sound that makes you want to dance with your friends. The newer pop-Ska sound of the 90′s did this for me (Less Than Jake/Mustard Plug).

    As has been mentioned in other posts and so eloquently described by Matthew, the purpose of these tunes is to play impetuous, raucous and nutty riffs that just make you want to get drunker and drunker.

  21. Kirsten Says:

    narcizo, I had forgotten about Bill putting down his drumsticks. I also love that part!

  22. Paul Alferink Says:

    Song like White Tornado help remind me how good a drummer Bill Berry was. He did what the best drummers do, tone down his preformance when he needed to. He didn’t play everything like it was Wipe Out. Except when he needed to, like here. I was listen to the Hindu Love Gods Album today, where Bill takes the entire album to just plain rock out on the drums. It’s fun. Sure, it gets old, but it’s a nice reminder for idiots who don’t think Bill Berry was a superior drummer to listen to song after song of him bashing with the best of them.

  23. Ignis Sol Says:

    Paul, who is it that thinks Bill Berry is not a good drummer? They can meet by the swings.

    NO – Make that the merry-go-round! Want some buuuuurNING HELL?

  24. jim jos Says:

    I just listened to Reckoning yesterday. It’s the IRS edition that has Windout at the end of it. Of all the songs, I have that “Windout” Chorus in my head over and over again. Windout….Windout…..Windout….

    they will look me away and I will repeat that refrain on my way to the loony bin. Redrum…I mean…Windout….

  25. Ignis Sol Says:

    huh, redrum looks RE-DRUM.

    Like, Hey Bill, can ya re-drum that intro for Orange Crush and this time put some LOVE into it! Hurry up, my tofu is about ready.

  26. Kirsten Says:

    Like the tofu turkey when they were on the Simpsons…

  27. Paul Alferink Says:

    Peter Buck: That’s not the R.E.M. way.
    Michael Stipe: (Calms down) You’re right. Let’s recycle those shards and get out of here. (edit)

  28. Kirsten Says:

    What’s really sad is the amount of times I now use the phrase “That’s not the REM way”. :-)

  29. jim jos Says:

    I love that Simpsons episode. Homer’s take on End of the world, I think the funniest part is when he is saying grace and he says “these alternative rockers” that is just so damn funny to me for some reason.

  30. Dark Bob Says:

    Bill Berry is one of the finest drummer/precussionists I’ve heard. He was such a vital part of REM’s sound. Not just with his drumming, but his vocals and ideas.

  31. protimoi Says:

    Mike: “Hey guys, can you stand around me? I can’t go with Lenny watching.”
    Lenny: “So…gotta pee, huh?”

    haha great episode!

  32. JJ Frizz Says:

    Oh the memories of Dead Letter Office. I bought it on cassette the last day of school and me and my two friends listened to it all summer long. Every song on there is linked in my mind to beer, tan girls, the beach, driving around, smoking cigarettes, and trying to be cool in the suburbs. Windout rocks.

  33. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    1. Burning Hell: I love this song and it would not fit on any album in their discography. As has been mentioned the lyrics are atrocious and that is what saves the song from just being bad. Also, nobody will ever convince me that the riff from Burning Hell was not the starting point for Circus Envy . . . Hmmm, come to think of it, Burning Hell might have fit on Monster. I wonder what it would have sounded like had the band come back to Burning Hell in 1994 about 10 years after they wrote it and decided to revamp it and do it up proper for Monster. Interesting though experiment.

    2. Windout: Great little song. Would have fit in just fine on Reckoning or possibly even LRP. Very short and would be worse if it was longer.

    3. Rotary Ten: Mediocre instrumental track. Born to be a b-side, even if it had lyrics.

    4. White Tornado: Fun little surf ditty, however, if you want to hear another “serious” band do a surf ditty that kicks this ones butt try Pearl Jam’s “Gremmie Out Of Control” – makes me happy everytime!

  34. Figgy Says:

    Homer: “They think they’re saving the rainforest! Suckers!!”

  35. Figgy Says:

    When I hear ‘White Tornado’ I get the sense it’s from a group of musicians who live in each other’s pockets, a four-piece band of friends who are on the road and/or rehearsing all the time. This tune – like much of the material that appears on ‘Dead Letter Office’ – is one of those gems that seems to have come out of a marathon jam session. Needless to say, it sounds like they’re having fun too.

    I know from playing in bands how quickly different ideas for tunes can come together when everyone is contributing something. The results are often much more exciting and fresh as opposed to just one person composing the entire piece. Obviously a lot of stuff featured on ‘Dead Letter Office’ wasn’t good enough to make it onto regular albums, but I think many of the songs show REM’s approach to composing music at the time.

    Jam sessions are so much better with a drummer. I often wonder do the band still jam these days seeing as there’s no more Bill and the remaining trio live in different parts of the US. Do these factors (especially Berry’s departure) account for the more slow-paced, sometimes lifeless songs of the last 3 albums? Perhaps the band have actually realised this and hence the public rehearsal (and, presumably, a considerable amount of private rehearsal) of the new songs for the next album.

  36. Kurt Says:

    Your dismissal of Windout is just wrong wrong wrong. Easily one of my favorites of the early era.

  37. Benjamin Says:

    This post seems like a lame cop-out. “hey, I’ve got to get to all the songs so let’s not expend a few neurons to analyze the songs individually and just heap ‘em together half-assed.”

  38. ScottMalobisky Says:

    supposedly those Portugese children in Fatima were given visions of hell–I mean literal glimpses into literal hell–by the Virgin Mary during their series of visitations by her back in 1913 or 1914 or whatever year that was..They were absolutely terrified …And what about the events of Fatima ? I am surprised it’s not talked about more even though it happened almost a century ago…I mean supposedly it culminated with 70,000 people witnessing the thick clouds on a cloudy day ,at the appointed time, suddenly parting and then the sun becoming two suns in the sky that dropped as if on a pair of strings and starting spinning in multi-colored light like gigantic disco balls. A crowd of 70,000 people witnessed this spectacle (as proof for those who doubted what the children were reporting I guess , “there will be a miracle”) in the Portugese countryside that day…the crowd comprised of skeptics, believers, educated men , uneducated men , etc…And why are there no photos (although I have seen rough photos of parts of the gathering gazing up at the sky)?. Anyway, everyone was truly blown away to say the least !! So , what the fuck happened there ? Why isn’t it on the front page of every newspaper even today, considering the implications ? And why –if Catholicism is such a crock of malarkey –is it the only thing that seems to work in genuine cases of demonic possession ???…….


  39. That’s fair enough, Benjamin, but the ONLY reason I included these songs AT ALL is because they were on Dead Letter Office, and the readers asked me to cover that record, and it felt weird to cover some of the songs on that and not all of them. I don’t think these are particularly interesting songs, and it made more sense to cover them all in one fell swoop rather than to write more or less the same thing four times over. There’s a couple more catch-all posts coming up down the line (can you guess what they might be?), and I’ve had it planned this way for quite a while now.

  40. Paul Alferink Says:

    Hmmm . . . all the Velvet Underground covers. And it doesn’t make sense to talk about “7 Chinese Bros.” and not talk about “Voice of Harold”

  41. Paul Alferink Says:

    Also, if you choose to, you could do a bunch of the early one, (Body Count, Hey Nadine, Wait, Permentant Vacation, etc). They are all largely the same, and interesting as a collective for what they are not, as opposite to what they are. They aren’t particularly good. They don’t even really have the REMness to them, much like most of the songs here.


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