E-Bow the Letter

Album: New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
Charted: 4 49

Songfacts®:

  • This was the lead single from R.E.M.'s tenth studio album.
  • Patti Smith sang backing vocals on this song, a life-changing experience for Peter Buck. He explained in the liner notes for the hits compilation In Time:

    "I first saw Patti Smith perform in 1976, and I remember thinking that I would gladly give 10 years off my life to be the bass player for her group. I know Michael was equally as inspired by Patti, and when he came up with a Ronettes-style vocal chorus, it was obvious who we had to call. It was such an incredible experience watching Patti sing this song - a song we wrote! I had all the cliche reactions; chills ran up and down my spine, the hair stood up on the back on my neck, etc. My life did not flash before my eyes, but it was a close thing."
  • Jem Cohen filmed R.E.M. in Los Angeles for the music video, while guest Patti Smith was filmed on location in Prague. The clip has the guys performing in a room romantically lit with strings upon strings of white lights.
  • Michael Stipe sings, "Dreaming of Maria Callas, whoever she is." Callas was a renowned Greek soprano and one of the most noted opera singers of the 20th century.
  • An "E-Bow" is an electronic device used to play the electric guitar, using an electromagnetic field to manipulate the strings instead of fingers or a pick.
  • This was allegedly inspired by a letter Stipe wrote, but never sent, to his troubled friend River Phoenix. The actor died of drug-induced heart failure in 1993, at age 23.
  • R.E.M released an alternative version of the song on their 2018 BBC box set. The live performance features Radiohead's Thom Yorke replacing Patti Smith's vocal contribution. The track was recorded at a 2004 invitation-only concert at London's St. James Church on that was broadcast on BBC Radio 2.

    Thom Yorke had previously performed the song with R.E.M. at the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, DC.

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear: Teddy Bears and Teddy Boys in Songs

Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear: Teddy Bears and Teddy Boys in SongsSong Writing

Elvis, Little Richard and Cheryl Cole have all sung about Teddy Bears, but there is also a terrifying Teddy song from 1932 and a touching trucker Teddy tune from 1976.

Kevin Godley

Kevin GodleySongwriter Interviews

Kevin Godley talks about directing classic videos for The Police, U2 and Duran Duran, and discusses song and videos he made with 10cc and Godley & Creme.

Leslie West of Mountain

Leslie West of MountainSongwriter Interviews

From the cowbell on "Mississippi Queen" to recording with The Who when they got the wrong Felix, stories from one of rock's master craftsmen.

Eric Clapton

Eric ClaptonFact or Fiction

Did Eric Clapton really write "Cocaine" while on cocaine? This question and more in the Clapton edition of Fact or Fiction.

Chris Frantz - "Genius of Love"

Chris Frantz - "Genius of Love"They're Playing My Song

Chris and his wife Tina were the rhythm section for Talking Heads when they formed The Tom Tom Club. "Genius of Love" was their blockbuster, but David Byrne only mentioned it once.

Chris Fehn of Slipknot

Chris Fehn of SlipknotSongwriter Interviews

A drummer for one of the most successful metal bands of the last decade, Chris talks about what it's like writing and performing with Slipknot. Metal-neck is a factor.