Pop Up Video: Losing My Religion (1991)

R.E.M.
Origin: Athens, Georgia, USA
Genres:
Alternative rock, college rock
Years active: 1980–2011
Past members:
Michael Stipe
Bill Berry
Peter Buck
Mike Mills

"Losing My Religion" was the first single released from R.E.M.'s 1991 album Out of Time. The song became the band's highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It ranks number 170 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.

Out of Time earned R.E.M. seven nominations at the 1992 Grammy Awards. The band won three: one for Best Alternative Music Album and two for "Losing My Religion;" Best Short Form Music Video and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Band Formation

On April 5, 1980, R.E.M. played their first concert as a band at a friend's birthday party in an abandoned Athens, Georgia, church. Before that, Mills and Berry were in a lounge act with their high school music teacher,  playing at weddings and country clubs. They were the only musicians. Stipe once explained: "When we started out, Buck couldn't really play the guitar and I couldn't sing. We were like a speed metal band when we started."




Song Foundation

The song "Losing My Religion" was built on a mandolin riff. by guitarist Peter Buck, who was learning to play the instrument. When he played back recordings of his first attempts, he heard the riff and thought it might make a good basis for a song. Buck told Guitar School in 1991; "I started it on mandolin and came up with the riff and chorus. The verses are the kinds of things R.E.M. uses a lot, going from one minor to another, kind of like those 'Driver 8' chords. You can't really say anything bad about E minor, A minor, D, and G - I mean, they're just good chords. 


We then worked it up in the studio with electric bass, drums, and mandolin. And I'm proud to say every bit of mandolin on the record was recorded live. I did no overdubbing. If you listen closely, on one of the verses there's a place where I muffled it, and I thought, well, I can't go back and punch it up, because it's supposed to be a live track. That was the whole idea."

Word Creation

The title plays on a Southern expression. "Honey, I just about lost my religion," which means something was so challenging you lost your patience with, or faith in, it. R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe wrote the lyrics, which he's said are about "obsession" and "unrequited love."  When you're "losing your religion" over a person, you're losing belief in them and doubting the relationship. Stipe said the lyrics, about obsessional love, were heavily influenced by The Police's "Every Breath You Take." 

Michael Stipe

"I love the idea of writing a song about unrequited love," he told Top 2000 a Gogo. "About holding back, reaching forward, and then pulling back again. The thing for me that is most thrilling is you don't know if the person I'm reaching out for is aware of me. If they even know I exist."

Unplugged Performance

MTV Unplugged recorded a session of "Losing My Religion" with R.E.M. and members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to celebrate their 10th anniversary on air. The 1991 recording was made in Madison, Georgia, about 20 miles south of Athens.



Glee Version

Cory Monteith

Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) covered the song in the 2010 Glee episode "Grilled Cheesus." His version of the song reached number 60 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 47 on the Canadian Hot 100.


Video

The video was directed by Tarsem Singh, who also did En Vogue's "Hold On" and the Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell. It's a very ambitious video filled with striking, vivid, biblical imagery. The concept is based in part on Gabriel Garcia Marquez' A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. The novel is about an angel who falls from heaven and is displayed for profit as a "freak show." 


Michael Stipe's wasn't supposed to dance: Originally, he sang lines from various poses, but that didn't work. Director Tarsem Singh was so upset, he went to the bathroom and threw up. When he emerged, Stipe said, "Let me try to dance." There was no choreography. Stipe just let the spirit move him. The results were perfect. He says his dancing is a mashup of Sinead O'Connor's moves in her "The Emperor's New Clothes" video and David Byrne's gyrations in his "Once In A Lifetime" performances.

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