Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

E Bow the Letter

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B-side  "Tricycle"
Length  5:22
Genre  Alternative rock
E-Bow the Letter
Released  August 27, 1996 (1996-08-27)
Format  CD single, 7", Cassette
Recorded  Bad Animals Studio, 1996

"E-Bow the Letter" is the first single from R.E.M.'s tenth studio album New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It was released in August 1996 just weeks before the album's release. During the same month, R.E.M. signed its then record-breaking five-album contract with Warner Bros. Records. Although it peaked at number 4 on the UK Singles Chart, the highest any R.E.M. song charted in the UK until "The Great Beyond" in 2000, the song fared less well in the United States, reaching only number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became R.E.M.'s lowest charting lead single since "Fall on Me" released from Lifes Rich Pageant in 1986, when the band was on a smaller record label, I.R.S. Records.


The song features American singer-songwriter and "Godmother of Punk" Patti Smith performing backing vocals. Smith was cited as a major influence by band members Michael Stipe and Peter Buck and also provided backing vocals for "Blue" the closing track on the band's final studio album Collapse into Now.


The song's title refers to the EBow, an electromagnetic field-generating device that induces sustained vibration in an electric guitar string (creating a violin-like effect), and to a "letter never sent" by Michael Stipe. Guitarist Peter Buck can be seen using an EBow in the video for the song at approximately 1:27 to 1:30. R.E.M. has also played the song live with artists including Thom Yorke singing Patti Smith's vocal part. During the music video, Michael Stipe can be seen scribbling something on a music sheet, revealing that Stipe is left-handed. The song is about Stipe's great friend, the actor and musician River Phoenix.

"E-Bow the Letter" was ranked number 21 on NME magazine's list of the "Singles of the Year". In 2003, the song was placed on R.E.M.'s compilation In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003. Pitchfork Media founder and owner Ryan Schreiber described it on the website as "possibly one of the greatest songs ever written."

Track listing

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

7", Cassette and CD single

  1. "E-Bow the Letter" – 5:22
  2. "Tricycle" – 1:58

12" and CD Maxi single

  1. "E-Bow the Letter" – 5:22
  2. "Tricycle" – 1:58
  3. "Departure" (Rome soundcheck) – 3:33
  4. "Wall of Death" (Richard Thompson) – 3:07


  • Michael Stipe – vocals
  • Mike Mills – bass, organ, mellotron, moog synthesizer
  • Peter Buck – guitar, electric sitar
  • Bill Berry – drums, tambourine
  • Additional personnel
  • Patti Smith – vocals on "E-Bow the Letter"
  • References

    E-Bow the Letter Wikipedia