February 20, 2008

If “Losing My Religion” can be understood as a portrait of a person who has been driven into paranoia by an infatuation they believe to be rather hopeless, “Romance” is like the sensation of a perky, confident crush that leaves the brain a bit scrambled, albeit in a totally pleasant sort of way. All the feeling is in the sound of the music and the voices; the lyrics are cryptic to the point of seeming nonsensical. Nevertheless, there are some great images that don’t quite connect on a literal level — I particularly enjoy the line about putting heads down on desks, it takes me back to elementary school– but they all flow together like jump-cut, re-arranged scenes from some lost ’80s romantic comedy.

It’s rather fitting that this one was indeed recorded for a soundtrack back in the ’80s, but the film is so obscure that I doubt anyone but the most obsessive R.E.M. enthusiasts have viewed it in the past twenty-odd years. (I sure as hell haven’t seen it.) I’m not up on the movie’s plot, but I like to think that it’s about a pair of mis-matched adjunct professors who fall in love in some sleepy college town, and get caught up in some far-flung screwball adventure.

37 Responses to “Romance”

  1. Nah, Made in Heaven isn’t all that obscure; it aired constantly on HBO/Cinemax back in the early-mid 90’s. It’s a pretty darn good film, a skewed romance with an unconventional narrative and a shitload of cameos by people like Neil Young, Tom Petty, Tom Robbins, and more…

    Didn’t this appear on Eponymous?

  2. Mr Cup Says:

    Never seen the film myself. Sounds like you are describing the song though – which is great. Best played loud with yer stomping boots on.


  3. dan Says:

    re-discovered this one recently. it’s a lot better than i thought!

  4. Kirsten Says:

    I was listening to this song last night. Great song to sing as loud as you can. Not the best song ever written, but lots of fun with some great lines.

    Easy come, easy go.

  5. Meriste Says:

    I’ve just started listening to it recently, and I’d say it’s one of the cutest songs in the REM discography (if not the most substanstial).

    My, my, you’re on a roll! XD

  6. Ben Says:

    I love this song. When I was just getting into R.E.M. as a kid, after I’d thoroughly digested Out Of Time, Automatic, and Monster, the next CD I bought was Eponymous, thinking it was the one with End Of The World on it. It took me a while to figure out that it was just a quick IRS cash-in, but before I did realize what it was I thought it was just about the best album I’d ever heard. It was a few years before I got any of the other IRS albums, and I still VASTLY prefer the stripped-down version of Radio Free Europe on Eponymous to the one on Murmur.

    But yeah, Romance is a really great song.

  7. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Middling uptempo song. I can easily see why the band let this one go for a soundtrack. Pleasant, but absolutely nothing special. Because I own all of the albums I’ve never gotten around to buying Eponymous (had it on a recorded cassette once upon a time) so I actually haven’t heard this one forever as it is the one non-rarity that I actually don’t own. It always seemed a lesser cousin of These Days to me because of the steady, large drums.

  8. protimoi Says:

    I like this one – would have fit nicely on Dead Letter Office. It was good to hear it brought out for the Dublin rehearsals, too.

  9. Brian Says:

    Ah. I should dig out my copy of Eponymous.

  10. Andy T. Says:

    I have the Eponymous plus a demo version of it – the Eponymous version sounds a bit more assured but otherwise similar to the demo. Both of them, I like them somewhat, but I never thought the song was anything special – it is too repetitive for that.

  11. maclure Says:

    I’d like to see the film, I think the track is great but must admit I’d sort of forgotten about it before this post.

  12. I’m a bit disappointed to learn that this one isn’t particularly loved by a lot of you. This song has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager.

  13. lenny Says:

    My opinion of this song is consistent with one of the main lyrics — easy come, easy go. I think that most of us fans probably own Eponymous, but how many of us listen to it very often? Romance is the only unique track that it has (other than somewhat different recordings/mixings of RFE, Gardening, and Finest Worksong).

