The greatest band’s have it all. Great music and great lyrics. R.E.M. from Athens, Georgia wasn’t an exception. Even in the beginnings when the band did not publish the lyrics in their booklets, the lyrics we’re meaningful and personal.
Lyrics take you to places. In your mind or even phisically – when you follow the writer’s thoughts and ideas to the actual places. R.E.M. alsways had the ability to let their fans discover new ground – with their lyrics. What’s the band thinking about? Where were they going? Where did they record the album? Or where did they perform live?
Here’s a list of eleven songs by R.E.M. that even include places or town-names in its titles.
It’s the song that makes it even harder to accept that R.E.M. are not recording anymore. Beautiful and authentic at the same time it brings together what the band was very good at. Emotions and joyfullness. While writing the song’s lyrics singer Michael Stipe was surprised that nobody had discovered that play on words so far. “über” means “above” in German.
(Video by remhq)
All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star)
What’s Reno? Like Las Vegas the Nevada town took profit from gambling. Founded in the 1850s it was a place where many settlers had a rest on their way to California. According to guitarist Peter Buck’s liner-notes to the best-of-album “In Time” the song describes someone who believes he or she can get famous if they go to Reno. The working title of the song was “Jimmy Webb on Mars” and was a “sick tribute to a songwriter who we all admire”, Buck says.
New Orleans Instrumental No.1
Like “Oh My Heart” from R.E.M.’s final album, this song is about the town of New Orleans. As the title indicates, the song from the album “Automatic For The People”, has no vocals or lyrics – but a title. And someone who counts in the track in the beginning.
Leaving New York
Another melancholic song. This one from the album “Around The Sun”. Michael Stipe remembers the time when he first came to New York City. “Leaving New York never easy“. The B-Side to the single-release was a live-version of “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” – more about that song below…
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Texarkana is a city in Bowie County, Texas, United States. And it’s one of the few songs in R.E.M.’s career that were sung by bass-player Mike Mills. It’s a very catchy and upbeat song with a sweet melody and some strings involved. A first draft of the lyrics contained the word Texarkana. The final version did not mention the town. Michael Stipe obviously sings some extra backing-vocals (“Catch me if I fall“).
I Remember California
A track from the album “Green”. Although the album was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis the songs mentions the state of California. In the lyrics Michael Stipe remembers a relationship with difficulties and the circumstances around that, most likely, set in California. “I remember this defense / Progress fails pacific sense / All those sweet conspiracies / I remember all these things“.
(Video by remhq)
(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
Again written and sung by Mike Mills. Wikipedia says that it was written “as a plea to his then girlfriend, Ingrid Schorr, not to return to Rockville, Maryland, where her parents lived. Schorr, who later became a journalist, has written about her amusement with the factual inaccuracies about her relationship with Mills and the background of the song that often appear in books about the band.” Mike Mills often performs the song when being a guest at other people’s concert these days.
The Flowers Of Guatamala
Starting with a sweet guitar melody “The Flowers Of Guatemala” is the first track on the second side of R.E.M.’s 1986 album “Lifes Rich Pageant”. Michael Stipe sings “I’ve took a picture that I’ll have to send / People here are friendly and content / People here are colorful and bright / The flowers often bloom at night“. The Republic of Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west.
Cuyahoga, a river and a county in Ohio. The lyrics “This land is the land of ours / this river runs red over it / We are not your allies, we cannot defend” indicate that it is written from the view of native Americans who lost their land to the settlers. Again it’s a track from R.E.M.’s “Lifes Rich Pageant” album.
It’s just the title, “Electrolite”, that creates an image in one’s head. The song is about Los Angeles. Written before the 21st century came to an end, Michael Stipe describes the view down to the city – down from Mulholland Drive, as he sings. The street named after civil engineer William Mulholland who helped Los Angeles rise after installing a system of water supply.
(Video by remhq)
As the title of the related album indicates, “Accelerate” was a high-speed return by R.E.M.. The songs were fast and sounded raw. R.E.M. re-discovered their rocking side after the moody but brilliant “Aound The Sun”. Houston is one of the slower songs. Lyrically Michael Stipe channels his and the band’s anger about the Bush-era. “If the storm doesn’t kill me the government will / I’ve got to get that out of my head […] Houston is filled with promise“.
What’s your favourite R.E.M.-song with a place or town mentioned in it? Tell us below or tweet to @THESUPPORTUS.
More about that:
R.E.M.’s official website