R.E.M – ‘Out Of Time’

My six months in the States was a trip. It opened my eyes, opened my mind and as the months went by I was growing as a person. I came back with a lifetime of memories and I came back wanting more. I also came back with R.E.M’s seventh studio album, Out Of Time. Prior to late ’91 I’d paid little attention to R.E.M. I’d liked the singles Orange Crush, Stand and Get Up, but those previous six albums didn’t get a sniff. But, once I’d got my ears into Out Of Time those earlier albums came thick and fast.

Losing My Religion was a majestic piece of music, and Shiny Happy People was big fun. Both were played to death and by the time my obsession with the album kicked in it was the other tracks I gorged. Out Of Time catapulted R.E.M from cultish indie-rockers to stadium-filling rock stars. It also seemed as their popularity increased so did their credibility. No mean feat. The opposite would apply to their rival of ‘Best Band In The World’ at the time, U2. R.E.M would soon peak with Automatic For The People while U2 went up their own artistic arses with Zooropa.

Out Of Time was a perfectly varied collection of styles and sounds, from vivacious to maudlin the songs made for a brilliantly uneven listen. Country-tinged, immaculately produced and brimming with mandolins, violins and cellos it was another subtle musical invention and catapulted the band to glory and lofty esteem, aided greatly by the anthemic Losing My Religion and their near constant appearances on MTV.

In the early ‘90s Nirvana were massive and the UK chart, post-madchester and pre-britpop was loaded with house, techno, dance and pop cheese. R.E.M didn’t fit in to any new sound or trend; they were instead unique and incomparable. I had an instant soft spot for Mike Mills’ perfect harmonies, and with piercing emotion and sincerity Michael Stipe’s vocals demanded attention. The B-52’s Kate Pierson also worked wonders, particularly on the gorgeous folk-jangle closer, Me In Honey. For six months I binged all things R.E.M. I bought and loved their previous six albums as well as the R.E.M Companion: It Crawled From The South, which accompanied me on my next adventure. France.

Booker T & The MGs – live at The Strand, Redondo Beach, Los Angeles

I got lucky. At the Oktoberfest in Munich I met a friendly young woman. It was a brief chat and we were both heavily steined. After many letters, the following April I was staying with her amazingly hospitable family in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles; a six-month stay including paid work, delivering hair products and picking up cheques. I was driving around Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, Malibu and Melrose Avenue. Yeah, I got lucky.

That six-month stay included three months of travel across the States, so I saw enough to say two things. It’s an incredible country to visit but I’d never want to live there permanently. Amongst dozens of great memories a few were musical. A very friendly face gave me a tape of The Grateful Dead, one side American Beauty, the other Workingman’s Dead. I played it loads in my beaten up Honda Civic and Truckin’ loved it. That beaten up Civic took me all the way to Beale Street and Graceland in Memphis and New Orleans for the Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Radiators and Robert Cray stand out, and B.B King is memorable only for the horrific after effects of a colossal bowl of dodgy Cajun gumbo. Oh, the pain.

I saw Santana play at the Greek Theatre in L.A. That was special, though with daft, unrealistic expectations I remember being disappointed they weren’t as stunning as their live stuff on Moonflower which blew me away a couple of years earlier. Lastly, and most memorably, I saw the Stax house band, the Memphis soul originators and ultimate groove legends Booker T & The MGs at The Strand on Redondo Beach. I saw the billboard advertising the gig and I remember doing a double-take and thinking… THE Booker T & The MGs? Oh yes!

Booker T Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass and Anton Fig on drums. I was living the dream.

It was dark, it was smoky, it was emotional and everything I hoped it would be. I’ve seen Dylan and The Who in their later years and they bored me shitless. I was faintly nervous going in, but on that stage Booker T & The MGs were still the ultimate groove. That ‘60s sound was alive and totally happening. Green Onions, Time Is Tight, Hip Hug Her, Soul Limbo, Melting Pot… zero disappointment, maximum R&B.