Wednesday, July 8, 1981

R.E.M. released “Radio Free Europe”

Radio Free Europe


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

Released: July 8, 1981

First Charted: May 21, 1983

Peak: 78 US, 25 AR, 1 CO, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 4.55 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

R.E.M. formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980. They released their debut single, “Radio Free Europe,” in 1981 on the independent record label Hib-Tone. Lead singer Michael Stipe said in 1983 that most of the early songs “didn’t have any words. I just got up and howled and hollered a lot.” SF He said he intentionally wanted the lyrics to be difficult to decipher because he hadn’t written words yet, even telling New Musical Express in 1988 that the lyrics were “complete babbling.” WK The song’s hard-to-understand lyrics became a trademark of early R.E.M. and their “DIY energy came across lound and clear.” RS

The title refers to a radio network operated by the government of the United States and broadcasted in Europe and the Middle East. The intent was to promote democracy and freedom, but R.E.M. thought it coul easily cross the line into propaganda. SF

Rob Sheffield said the song “brought a fresh sense of mischief and excitement to the rock scene.” RS The National Recording Registry noted the song for establishing “the pattern for later indie rock releases by breaking through on college radio in the face of mainstream radio’s general indifference.” WK Drummer Bill Berry said “college radio and major city club scenes embraced the song and expanded our audience…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.” SF

The song’s success led to a deal with I.R.S. Records in 1982. The band re-recorded the song for Murmur, their 1983 debut album. The newer version featured a slower tempo and some slightly different lyrics. It gave R.E.M. its first taste of chart success, reaching #78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #25 on the album rock chart. The band didn’t like it as well as the original, saying of the Hib-Tone recording that it “crushes the other one like a grape.” WK


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First posted 10/9/2021; last updated 9/26/2022.

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