    So, I’m not surprised that people don’t think much of this song, because it seems like an afterthought on a compilation album that isn’t really necessary to listen to when you have the original albums. That being said, the one track that I like better than the original is Gardening at Night — the vocals are much stronger, which gives it some needed energy, but I never cared a lot for that song anyway. And the Eponymous version of Finest Worksong is just over the top — too many horns. The Document version was perfect — no need to meddle with it like that.

  14. John Says:

    This song actually dates from the band’s earliest days, as it appears on bootlegs of the 1980 Athens club show bootlegs (much as did Permanent Vacation and All the Right Friends, itself resurrected for the Vanilla Sky soundtrack). Taken in that context, it makes more sense, as it’s really a bouncy bar-band party number that fits well with that era of the band’s music, but less so with the time at which it actually saw release.

  15. beonetraveler Says:

    There are the objectively fantastic R.E.M. songs that can stand on their own. This forum has discussed that many of those songs have made for great opening batting orders/lineups (like for LRP).

    Then, there are the tunes that might have sounded better by association. Which, again, this forum has probed whether certain songs would have fit better on other albums/discs. I think “Romance” is one of the latter. It’s a catchy, boot-stomping ditty; I have a lot of associations with the song.

    Still, its inclusion among the classics on Eponymous now seems ironic (not in the Alanis Morissette kind of way, but genuinely ironic). I mean, the constituent parts of Eponymous are worth listening to, but I knew that because I had the albums/cd’s those songs were on.

    I guess this means I need to modernize my listening habits. I tend to listen to all of R.E.M.’s pre-NAIHF albums as individual units since CD-burning and iPods were, at the time, still distant inventions.

  16. beonetraveler Says:

    Make that positive associations.

  17. karen Says:

    i always especially liked “romance.” it was hard to hear it often since i didn’t listen to eponymous as often as other r.e.m. records, but i made of point of digging it out regularly.

  18. narcizo Says:

    …it is a great song, it could / should have been in LRP. I like the rhythm section parts a lot. And Alan Rudolph’s film is good.
    Even if it is a “party number”, then, yes, they used to party in style.

  19. Figgy Says:

    I first heard this song many years ago when my best mate, who was also getting into REM at the time, bought ‘Eponymous’ on cassette. ‘Romance’ stood out as perhaps the most lightweight offering on the album but we enjoyed it nonetheless. A very catchy vocal line. I really like singing along to “that’s worth saving up for…” and the “easy come, easy go” chorus is irresistable.

    To this day I’ve never acquired my own copy of the song, so I’ve just gone and listened to the clip on the REM HQ website. First time I’ve heard a snippet of ‘Romance’in a long time. Kinda like meeting an old friend again! As dan said earlier “it’s a lot better than I thought”.

  20. Figgy Says:

    My aforementioned ‘Eponymous’-owning best mate was there the night REM played ‘Romance’ in Dublin last year. He told me Stipe looked amused and slightly embarrassed when singing the lyrics.

  21. jim jos Says:

    though it was recorded at a time when the band was kind of looking over the back catalog for songs that might fit the feeling of LRP, I can understand how they wouldn’t go with this one for the album. Not that it isn’t good enough, but because I think it has a much similar vibe to it of the time that it was written (1981). Maybe LRP is what it is for me and I can’t associate other songs being on it, but, for me, this song finds a nice home (along with All the Right Friends) on my “album”
    Chronic Town the Album…

    I can’t help but think of a very young band when I hear this and that is one of the reasons why I am a big fan of it.

  22. adam Says:

    This was always a fun one to find on bootlegs in the 8o’s – with various titles…

  23. Figgy Says:

    I agree, jim jos, it does sound like a song from a young band and it very much feels like early 80s REM. I like your idea of ‘Chronic Town the Album’… I think I’ll put that together on my mp3 player soon!

  24. Ignis Sol Says:

    I never have been that attracted to “Romance.”

  25. Clive Says:

    It’s worth mentioning that this was the first song where they used Scott Litt as a producer. Scott Litt did a great job on all their albums but I don’t like the mixing of this. On the bootleg ‘Carnival of Sorts’ from a show at Merlins in 1982 they play this song and it sounds really fresh, urgent and Peters guitar is jangly and cutting. The way the song was produced in 1986 was too lush. The song just doesn’t suit that style.

