Album: Monster (25th Anniversary)
. . .
File Under Cunnilingus
So a little bit of housekeeping here: while “Tongue” was always on the borderline of being a Certain Song, it was the 2019 remix that put it over the the line. That said, since the performance and recording were both in 1994, I’m counting the year as 1994, not 2019, even as I specify that the version I’m writing about was the 2019 version.
Confused? You won’t be! Oh wait, you probably will be.
With Mike Mills dominating the sound with a big churchy organ riding over a basic piano, Bill Berry slowly pounding his toms while rapidly shaking a tambourine, and Michael Stipe singing in falsetto — the song is basically an exploration of the female perspective of a booty call — “Tongue” is yet another R.E.M. version of soul, and one of the most unique songs in their catalog: they never really made another song that sounded like it.
Call my name, here I come
Ninety to nothing, watch me run
I am ashamed to say
Ugly girls know their fate
Anybody can get laid
You want a room with a fire escape
I want to tell you how much I hate this
Don’t leave that stuff all over me
It’s also the song that caused Bill Berry to have his onstage aneurysm during the 1995 tour.
Well, that’s not true, exactly, but it was the song R.E.M. was playing onstage on March 1, 1995 when Berry had his aneurysm. Luckily, they happened to be in Switzerland, and their instant access to some of the best brain doctors in the world was probably what saved his life, and amazingly enough, they were back on tour, playing at the Shoreline Amphitheater in the Bay Area on May 15, 1995.
Which was good, because I’d waited the better part of a morning a few months prior at the Tower Records in Emeryville to get tickets for the May 16th — with Sonic Youth! — and “Tongue” was one songs they played that evening. Unfortunately, what I remember the most about that show was just how fucking far Rox & Andrea & I were from them — the price of popularity, I know — and just how many drunk frat guys were willing to let you know that they knew all the words to “Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts”
And while I wasn’t against big shows in general, and was absolutely happy to see R.E.M. get as big as they did, that show still rubbed me the wrong way. Sometimes reality fucks with your principles. It’s possible that’s because I’ve always hated the Shoreline, but I think this was the first — and really, only — a band that I’d seen from just feet away was miles away, and because it was a band I loved as much as I loved R.E.M., I missed the feeling of being in the same place as them.
This was amplified by the incredible Wilco show Rox & I saw the next night at Slim’s, which also set up this weird concert triangle between R.E.M., Wilco & Sonic Youth. In later years, I would see Wilco open for R.E.M., and then later Sonic Youth open for Wilco.
In any event, one of the things I really like about the Scott Lit remix of “Tongue” wasn’t just the overall clarity and largeness of the sound, but how he brings out the backing vocal “ooooooooooooooohs,” especially on the bridge. It’s just lovely, and sets up a gorgeous Stipe “alllll over me”.
The other thing he brings out is a really cool Peter Buck guitar part. Because “Tongue” is a keyboard-driven song, there isn’t a lot for Buck to do, but about a third of the way, he occasionally starts adding a really small, subtle guitar rattle way over in the left channel, and once you hear it, it’s one of the biggest hooks in the song.
“Tongue” live in 1995
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