The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #386: Losing My Religion by R.E.M. (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #386: Losing My Religion by R.E.M.

“Losing My Religion” was the song that took R.E.M. from the category of being cult favourites to being one of the biggest selling, most well-known bands in America. The song was their first national Top Ten hit and helped the band to sell over eighteen million copies of their album, “Out of Time”. When the evolution of R.E.M. is traced, “Losing My Religion” is a bit of a demarcation point. Prior to it being released, the band was building a career based on “college radio” hits such as “Its the End of the World”, “This One Goes Out to the One I Love”, “Driver 8” and so on. After “Losing My Religion” was released, the band produced songs such as “Everybody Hurts”, “Man on the Moon”, “Nightswimming” and “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and became the legends that they are today.

The funny thing about this song is that it is not about religion in the slightest and, as such, it is one of the most frequently misunderstood songs in modern music history. The phrase, “to lose one’s religion” comes from the southern US. R.E.M. was formed in Athens, Georgia so they were quite familiar with hearing folks use that phrase. Essentially, it means to lose your sense of decorum and civility. In the case of this song, lead singer Michael Stipe has said that the song is about an obsessive yet, unrequited longing by one person for another. He likened the sensation to reaching out to touch the object of your affection, only to withdraw your hand a millimetre before contact of skin upon skin. The continued unfulfilled longing would, eventually, cause a person to “lose their religion”.

While this song is a good, solid song in its own right, one of the things that pushed it over the top, when it comes to artistic expression, was the music video that accompanied the song. There was a time in the 1980s, when music videos were one of the main ways that bands/artists were able to promote their vision of their song. Many videos were fun, concert videos, some tried to create a dramatic or comedic scene while others, such as “Losing My Religion” became known as Art. It may surprise you to know that, in fact, many bands are quite literate. Because of long rides on airplanes and in the backs of vans as they travel from gig to gig, many artists pass the time by reading. It is not surprising then, that the books they read end up influencing the songs they write and, in this case, the video that they made to accompany a song. The video for “Losing My Religion” is based upon a short story by famous South American author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez called, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. The video was produced by an Indian director named Tarsem Singh, who wanted to meld Marquez’s “magic realism” with his Indian, Bollywood visual style. The result is one of the most provocative, artistic-looking music videos ever produced. For example, the scene with the pitcher of milk spilling and dripping is borrowed from a painting by Italian artist, Caravaggio. The video for “Losing My Religion” won almost ever conceivable award for music videos the year it was released. It is, in fact, Art.

The history of many bands who enjoyed long careers is such that their work evolved and became more complex, more confident and, in the end, more interesting than the work that initially launched their careers. This can certainly be said of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and, it can certainly be said of R.E.M. While I am more a fan of their “early stuff”, I recognize the beauty of much of what they produced in the second half of their career. “Losing My Religion”, with its mandolin cords and angel winged video elevated R.E.M. to a higher musical plain; an ascension that many viewed as welcome. So, without further delay, here is R.E.M. with “Losing My Religion”. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M., can be found here.

The link to the official website for R.E.M., can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.