Eleven years to the day after one of the big alt rock bands of the ’80s launched what would be their final top 40 American hit onto the charts (The Police with “Wrapped Around Your Finger” which we looked at on today’s other post), another one of the biggies of the ’80s alt rock scene did the same. R.E.M. hit the U.S. top 40 for the final time this day in 1995 with “Bang and Blame.”
Which is surprising given that they were red-hot at the time and we often look back at the ’90s as being the decade when “alternative” rock became the dominant, mainstream version of it. And while it might have been true of album-buyers and the thriving number of alt-rock based radio stations, it probably wasn’t so true of mainstream radio nor the diminishing number of consumers who were still buying physical singles, be they vinyl or CD types.
“Bang and Blame” followed “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” as the second single off the band’s Monster album, which took many by surprise given that it was loud, brash and grunge-inspired, following on the heels of two, well “monster”-selling largely acoustic records, Out of Time and Automatic for the People. Part of that was the desire to do a large tour for the record, something they hadn’t done since the ’80s, and wanting some new songs fitting a big sports stadium type show befitting a band Rolling Stone at the time described as “one of the most successful on the planet.” A mantel which might have been weighing heavily on Michael Stipe who still didn’t adore the spotlight, at least when off-stage. The same magazine, in its review of the album chided “Bang and Blame” for beginning to “sound not unlike the proverbial rock star, whining about all those fans who just won’t let (Michael Stipe) alone.” Cashbox looked at it more positively, declaring “the propulsive rhythm of this track should also prove enticing even to non-fans.” Interestingly, it’s the only R.E.M. song where Michael Stipe’s sister, Lynda, is credited, as a backing vocalist.
It seemed they were right, the rhythm, imaginative, split-screen, fast-changing video and sing-along chorus made it their last overall big American hit, getting to #19. It became their fifth to top the Billboard Alternative Rock chart. Elsewhere, the reaction was better as their fanbase seemed to shift outside their nation’s borders. It got to #15 in the UK but in Canada was a #1 song. More to that point, while it was their last top 40 at home, they’d score ten more in Canada over the following decade and a remarkable 17 more in Britain before calling it quits in 2011.