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"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 #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 #49 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became R.E.M.'s lowest charting lead single since "Fall on Me" released from Lifes Rich Pageantin 1986, when the band was on a smaller record label, I.R.S. Records.


Patti Smith sings guest backing vocals on this song. 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. It is believed[by whom?] that the letter in question was written to actor River Phoenixexpressing Stipe's concern for his friend's spiraling substance abuse with the letter never being sent due to Phoenix's death. 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.

"E-Bow the Letter" was ranked number 21 on NME magazine's list of the "Singles of the Year".[1] In 2003, song was placed on R.E.M.'s compilation In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.

Track listing[]

All songs were written by Bill BerryPeter BuckMike Mills and Michael Stipe, except where noted.

7", Cassette and CD single[]

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

12" and CD Maxi single[]

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


Patti Smith—an influence on Peter Buck and Michael Stipe—provided backing vocals to the song.;R.E.M.

Additional personnel


Chart (1996) Peak


Australian ARIA Singles Chart 23
Canadian RPM Singles Chart 6
Canadian RPM Alternative 30 1
Irish Singles Chart 8
Norwegian Singles Chart 6
UK Singles Chart


US BillboardHot 100[6] 49
US BillboardHot Dance Singles Sales[6] 39
US BillboardModern Rock Tracks[6] 2
US BillboardMainstream Rock Tracks[6] 15