Behind the song: Why Stipe wrote 'Losing My Religion'

First released: 1991 Highest UK chart position: 7

Highest US chart position: 34

Since they first started making music in their native Athens, Georgia, in 1980, REM have garnered the reputation of the biggest cult band in rock. But they were forced to evolve. Transferring from the independent IRS label to Warner Brothers in a reported $6 million deal raised the stakes and a commercial breakthrough was more or less obligatory. 1989's Green laid the foundations by breaching the US Top 20, promoted by an exhausting tour. When its successor Out Of Time emerged in 1991 it was to stand or fall on its own merits - no live shows to follow. Much rested on the first single, "Losing My Religion".

The Times called it "the first existential pop song ever to make the American Top 10". It was chosen, according to Stipe, because "there's an REM tradition to choose the least likely track as the first single". "Losing My Religion" was musically catchy and lyrically baffling. The fact that Stipe was emoting something over a jolly mandolin backing was surprising enough, but when you came to the words: that's him in the corner, that's him in the spotlight, he's said too much, hasn't said enough... just what is one expected to make of this mass of contradictions?

The title was a Southern saying Stipe had encountered all his life and had assumed was in common use. "It's the same as being at the end of your rope, or reaching the final straw and snapping. It has nothing to do with religion in this song.

"It's used casually - a waitress will say 'I almost lost my religion over that table, they were such jerks'. To make it more serious, it could refer to an event so dramatic as to cause you to question your spiritual beliefs.' The rock rumour mill would indeed suggest such an event, insisting that Stipe, a determinedly asexual pop star in image terms, had been diagnosed HIV positive in the six-year interval between tours.

"It [the rumour] burned me out for ten minutes," he shrugged, concluding that "you can't allow the media to direct your life.'

The lyricist had set himself a challenge with Out Of Time: it was to be a collection of love songs, with straightforward meanings and less of the ambiguity that had made REM's earlier albums all things to all men. "Losing My Religion", then, was both a failure and a success. For Stipe, the release of "Losing My Religion" was "the moment I went from being recognisable to a relatively small, predominantly white audience of 20 to 35-year-olds to having everyone checking me as the guy who sang that funny song". The song reached Number 4 in the US chart, while the album it so ably trailed was a transatlantic chart-topper. REM had arrived - and there were many believers.

'Behind The Song' by Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh is published by Blandford at pounds 14.99. Independent readers can buy the book for pounds 12.99 (including p&p). To order 01624 675 137.

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
black friday
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

    SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

    Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

    £Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

    Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; VMWare, Windows; Disley; £40k

    £40000 per annum + benefits: Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; V...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?