Tired Of Singing Trouble

June 5, 2007

“Tired Of Singing Trouble” is one of R.E.M.’s more curious oddities. It was recorded during the Lifes Rich Pageant sessions, presumably as a piss-take — it’s essentially a minute of Michael Stipe singing in a quasi-gospel style over a walking bass line and seemingly improvised percussion. As far as goofy pastiches go, it’s rather high quality. The band must have thought so too since it was commonly played as an intro to “I Believe” throughout the late 80s. The song marks the beginning of Michael’s rather fruitful experimentation with gospel and soul inflections in the second half of the 80s. You can hear a bit of it on Lifes Rich Pageant and Document, but the affectation is apparent on nearly every track on Green, which I consider to be Stipe’s best album in terms of vocal performance.

27 Responses to “Tired Of Singing Trouble”

  1. morewordsaboutmusic Says:

    I actually have this on some kind of weird compilation…In the Attic or something, it’s called. I have no idea how rare it is…I just happened to see it in a used bin and figured I’d pick it up. Now that I think about it, I’ve never seen that compilation again anywhere else. Was it a limited release?

  2. Doctor Casino Says:

    The sordid tale is sorted out a bit here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.E.M.:_In_the_Attic .

  3. adam Says:

    Green is Stipes best vocal performance?? Stand, Hairshirt, Turn you Inside out? Talking and whining Wrong Child, ?? Now I am questioning all of your other commentary.. as its some of the oddest vocal performance he ever did.. a little whiny at times.. production was great and you hear him, thats for sure.. but how can you compare to either the earlier vocal murmerings that one camp will always admire and love.. and what came right after on Automatic, where Michael sounds glorious..

  4. drew Says:

    before pandora’s box up and takes over, i just want to say those gospel-inflected intros to “i believe” have always been one of my favorite parts of late 80s REM bootlegs. i still sing “tired of singing trouble” in the shower.

  5. Ignis Sol Says:

    The intros to the songs on this tour were inventive and very entertaining. I particularly enjoy the “Future 40s” intro.

    The production and engineering on “Green” are spectacular and Michael’s voice sounds excellent whether he is whining or crooning or whatever he is doing on “I Remember California.” Scott Litt is key to the quality engineering on this great album.

  6. davegassner Says:

    I’ve never heard this song, so I’ll just comment on the “Green” debate. Regardless of whether “Green” was Stipe’s best vocal doings, it was definitely unique from the sound of his voice on any other album, and even song to song on that album. It was kinda the transition between the airy, muffly chanty kinda older 80’s sound and the crisper, croony, multi-emotive, Stipe when they switched to digital on “Out of Time”, so that he could “get my voice to sound the way I’ve always wanted it to”, according to interviews. And yeah, I think Litt is a large part of that bridge. I really miss his production actually.


  7. I’ll get to it later on, but yeah, I definitely think “Hairshirt” in particular is one of Michael’s finest moments as a singer.

    Also: It appeared on a semi-official release called In The Attic, that’s probably what you’re thinking of. It is also on the expanded editions of Lifes Rich Pageant.

  8. Kirsten Says:

    This is a great one to sing. We’re in the midst of draught and have strong water restrictions, so I know if I sing this song twice while having a shower, I’ve been in there for about 2 minutes and it’s time to get out!

  9. Kirsten Says:

    Sorry, my typing sucks! That should be drought.

    For the record, Hairshirt makes me cringe.

  10. davegassner Says:

    Awww, “Hairshirt” is amazing! It’s so melodramatic and lyrically direct and soulful, with this soft little mandolin (I think?) plucking along in the back… “run a carbon black test on my job! And you will find…it’s all been said before…” Love that line. Life “Everybody Hurts” or “Why Not Smile” it’s kinda one of those ones that Stipe is so literal and direct on taht it goes from good/emotive to cheesey/bad back to good/emotive again.

