Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Lance LaSalle, May 23, 2021.
Most days, “sitting still” is my favorite song from the very early REM years
Im not saying you are wrong btw, your interpretation of that is fine. Mainly Im saying that it doesn't matter where each individual guy comes from, or that they formed in the south necessarily. They do have a certain mystique, especially in early days, and it may have to do with place and time as much as it does with the actual musical abilities of the members at the time.
Why is the such a hang up with you? So what if it is or isnt? Its his interpretation of the music.
Buck grew up hating Southern rock. Of his teenage years in Roswell, Georgia, he once remarked, “Everyone liked the Allman Brothers. I can’t tell you why - that’s all there was to it. It was a law.” Buck preferred the New York Dolls and the Velvet Underground.
“Radio Free Europe” clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with Southern rock, or southern anything. There’s a reason the earliest reviews in the New York music press compared it to the Cure. Nor, despite the picture of kudzu on the album cover, do “Moral Kiosk” and “9-9” have anything to do with Southern rock, both songs were admittedly influenced by R.E.M.’s time touring with Gang of Four, as was “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.” “Radio Free Europe,” “Laughing,” “Stumble,” etc. flirt with disco and reggae rhythms. On American Bandstand, “Radio Free Europe” received the classic “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” seal of approval, and provided the soundtrack for a totally 80s New Wave dance off.
While the band did overtly play with “Southern” imagery, most notably in Stipe’s lyrics for Fables, the melting pot of their musical influences was far more complicated and diverse than the lazy received opinion that they were some sort of neo-Southern folk band would have it.
They were rootless, modern, New Wave fans who played with “Southern” imagery when it suited their purposes, and it clearly worked, because lots of people to this day fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
My interpretation of the music is different. When people say things that I think are flat out wrong or not fully thought through, I’ll say what I think.
But is it actually advancing the conversation or adding anything of interest to the thread? Could be considered a threadcrap.
Then please report my threadcap to a Gort and let him sort it out.
My first exposure to R.E.M. was through eponymous. I have always thought of them as a southern rock band. I am OK if others feel differently.
It definitely is, and, disappointingly, very little value has been added to the thread; but I don't really care.
Some people come to the Internet for squabbles over things that don't matter: I don't do that.
As far as I'm concerned, this off-topic tangent is finished.
The topic of the day is "Sitting Still"! (The song, not the action.)
Sitting Still: 4
The blueprint for all the "jangly-verse, punky-chorus" songs on Murmur, not my favorite but solid.
It's kinda hard to review those songs; I'd usually say something about the lyrics or the meaning but this is pretty much a lost cause here... yet, among the impressionistic muble there are snippets that hit harder than others. The "Up to par, etc". sounds like the most important thing Stipe ever said (probably because it's so well underscored by the guitar). And yet... what does it mean?!!
While I appreciate all of the background information you are providing, my opinion of the music is going to be based on how that music makes me feel, and what I personally get out of it. *shrugs*
I hope this thread doesn't become a college course in R.E.M., because having participated in other threads of this type on this forum, I don't think the intent is "to bring us all up to speed."
Well said. No doubt there are PhDs on REM (and perhaps people have had REM listening to PhD), but we don't care!
Fair enough. I personally find it interesting that the L.A. teens on American Bandstand in 1983, a media forum not known for any particular interest in regionalism, provincialism, or folk culture, find absolutely nothing strange or noteworthy about “Radio Free Europe,” and give it a 95 simply because “it has a good beat,” just like every other song that was rated highly on that show.
Michael Stipe’s self-painted origin story is of a Midwestern teen discovering Patti Smith through the pages of Creem, and the two covers R.E.M. included on their studio albums were a 60s garage rock obscurity and a song from a British post-punk band, but, yeah, their music makes me feel “Southern,” y’all, and I don’t want to take a college course about R.E.M., because that makes my head hurt.
True. The effect is so intangible and ultimately personal that it is difficult to intellectualize it; easier to talk about your personal relationship with the song than the actual content. But it does mean something to me.... I just don’t know what! As I said this song (and others from this early period) calls up images and memories from my youth in the weirdest way.
