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Album: MurmurReleased: 1983Charted:
Radio Free Europe is a radio network run by the United States government that broadcasts to Europe and the Middle East. The mission of the broadcasts is to promote democracy and freedom, but R.E.M. makes the point that this can easily cross the line into propaganda.
This song was R.E.M.'s first single, released in 1981 before they signed to a major label. A better-produced version was included on Murmur
, the band's first full-length album, in 1983.
There was a good reason for Michael Stipe's infamously indecipherable lyrics on this song: he hadn't finished them by the time they recorded it. In a 1988 NME interview, Stipe described the lyrical content as "complete babbling."
R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe said in a 1983 interview with Alternative America
: "We were all so scared of what the other one would say, that everyone nodded their head in agreement to anything to come up. The earlier songs were incredibly fundamental, real simple, songs that you could write in five minutes. Most of them didn't have any words. I just got up and howled and hollered a lot.
That's true. I've got to write words for 'Radio Free Europe,' because we're going to re-record that for the album. It still doesn't have a second or third verse. I think there are actually lyrics to every song on the EP."
"This song was pivotal to the continuation of our career," drummer Bill Berry explained in Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011. "Most fans may not realize that for two years before Murmur was released, we barely made financial ends meet by playing tiny clubs around the southeast. Our gasoline budget prevented us from venturing further. Put simply, our existence was impoverished. College radio and major city club scenes embraced this song and expanded our audience to the extent that we moved from small clubs to medium-sized venues and the additional revenue made it possible to logically pursue this wild musical endeavor. I dare not contemplate what our fate would have been had this song not appeared when it did."
Stipe noted being apparently unaware of his own genius: "The guys always said I do something harmonically here that made them all go 'whoa,' because it was so advanced ... or something, in the 'straight off the boat' part. I wonder if I tricked them by accident? I still have no idea what it is they're talking about."
The video for this song, directed by Arthur Pierson, was shot in the famed Paradise Gardens, a folk art sculpture garden crafted by artist Howard Finster in Pennville, Georgia. Finster, a Baptist minister, also painted the album art for R.E.M.'s second album, Reckoning.