May 28, 2008

You probably don’t know “Harpers.” It’s not an R.E.M. song, but Michael Stipe co-wrote it with the band Hugo Largo, and it appeared on that band’s Stipe-produced debut EP Drum. That’s not the reason why the song is included on this site, though. Between Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe, there are quite a few random collaborations that ought to be considered non-canonical; “Harpers” gets the nod because Stipe performed the song a cappella at the overwhelming majority of R.E.M. concerts between 1986 and 1990. The tune normally popped up at some point in the encores — this was back in the day when R.E.M. could be expected to play as many as four sets of encores on any given night — and was relatively brief, rarely cracking the two minute mark. It’s a gorgeous song, but not quite within Michael’s range, and it forced him to reach up to the tippy top of his highest register, usually with mildly embarrassing results. Weirdly enough, this was something Stipe seemed to enjoy doing during this period — you can hear him do the same thing on “Dark Globe” and “After Hours,” and he’d toss it into his own songs here and there. It’s kinda adorable, but also a bit annoying.

Thanks to Kirsten.

35 Responses to “Harpers”

  1. Paul Alferink Says:

    Hat’s off to Kristen, for the hook up.

    I have never heard this song, I don’t think. Have to go bootleg hunting.

  2. 3d Says:

    i know “harpers” in its live incarnation, and your description “it’s kinda adorable, but also a bit annoying” is spot-on.

    i’d be curios to hear the studio version of this one.

  3. Dark Bob Says:

    If I’ve ever heard this, I can’t remember. Is anyone aware of where this could be found on the internet?

  4. Dark Bob Says:

    I found the Hugo Largo version along with the lyrics and can honestly say I,ve never heard REM do this.

  5. Kirsten Says:

    No problem – REM is to be loved and shared – but annoying??? NEVER! Cute and adorable – definitely. Makes me melt hmmmmm. Just don’t listen to it with earphones and your ipod turned up full – this song nearly blew my eardrums! (Still would be worth it? πŸ˜‰ )

  6. protimoi Says:


    I can’t fucking believe you wrote about “Harpers,” Matthew. And right after “Shiny Happy People” too. I just think it’s funny because it’s the last song in R.E.M.’s live canon I expected you to cover, even if it was repeated with some regularity at the end of the 1980s. If nothing else, I guess I like to be reminded every now and then that i’m not the only guy with hardcore rapid eye knowledge.

    As for the song, it’s trivial at best, but i think it was cool how Stipe used to sing acapella snippets before the real song in live settings.

    To paraphrase peter buck, i think i laughed longer than it took you to write this post.

  7. Paul Alferink Says:

    Does this mean we’re going to get Future 40 (String of Pearls) also? Cause damn, I love that intro to I Believe.

  8. protimoi Says:

    As a matter of fact, this leads me to question the possible inclusion of another R.E.M. collaboration: “Photograph” with Natalie Merchant. Hows about it?

  9. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    And what about “Your Ghost” with Kristen Hersch? An all-time favourite song…

    (and ironically “Kid Fears” with the Indigo Girls came up on random play on my ipod yesterday…..)

  10. milesy Says:

    And if you want to have Kid Fears with Stipe on backing vox, you also need tried to be true from the same album, with Berry, Buck and Mills supplying the music… Good album, incidentally…

  11. Dark Bob Says:

    How about Boy(Go) and Clustering train by the Golden Palaminos? Great songs.

  12. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    You see, Matthew, this is potentially a never-ending project! I bet that fills you with joy πŸ™‚

  13. Yeah, ha, not quite. I’ve actually got 16 or 17 left as of right now.

  14. Paul Alferink Says:

    By my count, that means one or two surpises yet. . .

  15. dumbek Says:

    Annoying? Hardly. This is one of those endearing a capella snippets that always made their live shows a little more fun. This, along with things like “We Live As We Dream Alone”, “Tired of Singing Trouble”, “Future 40s” and a bunch more were always a treat.

  16. Ignis Sol Says:

    I have not heard of “Harpers.” I will seek it out.

    I agree with dumbek. R.E.M. showed quite a bit of creativity and innovation in their live shows in this period. His performances were excellent (World Leader Pretend). I also recall seeing something where he combines “King of Birds” and “Lette Never Sent” in this period. I fell in love with “Futue 40s” from this.

