Radio Song

March 29, 2007

If you’re capable of tuning out KRS-One’s extraordinarily lame vocal contributions, you might notice that “Radio Song” is in fact a very good tune with some exceptionally pretty moments. Surprisingly, the presence of KRS-One is not even the most dated thing about the track — that would be the lyrics, which reiterate the basic premise of Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” (ie, radio DJs are manipulative jerks who repeatedly play the same sad, sentimental songs in order to, um, make us feel worse?) with slightly less paranoia.

I suppose that we can still hear the song and agree that tight playlisting totally sucks, but ever since the radio consolidation boom of the late ’90s it is incredibly rare to hear a non-oldies station play any music that is actually sad (seriously, what was the last totally depressing major hit, both musically and lyrically?) , much less employ DJs who actually program their own shifts, and so you can’t really pay attention to the words without noticing the anachronism. Maybe it is best to reinterpret “Radio Song” as a “be careful what you wish for” sort of thing, since it’s very hard to imagine that its protagonists would be much happier in the post-Clearchannel world, even if their children are most definitely not growing up “prisoners” as lifelong radio listeners.

23 Responses to “Radio Song”

  1. XtianDC Says:

    In my mind, what *really* dates this song and makes it tough to enjoy today (despite the fact that I agree is has some pretty wonderful elements otherwise) is that awful slap bass/organ. The sound of white men trying to sound funky b/c “hey, it’s got a rapper on it!”

  2. dan Says:

    agreed with the above comment. one of the few songs in r.e.m.’s catalog that really sounds like a product of its time.

  3. Jeff Says:

    The last totally depressing major hit, both musically and lyrically?

    It may not be true, but it amuses me to say it: “Everybody Hurts.”

  4. […] for Michael. It’s kinda sad to see that they learned absolutely nothing from the mistakes of “Radio Song,” but um, at least “Radio Song” had a really nice tune! “The Outsiders” never […]

  5. Kevin Says:

    (seriously, what was the last totally depressing major hit, both musically and lyrically?)

    “Cry me a River,” Justin Timberlake?

    Just throwing it out there. Don’t it make you sad about it?

  6. Guy Says:

    I don’t know about the states, but the Michael Andrews/Gary Jules cover of ‘Mad World’ by Tears for Fears (as featured in the sublime Donnie Darko) was Christmas number 1 in the UK in 2003, if you didn’t know. Seriously.

  7. Oh, right. But that was never a hit on American radio. I should be clear that I’m talking about the United States, sorry!

  8. Donut Says:

    dunno if im the only one that can claim to love and enjoy every track that R.E.M. has ever put out as well as the demos and cover versions.
    which is why to this day they are still my #1 favorite band of all time. cant go a day without listening to R.E.M.

    i like this version cause its finished and more upbeat. but i like the vibe of the versions that didnt have KRS-ONE.

  9. Zaxxon Says:

    I think the best part about this song is KRS One. Definitely not his best work, but I think that is due mostly to the weakness of R.E.M. backing him up. Not putting R.E.M. down, but as was mentioned, this just isn’t their style. Clearly R.E.M. recognized the what KRS brought to the song, it’s too bad that you don’t.

  10. Patrick Says:

    The unplugged version of this song is one I’ve always loved. The lines spoken at the beginning seem to belong there better.

  11. Jim Says:

    Radio song should have been left off the album. I feel that “It’s A Free World Baby” and “Fretless” should have been added the the album. Radio song would have been good as a b-side to a single from Out of Time, but that is it.

  12. I totally agree that “It’s A Free World, Baby” should’ve been the opening cut on Out Of Time, or at the very least, ON THE ALBUM. It kinda kills me that it’s an obscure song. I’ll get to that song eventually. It’ll be a bittersweet entry.

  13. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Most of you likely know this but Peter himself has said that in hindsight he can’t understand why “It’s A Free World, Baby” or “Fretless” didn’t make Out Of Time. He has even gone so far as to say fans could recut the Out Of Time CD ommitting two song and replacing them with the above two and then send their versions to REM and they would consider re-editing the CD upon reissue some day. I would have to cut “Endgame” and “Shiny Happy People” myself.

