R.E.M. had released two albums and hadn’t toured since 1989, so when it came time to put together the album that eventually became Monster, they were ready to break the mold a little bit and go back to rockers rather than the relatively quiet, introspective stuff they’d been putting out.
But the project was put through several different tests, including multiple illnesses and the deaths of a couple of Michael Stipe’s close friends a relatively short time apart from one another. At one point the band members were so annoyed with each other that it was thought briefly that they’d broken up.
But they managed to get it together and put together an album that got generally good reviews, especially for the way they were experimenting sonically.
“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was inspired by an incident involving Dan Rather where he was attacked by someone who, when he was finally identified, turned out to have some severe psychiatric issues. At the time Michael Stipe and Company wrote the song, nobody had any idea who this person was, or if he even existed. But the phrase that Rather cited him repeating over and over during the assault became a bit of a catchphrase for awhile. And Rather himself came to have a sense of humor about it, as you can see in the 1995 clip from the David Letterman Show, below.