What's the Frequency, Kenneth?: Wikis


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"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Monster
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. Records
Writer(s) Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe[2]
Producer Scott Litt & R.E.M.
R.E.M. singles chronology
"Find the River"
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
"Bang and Blame"

"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 and at number 9 on the UK Singles Chart. By its success and the band's like for the song, it was placed on R.E.M.'s Warner Bros. Records 'best of' compilation album In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 in 2003 and was the only track from Monster to feature on the compilation.

"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?' is notable for being the first song in history to debut at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.

This song is one of the band's most-played songs at live gigs, and was played at every show of their 2008 Accelerate tour.[3] A live recording features it as the opening track to the encore (disc two) of R.E.M. Live.




Background and recording

R.E.M. began work on Monster in August 1993 and "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" came 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] In 1994, the year of Monster's release, and the year of the "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" single release, lead singer Michael Stipe said about the song:

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[4]

The title of the song is not original to the band, which guitarist Peter 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 unprovoked attack by one or two assailants who, between beatings, would ask, "what's the frequency, Kenneth?"[5] (although the phrase Dan Rather says he actually heard was, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"). One of the assailants has been since identified as William Tager, who attacked Rather because he thought the media had taken control of him. Furthermore, in a 2001 Harper's article ("The frequency: Solving the riddle of the Dan Rather beating") this incident was tenuously linked by Paul Limbert Allman back to the late Postmodern literary giant Donald Barthelme's writings, which contained recurrences of a character named Kenneth and in the text “Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel” asks, "What is the frequency?" [6] The phrase "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is also used in Daniel Clowes' surreal comic Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron; it is supposedly used as a formal greeting and a way to contact a mystical figure. The phrase occurs in "Final Transmission", the first episode of the 1986 TV series Crime Story. The Beauty Shop Slayer character blurts out the phrase amongst other non-sequiturs whilst slaughtering the customers and staff of a beauty shop in the opening scene.

R.E.M./Mitch Easter cohorts Game Theory also recorded a song (produced by Easter) called "Kenneth-What's the Frequency?" on their 1987 release Lolita Nation.

Although not obviously audible, the song slows down slightly towards the end (from an original tempo of 96 BPM down to 94 BPM) because of bassist Mike Mills, who was in severe pain but, following his lead, the band continued to record the song until the end. Mills was then taken to the hospital and it was discovered he had appendicitis, which disrupted parts of the 1995 Monster tour (resulting in dates between 10 July, 1995 and 20 July, 1995 to be cancelled[7]). R.E.M. never got around to re-recording the song.

Post release

"What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" made its first live television debut on 12 November 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 22 June 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

A 'radio edit' version of the song was mixed and marketed (through mainly promotional release) due to the word 'fuck' 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

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. Bassist Mike Mills' new look (long-hair and the use of Nudie Suits) prominent in the 1995 Monster world tour, was first seen in this promotional video. The one seen in the music video was in fact owned by musician Gram Parsons.[8]

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

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

12" and CD maxi-single

  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

  1. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (album version) – 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

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



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


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