What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

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This article is about the 1994 song. For the 1986 phrase, see Dan Rather.
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Monster
B-side "What's The Frequency, Kenneth? (Instrumental Version)"
Released September 5, 1994
Format Maxi-single, CD single, 12" single, 7" single, cassette
Recorded October 1993[1]
Genre Alternative rock
Length 4:00
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe[2]
Producer(s) Scott Litt & R.E.M.
R.E.M. singles chronology
"Find the River"
(1993)
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
(1994)
"Bang and Blame"
(1994)
Music sample

"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" is a song by the American alternative rock group R.E.M. from their 1994 album Monster. It was the first single taken from the album, released three weeks later. It peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 9 on the UK Singles Chart, and was the first song to debut at number one on Billboard Modern Rock Tracks.[3] The song's title refers to an incident in New York City in 1986, when two then-unknown assailants attacked journalist Dan Rather, while repeating "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

Due to its success and the band's fondness for the song, it was placed on R.E.M.'s 'best of' compilation albums In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 in 2003 and Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011 in 2011, the only track from Monster to feature on either. The song is one of the band's most-played songs at live gigs, and was played at every show of their 2008 Accelerate tour.[4] A live recording features it as the opening track to the encore (disc two) of R.E.M. Live.

History[edit]

Background and recording[edit]

R.E.M. began work on Monster in August 1993 and "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" was realized about two months later in October 1993. This song was written and recorded at Kingsway Studio, New Orleans, where the band also wrote and recorded "Tongue" and "Crush with Eyeliner".[1] Lead singer Michael Stipe has said in interviews that the lyrics are about the Generation X phenomenon in contemporary mass media, sung in character as an older critic whose information consists exclusively of media products.

I wrote that protagonist as a guy who's desperately trying to understand what motivates the younger generation, who has gone to great lengths to try and figure them out, and at the end of the song it's completely fucking bogus. He got nowhere.

Michael Stipe

Guitarist Peter Buck explained why the song slows towards its conclusion in an interview with Guitar World magazine:

The truth is, Mike [Mills, bassist] slowed down the pace and we all followed, and then I noticed he looked strange. It turned out he had appendicitis and we had to rush him to the hospital. So we never wound up redoing it.[5]

Peter Buck

The title of the song is not original to the band, which Buck explains in the liner notes to In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003. It refers to an incident in New York City in 1986, where news anchor Dan Rather was the victim of an apparently unprovoked attack by an assailant who, between beatings, would ask, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"[6]

Post release[edit]

"What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" made its first live television debut on November 12, 1994 for Saturday Night Live, recorded at NBC Studios in New York City. The set on the show opened with "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" and was followed by two other songs from the new album, Monster, "Bang and Blame" and "I Don't Sleep, I Dream".[1] The following year, on June 22, 1995, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Dan Rather accompanied the band during a sound check performance of the song. The clip was shown prior to R.E.M.'s performance of "Crush with Eyeliner" on the Late Show with David Letterman the following night.

Radio edit[edit]

A 'radio edit' version of the song was mixed and marketed (through mainly promotional release) due to use of the phrase "don’t fuck with me" in the original album recording. The 12" and maxi-single releases of the single both feature the radio edit, whereas the 7", CD single and cassette release of the single feature the uncensored album version. The version of the song found on the British chart hits compilation album Now That's What I Call Music! 29 from 1994 also featured the radio edit. The version released on the 2003 best of album was the original uncensored album version.

Music video[edit]

The music video, directed by Peter Care (who directed some videos for songs off R.E.M.'s previous album and much of the promotional videos for the Monster tour of 1995), features the band playing along to the song under bright blue, red and yellow flashing lights. Michael Stipe appears timid behind the microphone until the first chorus, breaking into an energetic dance. In the video, prominent in the guitar solo, Peter Buck uses Kurt Cobain's Jag-Stang that he received as a gift from Courtney Love after Cobain died and plays it upside-down as Cobain was left-handed. Singer Stipe's newly shaven head and bassist Mike Mills's new look (long-hair and the use of Nudie suits) prominent in the 1995 Monster world tour, were given wide exposure in this video. The suit seen in the music video was in fact owned by musician Gram Parsons.[7]

The DVD companion to In Time, entitled In View: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 (featuring the promotional videos to most of the songs on In Time) featured the music video to "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?".

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe.

12" and CD maxi-single[edit]

  1. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (Radio Edit)  – 4:00
  2. "Monty Got a Raw Deal" (Live)  – 4:22
  3. "Everybody Hurts" (Live)  – 5:41
  4. "Man on the Moon" (Live)  – 5:22

7", CD single, and cassette[edit]

  1. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"  – 4:00
  2. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (Instrumental Version)  – 3:59

The live recordings of "Monty Got a Raw Deal", "Everybody Hurts" and "Man on the Moon" were recorded at the 40 Watt Club, Athens, Georgia on November 19, 1992. The performance—a benefit for Greenpeace—was recorded in a solar-powered mobile studio.

Chart positions[edit]

Year Single Chart Peak Position
1994 "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales 24[8]
1994 "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 2[8]
1994 "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Billboard Modern Rock Tracks 1[8]
1994 "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Billboard Hot 100 21[8]
1994 "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Billboard Hot 100 Airplay 14[8]
1994 "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" UK Singles Chart 9[9]
1994 "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Billboard Top 40 Mainstream 10[8]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c remtimeline.com
  2. ^ "ALBUMS". R.E.M.Hq. Retrieved April 9, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Powter Stays Hot, Chili Peppers Sizzle On Charts". Billboard.com. 
  4. ^ "Setlist.fm tour statistics". Retrieved December 8, 2008. 
  5. ^ Garbarini, Vic. "Reconstruction Of The Fables". Guitar World. November 14, 1996.
  6. ^ Liner notes to In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003
  7. ^ R.E.M. FAQ [Part 1]
  8. ^ a b c d e f "allmusic (Monster > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles)". Retrieved March 7, 2006. 
  9. ^ "UK Top 40 Hit Database". Retrieved May 29, 2008. 
Preceded by
"Basket Case" by Green Day
Billboard Modern Rock Tracks number-one single
September 24, 1994 – October 22, 1994
Succeeded by
"Zombie" by The Cranberries