Saturday, March 9, 1991

R.E.M. charts with “Losing My Religion”

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R.E.M. “Losing My Religion”

Writer(s): Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe (see lyrics here)

Released: 2/19/1991, First charted: 3/9/1991

Peak: 4 US, 28 AC, 13 AR, 18 MR, 19 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, -- UK, 0.5 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 1.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 524.5

Review: The song that gave R.E.M. its biggest U.S. hit and expanded their audience from a college rock fanbase to the mainstream was a “morose ballad dominated by a mandolin.” TB-249 The Times, a UK publication, called it “the first existential pop song ever to make the American Top 10.” HL-118

Peter Buck, the band’s guitarist, had just purchased a mandolin and recorded his results while practicing. He called it “a bunch of stuff that was really just me learning how to play mandolin, and then there’s what became ‘Losing My Religion’, and then a whole bunch more of me learning to play the mandolin.” WK

Regarding the song’s subject matter, it isn’t religion. RS500 “Losing my religion” is a phrase used in the South that refers to losing one’s temper of being at the end of one’s rope. WF Singer/songwriter Michael Stipe told the New York Times that the song was about romantic expression and explained to British magazine Q that it was about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.” WK Stipe has also compared the song to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” saying “it’s just a classic obsession pop song.” WK

Warner Bros., R.E.M.’s record label, was not sold on releasing such an “unconventional track” as the first single WK in support of the group’s 1991 album, Out of Time. However, the company got the song established via a “critically-acclaimed music video,” WK and airplay on modern rock and album rock radio stations before promoting it to mainstream radio. One Top 40 radio station director said, “the record crosses the boundaries of being just an alternative record.” WK

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.