FFWDing to the Best Part: “Orange Crush,” R.E.M. (1988)

Jangle pop … jangle pop –- let the term sink in for a moment. According to the all-wise Wikipedia, jangle pop is an offshoot of ” … alternative rock from the mid-1980s that ‘marked a return to the chiming or jangly guitars and pop melodies of the ’60s’.”  The entry continues to attribute jangle pop to a late ’70s band out of Athens, Georgia named Pylon –- an influence that bled over to fellow Athens band R.E.M.

Why the definition of jangle pop? Honestly, I can see R.E.M. falling in this category, thanks to songs like “Stand” and “Shiny Happy People,” both of which give off a rather 60s Byrds-ish vibe. But not this song – not the neo-protest anthem “Orange Crush.” Most of you may know that the title of this song is a reference to Agent Orange, and some of you may know that lead singer (jangler?) Michael Stipe said that this song was about a soldier in the Vietnam War; hence the neo-protest label.

No matter the subject, no matter the label, Orange Crush takes the jangle out of R.E.M. (not completely — is it possible to remove the jangle from Michael Stipe’s and Mike Mills’ voices?) and injects a nice, heavy dose of guitar and drums. What’s that, you say? You only have about five seconds to get the essence of this song? Then skip ahead to the 2:42 mark and play it through the 2:47 mark.

This segment has it all; Mike Mills’ thumping bass, Bill Berry whacking away at the drums, and Peter Buck diving in with a solid guitar riff. Add on top of all this, Michael Stipe working a megaphone in the background and you have a great grab from this song, but that is the first couple of seconds. There is anger, there is intensity, and then … there is jangle. Stipe and Mills bring the vocals back with a heavy dose of a jangle duet. Turns out, these two could sing a duet with Slayer laying down the music and would make it sound a bit happy. Nevertheless, this five-second interlude shows the range that this jangle pop band had, they could open it up and let the guitars and drums rip when they wanted to make a point. That said, you just can’t take the jangle out of those voices.

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One thought on “FFWDing to the Best Part: “Orange Crush,” R.E.M. (1988)

  1. When Michael Stipe mumbled on his early albums, we could imagine that he was saying something profound. Then when he started enunciating around the time of “Lifes Rich Pageant,” we discovered that his stream of consciousness was more like a bog of false turns and unparseable phrases (“What noisy cats are we, girl and dog, he bore his cross”). By the time Green rolled around, he had settled for easily understood, easily parseable nursery rhymes. (“Your feet are going to be on the ground/Your head is there to move you around.”) So too with Orange Crush; the repetitive lyrics of the main song have very little to say about Vietnam or anything else. Only in the context of the spoken-word bridge do lines like, “We are agents of the free” and “It’s time to serve your conscience overseas” make sense.

    As far as the jangle bit, the key there is the prominence of treble guitar tones. The Byrds got their jangle from twelve string guitar, which has four strings pitched an octave higher than their partners, giving a full yet treble sound. Jangle-free REM songs would include “Begin the Begin” and “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” In comparison, “Orange Crush” sounds pretty jangly all through. This is the version of REM that Weird Al lampoons with “Frank’s 2000 inch TV.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glFVXpz_abQ)

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