What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" is a song by the American alternative rock band R.E.M. from their 1994 album Monster. 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?".
|"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|
|R.E.M. singles chronology|
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
The song was the first single taken from the album, which was released three weeks later. It peaked at number 21 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 2 in Canada, number 4 in New Zealand and number 9 on the UK Singles Chart. In Iceland it peaked at number 1 for four weeks. It was the first song to debut at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" was placed on R.E.M.'s 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 was one of the band's most-played songs at live gigs, and was played at every show on their 2008 Accelerate tour. A live version was released on R.E.M. Live in 2007.
Background and recording
R.E.M. began work on Monster in August 1993 and "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" was realized about two months later in October. This song was written and recorded at Kingsway Studio, New Orleans, where the band also wrote and recorded "Tongue" and "Crush with Eyeliner". Lead singer Michael Stipe has said in interviews[when?] 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.
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.
"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". The following year, on June 22, 1995, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Dan Rather accompanied the band during a soundcheck 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.
Music & Media wrote, "Are they losing their religion? Radically breaking with the tradition of their last semi-acoustic CDs, R.E.M. give a first taste of the "heavy Monstersound" of the new one." Alan Jones of Music Week said, "Kenneth is the most straightforward rock song the group has done in years, a full-throttle aural assault and very intense. With bonus live tracks, this one will sell."
The music video was directed by Peter Care, who had previously worked with the band on music videos for "Drive" and "Man on the Moon" in 1992. It features the band playing along to the song under bright blue, red, yellow and green flashing lights. Michael Stipe appears timid behind the microphone until the first chorus, breaking into an energetic dance. 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; he 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 on the 1995 Monster world tour, were given wide exposure in this video. The suit seen in the music video was owned by musician Gram Parsons.
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 from In Time) included the music video to "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?".
12" and CD maxi-single
- "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (Radio Edit) – 4:00
- "Monty Got a Raw Deal" (Live) – 4:22
- "Everybody Hurts" (Live) – 5:41
- "Man on the Moon" (Live) – 5:22
7", CD single, and cassette
- "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" – 4:00
- "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.
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