Jump to content

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Monster
B-side"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (instrumental version)
ReleasedSeptember 5, 1994 (1994-09-05)
RecordedOctober 1993[1]
LabelWarner Bros.
R.E.M. singles chronology
"Find the River"
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
"Bang and Blame"
Audio sample
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"

"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" is a song by American alternative rock band R.E.M. from their ninth studio album, Monster (1994). The song's title refers to an incident in New York City in 1986 in which two then-unknown assailants attacked journalist Dan Rather while repeating "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

The song was the first single taken from the album and was released by Warner Bros. on September 5, 1994. It peaked at number 21 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number two in Canada, number four in New Zealand, and number nine on the UK Singles Chart. In Iceland, it peaked at number one for four weeks. It was the first song to debut at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.[7] Its music video was directed by Peter Care.

"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.[8] 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 recorded 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".[1] 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.[9]

Guitarist Peter Buck explained why the song slows towards its conclusion in an interview with Guitar World magazine:

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.[10]



"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".[1] 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.

Critical reception


Steve Baltin from Cash Box named "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Pick of the Week, saying it's "a strong song, but it’s not as much a single as the introduction to the most eagerly anticipated record of the fall. On that level, it’s a smashing success. The song literally explodes onto the airwaves with an updated version of classic guitar rock before the booming of the drums takes the song into Michael Stipe’s unique vocals. From there, the track weaves its way through various rock tempos without ever losing the momentum from its initial burst of energy."[11] Chuck Campbell from Knoxville News Sentinel remarked that Buck's "powerful-but-not-grungy guitar" is the centerpiece on the "satisfying" first single.[12] Dave Jennings from Melody Maker named it Single of the Week, adding, "It's a breezy, upbeat slice of whimsy that'll undoubtedly be filling rock club dancefloors for months to come; similar in mood and tempo to "Stand", and featuring a truly glorious psychedelic backwards guitar solo. It's R.E.M.'s back-to-basics record, reviving a few tricks from their early days — notably a great, grimy, garage-band guitar sound and half-buried vocals."[13]

Pan-European magazine 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."[14] Alan Jones of Music Week found that it 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."[15] Keith Cameron from NME declared it as "a deceptively catchy fellow, loping atop a mellifluous Buckoid drone last spotted somewhere between "Document" and "Green", and grasping onto a Michael Stipe vocal that punctuates yearnsome heights with the hiccuping groans of an old man apparently unable to come to terms with '90s youth culture."[16] Paul Evans from Rolling Stone called it "R.E.M.'s toughest single".[17] Howard Hampton from Spin noted that it "lifts its catch phrase from the dadaist mugger who attacked Dan Rather a few years back. The song, wryly straddling the pop-irony curtain dividing Reservoir Dogs from stupid-pet MC David Letterman, revels in a nagging resonance that signifies nothing, but wants to say everything."[18]

Music video


Shot in Hollywood, California, in August 1994, the accompanying music video for "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" 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.[19]

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?"

Track listings


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

  1. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"  – 3:59
  2. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (instrumental version)  – 3:59
UK, European, Australian, and Japanese CD single[25][26]
  1. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"  – 3:59
  2. "Monty's Got a Raw Deal" (live)  – 4:22
  3. "Everybody Hurts" (live)  – 5:41
  4. "Man on the Moon" (live)  – 5:24
  1. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (radio version)  – 3:59
  2. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (K version)  – 3:59




Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[54] Silver 200,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history

Region Date Format(s) Label(s) Ref.
United Kingdom September 5, 1994
  • 7-inch vinyl
  • CD
  • cassette
Warner Bros. [55]
United States September 13, 1994
  • 7-inch vinyl
  • 12-inch vinyl
  • CD
  • cassette
Japan November 30, 1994 CD [57]


