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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