    I agree totally with Lennys comments on Eponymous – much prefer the rawness of Gardening At Night on Eponymous and have always hated all alternate versions of Finest Worksong; the album version was perfect. The bass guitar is too prominent on the horns version, the bass guitar at the end of the song makes the speakers in my car explode!

  26. lenny Says:

    Thanks Clive — I stand by the “Gardening” comments, but maybe I was a little harsh on Romance. The song is alright. I definitely don’t see it as Life’s Rich Pageant material, though.

    To me, since they had the song in their catalog earlier, I would have put Romance in as track 7 or 8 on Reckoning or Fables. It would have done a good job of breaking up the lower points of those two albums, in my opinion.

    *bracing myself for the backlash to the last statement*

  27. lenny Says:

    …or maybe “livening up” is a better way to put it than “breaking up”.

  28. Vlad, the impala Says:

    R.E.M. laid this down for inclusion on the Murmur album (this is totally different to the version included on Chronic Murmurings). Interestingly they tried to make the track somewhat darker… there’s some very curious backing vocals on there. Hopefully it will see the light of day some day soon.

    I have to say with respect to the Eponymous version of Romance, SCOTT LITT man! He nailed this track, credit where it’s due, he went in on a one-shot deal and came out with an absolute classic Georgia peach.

  29. milesy Says:

    I listened to Romance yesterday, for the first time in years, and I also thought how well it might have fitted as an extra track on Reckoning, maybe after Time after Time, or Secong Guessing- although I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘lower points’- the backlash is all yours, lenny!

  30. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Slit Skirts

  31. Mr Cup Says:

    be afraid lenny…

  32. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Yeah, Time After Time-Second Guessing-Letter Never Sent is my least favorite three song sequence on any REM album, although I am not sure adding Romance would help a ton. I think I’d prefer Windout inserted there.

    Before I get sent to the swinget for a smackdown, I like all three of the above mentioned songs decent enough, but still my least fave trilogy by the band. If I’ll Take The Rain were not on Reveal my least favorite three song sequence would easily be Summer Turns To High-Chorus & The Ring-Beachball, but I really like I’ll Take The Rain and it saves the end of Reveal from falling into total near-worthlessness (at least on an REM scale).

  33. ryan Says:

    Ah, Romance – I haven’t heard this song in probably 7 or 8 years. I don’t even think I have my cassette version of Eponymous anymore and I certainly don’t have anything to play it on… However, it’s an album I used to play to death when I first discovered the band shortly after Out Of Time came out.

    Romance/Eponymous will forever be linked to my own discovery of the band and their music – it was the perfect gateway to I.R.S. era R.E.M. and everything that followed.

    I love the Mutual Drum Horn Mix of F.W. by the way.

    Finally, on a somewhat related note to what Ben said above, over the years I’ve had to break it to more than one person that the early Cure singles album Staring At The Sea was not a full-length album, but rather a collection of their ‘hits’ to date… common mistake apparently.

  34. ScottMalobisky Says:

    the not at all ostentatious tatooes on Stipe’s inner right biceps area, what do they depict ?

  35. ScottMalobisky Says:

    funny, was reading Flatland by Edwin Abbott for philosophy class this morning, written when Einstein was only a child…with it’s references to the Perfect Circle and the “Would you have me turn my stomach inside out to oblige you ?” comment from The Sphere who’s fresh from the third dimension intruding into the two dimensional world of Flatland and blowing an unenlightened Flatlander’s mind ..that’s three REM references to get my morning started …So it might be a very good day , until the coffee wears off or I turn on the news…….whichever comes first.

  36. jim jos Says:

    figgy, yeah, Chronic Town the Album, (Chronic Townier??) is an enjoyable experience. It does for me what good albums do, and that it creates a sum greater than the whole of its parts. It has its own feel and I like it.

    I also heard that Spin Mag gave Accelerate a near perfect rating.

  37. Dark Bob Says:

    Never liked this song. Always skip pass it. I do remember Made in Heaven with Timothy Hutton and Kelly Mcgillis. Actually not a bad movie. But any movie that features a cameo by Neil Young, can’t be all that bad!

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