When Warren Zevon and Members of R.E.M. Covered ‘Raspberry Beret’
The version is loud and brash, and sounds like the work of a well-oiled bar band—underscoring the sonic assessment of Zevon, who once described the group to the Los Angeles Times as "this spontaneous, unplanned thing."
R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck unleashes his usual power-chime, while the band's rhythm section, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, urge the song forward with nervy low end. And Zevon himself belts out the lyrics with joie de vivre, speak-singing some passages and turning on a melodic dime for the choruses.
The Hindu Love Gods' roots date back to February 1984, when Berry, Buck and Mills teamed up first with vocalist Bryan Cook and then Zevon for a couple of raucous covers shows at Athens, Ga.'s 40 Watt Club.
That same month, the group demoed a bunch of songs in Athens, including an Easybeats cover ("Gonna Have a Good Time Tonight") and an early R.E.M. original ("Narrator"), both of which later surfaced on a 1986 7-inch.
However, "Raspberry Beret" came about as Zevon recorded his 1987 LP Sentimental Hygiene with Berry, Buck and Mills—and then cut a batch of covers with the trio after finding out he had an additional day of studio time.
"We finished ahead of schedule," Zevon told Goldmine. "We had a month of studio time to do the album and we finished ahead of time, so we did the Hindu jam session deal. We did it in one day."
This jam session turned into a 1990 self-titled album that also featured covers of the Georgia Satellites ("Battleship Chains") and a series of blues songs written by Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters.
Zevon later performed "Raspberry Beret" on Late Night With David Letterman in November 1990, albeit without the members of R.E.M. The performance was dynamite, capturing the ebullience of the studio version.
"Raspberry Beret" peaked at No. 23 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart in early December 1990, although Hindu Love Gods stalled in the lower reaches of the Billboard 200 Albums chart.
This wouldn't be R.E.M.'s only Prince connection: In late 1990, the band put the finishing touches on their soon-to-be-blockbuster album Out of Time at Paisley Park.