“Losing My Religion” is a song by the American alternative rock band R.E.M. The song was released as the first single from the group’s 1991 album Out of Time. Built on a mandolin riff, “Losing My Religion” was an unlikely hit for the group, garnering extensive airplay on radio as well as on MTV and VH1 due to its critically acclaimed music video. The song became R.E.M.’s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and expanding the group’s popularity beyond its original fanbase. Out of Time garnered R.E.M. seven nominations at the 1992 Grammy Awards, the most nominations of any artist that year. The band won three awards: one for Best Alternative Music Album and two for “Losing My Religion”, Best Short Form Music Video and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck wrote the main riff and chorus to the song on a mandolin while watching television one day. Buck had just bought the instrument and was attempting to learn how to play it, recording the music as he practiced. Buck said that “when I listened back to it the next day, there was a bunch of stuff that was really just me learning how to play mandolin, and then there’s what became ‘Losing My Religion’, and then a whole bunch more of me learning to play the mandolin.”
Recording of the song started in September 1990 at Bearsville Studio A in Woodstock, New York. The song was arranged in the studio with mandolin, electric bass, and drums. Bassist Mike Mills came up with a bassline inspired by the work of Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie; by his own admission he could not come up with one for the song that was not derivative. Buck said the arrangement of the song “had a hollow feel to it. There’s absolutely no midrange on it, just low end and high end, because Mike usually stayed pretty low on the bass.” The band decided to have touring guitarist Peter Holsapple play acoustic guitar on the recording. Buck reflected, “It was really cool: Peter and I would be in our little booth, sweating away, and Bill and Mike would be out there in the other room going at it. It just had a really magical feel.” Singer Michael Stipe’s vocal was recorded in a single take. Orchestral strings, arranged by Mark Bingham, were added to the song by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Soundscape Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 1990.
R.E.M. recorded an MTV Unplugged session of “Losing My Religion” with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 10th anniversary of MTV. The 1991 recording was made in Madison, Georgia, about 20 miles south of Athens.
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