    Anyway, as to “Radio Song” I have always really loved this song. I have always love the changing dynamics within the song and found it immensely catchy. I espeically love when the funk rhythms stop and their is the acoustic interlude “The world is collapsing…” about 2/3 of the way through. Hell, I am almost embarrassed to admit it by I even like the KRS-One rap at the end, although his little shouts and comments in the song proper are a annoying. My only real complaints about “Radio Song” are that is does sound a little dated (a rarity amongst REM songs not found on the “Green” album) and that it doesn’t really fir the tone of the rest of Out Of Time. However, being track 1 that is easier to overlook that if it came mid-album.

  14. mscot Says:

    Interesting. Outside of Stand I really like the Green album and listen to it often.

  15. Clive Says:

    Interesting point about ‘It’s a Free World Baby’ – can’t wait to read the review of that song. It was on the CD booklet that accompanied ‘In Time’ where Peter Buck mentions about ‘Fretless’ and ‘It’s a Free World Baby’ and how fans should make their own track list for Out Of Time.
    I do think ‘Fretless’ would have required some work to make it worthy of inclusion on the album. The two songs I would have left off would be ‘Texarkana’ and ‘Endgame’ – Endgame would have made a great B-side and score for a film!

  16. I can take or leave KRS-One, but it’s Stipe’s deadpan “hey hey hey” that makes the song for me. I can see why this song might be perceived as dated, but I like it just the same…

  17. Scott Malobisky Says:

    TS Eliot checked out on Stipe’s fifth birthday.

  18. Heyberto Says:

    I like the song in its entirety, and can’t believe that people have the disdain for it that they do. Not my favorite, mind you, but to me it sets the tone well for the rest of the Out of Time album.

    But, I decided to post because I really felt Matthew’s review clashed with my thoughts about the message in the song, and perhaps that message takes on a new meaning in today’s world. Certainly, Michael’s lyrics are vague enough to go in different directions. To me, this song is prophetic. I thought about this song lately as I purchased Sirius. I purchased it due to the abhorrent and dismal state of corporate controlled public radio stations. The same playlists, with the same crappy songs. It’s that format that has pushed bands like REM out of favor with the masses… but maybe that’s a good thing. At any rate, just listening to the song with fresh ears, it takes on a new meaning for me. Not that it’s preachy, but Mike Mills’ plea before congress to keep the small radio stations alive resonates in my head as I listen. Without local radio there would likely be no REM today, and to think there are thousands of other bands out there that have yet to find an audience have a much bigger uphill battle today, and radio does not offer much at all anymore.

  19. Paul Alferink Says:

    This might be my favorite Mills bassline. And it’s kind of buried in the mix. I didn’t even really notice it for years.

  20. DJ Says:

    Just wanted to say that this is a really astute commentary on modern radio. It is depressing that you can no longer find a hit song to depress you on the radio. The radio conglomerate days have made commercial music even more lame than we could have thought possible.

  21. Kenneth Says:

    I always remember this song because my dad played Out Of Time a lot when I was very young. When I got into R.E.M. (again, if you like), I looked Out Of Time up in my dad’s CD collection, and when I listened to it, “Radio Song” sounded so familiar again — even if I was only two or three when I last heard it. It’s one of the reasons I’m fond of the song, and always put it in the ‘special’ category (with “Losing My Religion” — #2 on Out Of Time, and pretty much the rest of Out Of Time, although it got hazier as the album went on in terms of familiarity). KRS-One’s vocals were also a key element to the song that familiarised me with it again, and I really don’t think they’re bad at all. Lame, yes, but not bad. “All their life… RADIO LISTENERS” makes me cringe though.

  22. Piotrek Says:

    “Say It Right” by Nelly Furtado was quite sad song

  23. Piotrek Says:

    “Say It Right” (2007) by Nelly Furtado was quite sad song

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