We’ll finish the work week with the most famous of all R.E.M. songs, the track which catapulted the band from college-radio and alternative-rock denizens to international stardom, and which legions of artists have covered. “Losing My Religion,” a brooding folk song built on an austere mandolin riff—released less than a year before Nirvana’s Nevermind pulverized popular music—was perhaps 1991’s most unlikely radio hit. In retrospect, the song’s strangeness and novelty seem to account for its wide appeal. (Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” the best-selling single of 2012, world-wide, achieved something similar.)
Nevertheless, “Losing My Religion won two Grammies, fostered a popular MTV video (directed by Tarsem Singh and showcasing Michael Stipe’s famously oddball gesticulations), and, arguably, made acceptable the more acoustic leanings of contemporary “alt-rock” bands. (R.E.M. was one of the first acts notably to exploit MTV’s nascent “Unplugged” series.) The song also made memorable use of strings and other orchestral flourishes previously not common in the band’s recordings.
The band is preparing to release the 25th Anniversary edition of Out of Time later this year.
We’ve selected Tori Amos’ adaptation of “Losing My Religion,” which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1995 film Higher Learning.
As a bonus, we’ve also included a version performed by a faceless YouTube dude singing along to an iPhone app. Happy Friday.