It’s Been 20 Years? The Best of 1991 Revisited: R.E.M’s Out of Time

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From KCRW DJ Anne Litt-

REM’s” Out Of Time” the week after the band called it a day after 31 years together.   My personal history with the band, I realize, goes back almost  as long.

REM introduced me to music that was my own — not my parents’ or my friend’s older brother’s.  I heard them and they were instantly mine.  I saw REM open for the Police in 1983.  They played “Gardening At Night” and “Don’t Go Back To Rockville”. The sound at the Hampton Coliseum was awful, but it didn’t matter.  I was sold and I wrecked my parent’s station wagon on the way home. 

REM opened the doors to the dB’s, Let’s Active, Flat Duo Jets, Mitch Easter, Don Dixon, Pylon, Lloyd Cole, Guadalcanal Diary, even The Replacements, The Feelies, Dream Syndicate & Patti Smith.

Fast forward to my days at WXYC, the college radio station at The University of North Carolina where I loved “Fables of the Reconstruction” (produced by the wonderful Joe Boyd), “Life’s Rich Pageant”, “Document” and “Green”.

After my college radio days, I stayed in Chapel Hill and began working at a little start up label called Mammoth Records.  Because Mammoth had no real budget to pay me anything, I made ends meet by DJ’ing at a commercial rock radio station.  I was actually the news/traffic girl on the morning zoo show.  For real.  Scary, huh?

What does this have to do with REM?  Well, at SXSW that year (yes it was 1991), I met Scott Litt — REM’s producer, who had also just produced The Replacements album “All Shook Down”.  As a huge fan of The Replacements, I was thrilled to meet him.  It was then that he mentioned in passing REM’s new release “Out Of Time”.  As much as I had loved their previous records, I had lost track of the new album in a haze of indie artists I was championing at Mammoth.

I went back to Chapel Hill and bought “Out Of Time”.  On CD.  And vinyl.  I made a cassette.  I listened to it over and over and over again.  I spent the most time with that album  during the hours when I was driving back and forth from my morning zoo radio job about 30 miles away.  I had to be at work at 4am and I would listen to that record at full volume over and over, in the middle of the night, until I knew every word, guitar, bass and drum on the album.

The band had been listening to “Pet Sounds”.  You can hear it all over the record.

I too had discovered Pet Sounds and was dazzled.  Remember KRS-1 on the opening moments of “Radio Song”?  How many hours did I spend dissecting the soon huge radio hit, “Losing My Religion”?  Every time Peter Buck pulled out that mandolin at a show after that, the crowd went nuts.

The Mike Mills-fueled “Near Wild Heaven” is how I always think of Mike to this day — in a near, wild heaven, heart thrown open wide. And Bill Berry, the quiet power behind the band.

Full disclosure.  The god’s honest truth is that as I began listening to this album, I began falling for the band’s producer. When Michael says, “now I’ve said too much…”  I felt as if I had done the same. And yes, as you’re now probably wondering, the “Litt” in my name did eventually come from Scott, though we’re no longer a couple (and still friends).

But back to the record.  Yes, “Shiny Happy People” was a giant question mark for me – as it may have been for you.  Here’s a story I love about that song.  When the band was working on this track in Prince’s studio in Minneapolis, a good friend of the band was listening and asked who the girl was buried deep in the track.  They said, Kate Pierson from the B-52’s.  She said, “turn her up!  It’s fucking Kate Pierson!”  They did.

I remember sitting on the beach in Perth, Australia as REM rehearsed for their world tour.  We were in Perth for a week.  All I could think was that I was “Half A World Away” in many more ways than one.

We could go through every song, but this album is an album, front to back, start to finish.  It’s one of my treasured complete listens and, perhaps I’m biased, but the album just sounds great.  If I’m checking out speakers or headphones, “Out Of Time” is my sonic reference.

This appreciation for “Out Of Time” on it’s 20th birthday has really become an appreciation for REM as a band who changed me.

I’m a little sad  REM has broken up.  It was time for them, I guess .  I can’t imagine doing anything for 31 years.  We all remember our first loves  the way we remember the music we made our own in our own generation in our own time.  And for me, it will always be REM.

— Anne Litt