"Sitting Still" is another great song, if not quite up to the level of RFE. The single version will always seem underdone to me compared to the version included on Murmur. Both are great though - the harmonies really shine through on the album mix. That's something that seemed to fall by the wayside somewhat as R.E.M.'s career proceeded; however, the vocal harmonies on the early records are simply gorgeous. I've always loved the impressionistic nature of Stipe's early lyrics - no, they don't make literal sense, but they communicate a feeling and, as Lance said, a geography. They're evocative of a place. It's really only the EP and first three albums where he nearly exclusively employed this impressionistic method of lyric writing. Starting with Lifes Rich Pageant, his lyrics started to be far more direct.
3.9 for the single version
4.4/5 for the album version
I've never thought of them as being "Southern Rock" in the sense of what that sub-genre has come to mean, but R.E.M. definitely evoke the South in their music and their album art, particularly during the I.R.S. years. I would argue that they did so far more than some "Southern Rock" bands (like, say, .38 Special or the Atlanta Rhythm Section) did. There's a Southern Gothic element to their work that even the more respected "Southern Rock" bands, such as The Allman Brothers Band or Lynyrd Skynyrd, never really communicated. I do hear it more in the work of bands like My Morning Jacket and Drive-By Truckers, each of whom are highly indebted to R.E.M. I think.
If his contributions to the Americana/Country thread are any indication, he posts many things that are either "not fully thought through" or "flat out wrong".
Coming in a touch late for this but excited...
My first exposure to RFE was from Eponymous, and for that reason it probably remains my favorite version. But looking at it objectively, I think the more raw feel better captures the energy of the song (5/5) as opposed to the Murmur version, which definitely fits the overall sonics of the album, but loses a certain "urgency," if you will, but doesn't necessarily weaken the overall feel (4.5/5). Bill's breakdown fill is my favorite drumming moment in rock music.
Murmur is my favorite album of all time by anyone ever. So I'm interested to read more about it and hear fan input. Sitting Still isn't actually one of the stand out tracks for me, and not because it's not any good, but because some of the others are so amazingly great that they're at another level. For me, the chiming guitars and backing vocals transform a low key driver into what I consider the signature REM sound (run through a Byrds filter ). And the idea that it's possibly about a deaf child absolutely brings a new depth to it all. Love it! 4/5
“West of the Fields” is just perfection. Probably their best album closer, and one of their finest songs ever. Stipe’s vocals are incredible
Most of my favorite REM songs (most music actually) grab me musically long before I pay more than superficial attention to the vocals. Sitting Still is an exception in that the music doesn't stand out much from many other songs from that period, but the vocals are stunningly good. The way Stipe hits the chorus is so powerful, it doesn't even matter that the lyrics are nonsensical! 4/5
Intentionally or not, the lyrics "Katie bar" evoke the old phrase "Katy (or Katie) bar the door". I heard this growing up in Ireland but apparently it is likely of Scottish origin and popular in the southern states.
This alternate mix of “sitting still” is just beautiful
Sitting Still - 5/5 - I still prefer the album version, but both are excellent. Even more of an archetypal R.E.M. tune than RFE. Just great.
Having tried to decipher those lyrics for decades, one thing I've noticed (or think I've noticed) is that in the early years Stipe would, within a song, substitute similar sounding words at different points in the song. For instance, the second occurrence of a chorus might have different lyrics to the first, but ones that sound very similar. It's quite a nifty writing trick, particularly if you're trying to be inscrutable, and if the lyrics are much more about the sound than the meaning.
And anyway, the indecipherable lyrics are a feature, not a bug, so I don't let them bug me.
re: the Southern thing
You are absolutely right about them being a feature and not a bug. If you listen to the live recordings from that period, he was frequently changing what words he sang, so there almost seems to be no definitive set of lyrics for many of the early tunes. I think one of the rubs with Don Gehman producing "Life's Rich Pageant" was around this.
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