  1. ^ a b c "R.E.M. Timeline – 1992/93/94 Concert Chronology". iinet.net.au. Archived from the original on May 21, 2011.
  2. ^ Schoof, Dustin (September 22, 2011). "Which of these is your favorite R.E.M. song?". Lehighvalleylive. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  3. ^ Smith, Stewart (October 8, 2014). "Sex & Trash Aesthetics: REM's Monster Revisited". The Quietus. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  4. ^ Ingalls, Chris (October 31, 2019). "A Shirt of Violent Green: R.E.M.'s 'Monster' Gets the Deluxe Reissue Treatment". PopMatters. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  5. ^ Peacock, Tim (September 27, 2020). "Monster: How R.E.M. Unleashed Their Inner Rock'n'Roll Beast". uDiscover Music. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  6. ^ "ALBUMS". R.E.M.Hq. Retrieved April 9, 2010.
  7. ^ "Powter Stays Hot, Chili Peppers Sizzle On Charts". Billboard.
  8. ^ "Setlist.fm tour statistics". setlist.fm. Retrieved December 8, 2008.
  9. ^ DeMain, Bill (March 12, 2013). "How Dan Rather and a Homicidal Time Traveler Inspired R.E.M.'s "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"". Mental Floss. Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  10. ^ Garbarini, Vic. "Reconstruction Of The Fables". Guitar World. November 14, 1996.
  11. ^ Baltin, Steve (October 1, 1994). "Pop Singles — Reviews: Pick of the Week" (PDF). Cash Box. p. 7. Retrieved March 6, 2022.
  12. ^ Campbell, Chuck (October 7, 1994). "R.E.M. Rocks Anew On Heady 'Monster'". Knoxville News Sentinel.
  13. ^ Jennings, Dave (September 3, 1994). "Singles". Melody Maker. p. 44. Retrieved October 12, 2023.
  14. ^ "New Releases: Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. September 17, 1994. p. 10. Retrieved May 19, 2021.
  15. ^ Jones, Alan (September 10, 1994). "Market Preview". Music Week. p. 20.
  16. ^ Cameron, Keith (September 3, 1994). "Singles". NME. p. 48. Retrieved October 12, 2023.
  17. ^ Evans, Paul (29 December 1994-12 January 1995). "The year in recordings". Rolling Stone. Issue 698/699.
  18. ^ Hampton, Howard (November 1994). "Spins". Spin. p. 91. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  19. ^ "Rec.music.rem Frequently-Asked Questions list (1 of 3)". faqs.org.
  20. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (US 7-inch single vinyl disc). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. 7-18050.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  21. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (US CD single disc notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. 9 18050-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  22. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (US cassette single cassette notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. 9 18050-4.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  23. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (US 12-inch single vinyl disc). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. 9 41760-0.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  24. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (US maxi-CD single disc notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. 9 41760-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  25. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (UK, European & Australian CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. W0265CD, 9362-41760-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  26. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (Japanese CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. WPCR-134.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  27. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (UK 7-inch single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. W0265.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  28. ^ What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (UK cassette single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1994. W0265C.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  29. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  30. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  31. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  32. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 2655." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  33. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 11, no. 40. October 1, 1994. p. 11. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  34. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin – levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5.
  35. ^ "R.E.M. – What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  36. ^ "Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (27.10–2.11 '94)". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). October 27, 1994. p. 16. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  37. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – What's The Frequency, Kenneth". Irish Singles Chart.
  38. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 43, 1994" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  39. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  40. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?". Top 40 Singles.
  41. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?". VG-lista.
  42. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  43. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?". Singles Top 100.
  44. ^ "R.E.M. – What's The Frequency, Kenneth?". Swiss Singles Chart.
  45. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  46. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  47. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  48. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Dance Singles Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  49. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  50. ^ "R.E.M. Chart History (Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  51. ^ "RPM Top 100 Hit Tracks of 1994". RPM. Retrieved April 10, 2019 – via Library and Archives Canada.
  52. ^ "Árslistinn 1994". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). January 2, 1995. p. 16. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  53. ^ a b "The Year in Music". Billboard. Vol. 106, no. 52. December 24, 1994. p. YE-62.
  54. ^ "British single certifications – REM – What's the Frequency Kenneth". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved March 17, 2023.
  55. ^ "Single Releases" (PDF). Music Week. September 3, 1994. p. 27. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  56. ^ Rosen, Craig (September 10, 1994). "Retail, Radio Expect R.E.M.'s Warner Set to Be a 'Monster'". Billboard. Vol. 106, no. 37. p. 108. On Sept. 13, 'What's The Frequency, Kenneth?' will arrive at retail.
  57. ^ "ホワッツ・ザ・フリークエンシー,ケネス | R.E.M." [What's the Frequency, Kenneth | R.E.M.] (in Japanese). Oricon. Retrieved August 29, 2023.