  11. Scott Malobisky Says:

    “…on my JOB ..” ?!?! I always thought he said , “on my JAW..” ..!!..which I actually like a lot better so I’ll continue to think that..Great Site. Thanx

  12. Kirsten Says:

    There’s nothing wrong with the words to Hairshirt, it’s just too long, slow and boring.

  13. Mr Cup Says:

    I always thought it was ‘jaw’ and I’m sticking with it.

    I have to agree the vocal on Green is the high point for me. Green and Document…and Lifes Rich Pageant..and…

  14. morewordsaboutmusic Says:

    Oh, Kirstin…what am I going to do with you? 🙂 Hairshirt is easily (EASILY) one of my top ten REM songs. (I also think he says “jaw” by the way. But then again that song has never been free of mishearings for me.)

  15. Scott Malobisky Says:

    I also feel that Hairshirt is a tremendous song–NOT BORING AT ALL !!, a classic example of that “certain something”..that epitome thereof of the indefinable something that makes REM so great and so unusual and so brilliantly odd —or is it oddly brilliant ?–in the same breath…Adore the line , “feed me banks of light”…and it is “jaw” BTW, I mean think about it (besides I looked it up), “job” would make no sense at all –NONE–even coming from Mr. Slinky, master of such nonsensical gems as “smallpox blanket , no way”…Damn , you’d think Mr. Perpetua was writng about Hairshirt this time around , eh ??

  16. Bandwagon03 Says:

    I have never heard this song, so i cant comment one way or the other.

    As far as “Hairshirt” Yea, its great, it has a great mood to it, somewhat melancholy i guess. The best line is the one about the carbon test on my jaw, and Youuuuu willl finndddd, its all been said before!

  17. dan Says:

    “Hairshirt” is brilliant because it’s at least semi-improvised (or, shall I say, extemporaneous). Stipe just wailing away, but god, it’s beautiful.

    I’ll probably say the exact same thing again when the “Hairshirt” post arrives.

  18. dan Says:

    Also, “Tired of Singing Trouble” is pretty neat, and guess what: the ONLY place it was released is on the otherwise redundant (but not terrible) In the Attic comp. So something good came of that. I’m sure there are better things lurking in the vaults somewhere, like some of those tracks that showed up on the IRS years thing.


  19. Dan, my copy of Lifes Rich Pageant has “Tired of Singing Trouble,” I bought the IRS expanded version back in the early 90s.

  20. Tuck Says:

    FYI — “smallpox blanket” (from Diminished) isn’t nonsensical. Some early American settlers allegedly used smallpox infected blankets and hankerchiefs to pass the disease to Native Americans. An early form of biological warfare. A creepy reference in a creepy song.

    Haven’t heard the studio version of “Tired of Singing Trouble.” I’m a bad fan.

    I’m coming to this site way to much.

  21. dan Says:

    I stand corrected!

  22. Scott Malobisky Says:

    thanks Tuck !! that’s one fascinating bit of info

  23. Scott Malobisky Says:

    Hey Dan , don’t stand corrrected, stand in the place where you live think about direction wonder why you have it now………

  24. Kirsten Says:

    “Tired of Singing Trouble” is great, but have you guys heard “I Walked With A Zombie”?? FANTASTIC!

  25. davegassner Says:

    I thought it was maybe ‘jaw’ but figured it made sense either way; I interpret that line as saying all art/points/statements have been made/done before at some point, and so either would make sense; ‘jaw’ in reference to his mouth being a singer, ‘job’ in being a poet/singer.

  26. Paul Alferink Says:

    The Lyric is Jaw. It’s a joke. A carbon black test determines the age of fossils. If you did one on his jaw:

    “And You will find it’s all been said before.”

  27. profligateprofiterole Says:

    yeah, they took a small piece of fabric from The Shroud Of Turin and carbon tested it, didn’t they ? turned out not to be old enough to be the genuine article; doesn’t have to be a previously living thing, just has to contain carbon (I think).


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