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Thursday, May 21, 2009

7 Chinese Bros./R.E.M.

The title of this song, from R.E.M.'s second album Reckoning (1984), is apparently a reference to a children's book called The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop, with illustrations by Kurt Wiese, published in 1938. This retelling of a Chinese folk tale features five identical brothers with superhuman powers, including one who can "swallow the sea." The cryptic lyrics of the song refer to Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean. Interestingly, a different version of the same story was published under the title The Seven Chinese Brothers in 1990--six years after "7 Chinese Bros." was released. (While recording this song, lead singer Michael Stipe--trying to find his vocal groove--"sang" the liner notes of a Gospel album, which happened to be in the recording studio, over the "7 Chinese Bros." melody. This warm-up exercise later appeared as Voice Of Harold on R.E.M.'s 1987 rarities album Dead Letter Office.)

Submitted by William Scheckel

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