    Nowadays, they are still creative, but it is different. They rely on banter and rock star posing (which is ok). Michael is always entertaining and pretty funny. A Seattle weekly paper called The Stranger covered their Gorge Festival show in their blog (called the SLOG). In it, the reporter remarks how Michael is “Being Michael Stipe” to perfection. He ponders on the idea of Michael knowing which gestures, words etc. to express that are Michael Stipesque. It did not seem to matter because the crowd enjoyed it. Damn, I wish I was there….

  17. Kirsten Says:

    I’ve got a live version they did of “I’ve Got You Babe” from 1983. Michael introduces it with “This song is not out of total respect”. Love that. What about California Dreamin’? They did that a lot in the same period.

  18. Paul Alferink Says:

    Really, Beavis and Butthead did the definitive version of “I’ve got you, Babe.”

  19. profligateprofiterole Says:

    never heard this
    never even heard of this
    maybe Roy Harper should do this one
    (Hats Off To) Roy Harper
    yeah that one
    I wonder how many Pink Floyd fans out there do not realize that’s Roy Harper singing Have A Cigar ?

    sorry, off on a tangent again……

  20. ADB Says:

    Can anyone clear something up for me? I thought this was the first entry on here I’d never heard before, but following the links and checking out the lyrics I’m not so sure. I saw and have got bootlegs of REM gigs from the Green tour with Stipe doing a high pitched acapella bit that I always thought was something about ‘catacombs of evening’. Having looked at the lyrics of Harpers, I think it was this song he was singing and I’ve misheard ‘evening coming soon’? Or was there another acapella thing he did which mentioned ‘catacombs’?

  21. Paul Alferink Says:

    “The water is evening out. The Catacombs are filling in.”
    That’s sung at the end of King of Birds live sometimes. It’s not Harpers, though. It’s either an original embellishment or some other song I’ve never heard before.

  22. 3d Says:

    paul, that’s from “letter never sent” πŸ™‚

  23. Ignis Sol Says:

    or what I said in a previous post. Thanks for paying attention, friends. Thank you. Thank you very much.
    I guess mine was the “blog entry never read”


  24. Paul Alferink Says:

    I read it. I just never even remotely understood the lyrics to Letter never sent. I thought you were talking about something else. I mostly thought the lyrics to Letter never sent were:
    huh huh huh ha huh huh hahaha huh huh huh ha-ugh . . .

    Amazing how one can sing along to a song for years and never even remotely understand the lyrics. That toon is just too damn catchy.

  25. Ignis Sol Says:

    Yeah, I understand Paul. I took me until this past year to connect that it was indeed “Letter Never Sent” attached to “King of Birds.” Mostly because I forgot about the medley – ah, the crushing force of memory.

  26. Kirsten Says:

    I don’t think it’s “the catacombs are filling in” in the live version of King Of Birds – I think he says “the catacombs are fading away”.

  27. Mr Cup Says:

    I’d have sworn it was ‘filling in’.

  28. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Letter Never Sent has ACTUAL lyrics?! Damn, I better listen to it again. πŸ™‚

  29. Paul Alferink Says:

    Best Lyric to Letter never sent:
    huh huh huh ha huh huh hahaha huh huh huh ha-ugh . . .

  30. 3d Says:

    paul you have your lyrics all mixed up! those are the lyrics from “all the right friends”! πŸ™‚

  31. profligateprofiterole Says:

    they played Life And How To Live It as an encore at Berkeley….Berkeley , named after George Berkeley, the philosopher who believed and–I should add– argued quite effectively that “to be is to be perceived”….A ludicrous proposition at first glance but he’s actually somewhat convincing in his arguments; I never thought that my bed and dresser wouldn’t exist if the bedroom was empty of “perceivers”..but…..now I’m not so sure….

  32. profligateprofiterole Says:

    check out the postcard from San Francisco at HQ, ah man , I wonder where that pic was taken at..! (I never knew Up was recorded in SF, makes sense actually…)

  33. Kirsten Says:

    I still hear it my way. Why can’t he talk properly???? It’s very frustrating! (although it would leave us all with nothing to do) πŸ™‚

  34. The Goat Says:

    Someone finally posted that amazing 1995 VMA performance of “The Wake Up Bomb” on youtube… here it is:

    Since I’m here, why don’t I also post my dream R.E.M. live set list… :-]


  35. profligateprofiterole Says:

    thanx Goat. I needed that this morning. a mini-acoustic set, eh? cool, like the Dirigible Anglais. back in the day. why not smile?

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