Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Fall On Me" - R.E.M.

One of pop's most precious jewels, "Fall on Me" was originally cast as a pro-environment anthem, on an album (1986's Lifes Rich Pageant) which featured another ("Cuyahoga", excluded for now). The "don't fall on me" part allegedly referred to the threat of acid rain. But according to frontman Michael Stipe, "Fall on Me" is instead "a general oppression song about the fact that there are a lot of causes out there that need a song that says, 'Don't smash us.'" The weights/feathers/pulleys references are to early modern experiments on gravity (there's a track on their previous record, Fables of the Reconstruction, called "Feeling Gravitys Pull"; after that complex, swampy outing, the ebullient playing and singing on Lifes Rich Pageant has an emancipatory feeling, a skyward striving that "Fall on Me" best typifies).

The record found R.E.M. on the cusp of stardom -- "Fall on Me" would be the first of their singles to reach the Top 100 on the US charts -- but also adhering to their endearing college-band quirkiness, notably in Michael Stipe's mulched and swallowed vocals. Stipe was just emerging from his gloriously murky delivery on records like the aptly-named Murmur and the aforementioned Fables. So about 50 percent of the lyrics on Lifes Rich Pageant are comprehensible, and actually about 75 percent of "Fall on Me" can also be figured out. For the rest, as with the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket," the fun lies in crafting your own words:

There's a problem, feathers iron [no! "gathers high in," etc.]
Bargain buildings, weights and pulleys
Feathers hit the ground before the weight can leave the air

It's ambiguous to the point of opaque, but so very gorgeous ... and leading into the soaring chorus ...

Buy the sky and sell the sky
Tell the sky and tell the sky
Don't fall on me 
Fall on me, fall on me

There's the progress we have found 
A way to talk around the problem [understood that part] 
Building towered foresight isn't anything at all [huh? but somehow very sage] ...

And Mike Mills, one of rock's great backup singers, steps up:

Well, I could keep it above
But then it wouldn't be sky anymore [huh? but sage, dammit]
So if I send it to you, you've got to promise to keep it whole [I always sang "heed the call." But either way -- ah, we will, we will]

Buy the sky and sell the sky

Lift your arms up to the sky
Ask the sky, ask the sky

Fall on me, fall on me

Fall on me, don't fall on me
Fall on me, fall on me
Fall on me, don't fall on me
Fall on me, fall on me

(repeat forever and I'll be fine with it)

The whole song can be sung, for example in front of the head offices of environment-despoiling corporations, or groups can sit around softly singing "Fall on me, don't fall on me" thousands of times in succession, until their adversaries cave (out of perplexity if nothing else).

The studio version of "Fall on Me," from Lifes Rich Pageant (1986):

A live version from the Tourfilm documentary, with passionate vocals by Stipe and Mills, and helpful subtitles:

Other Resources

Song available on: R.E.M., Lifes Rich Pageant (I.R.S., 1986), track 3.

Also available on CD 1 (track 19) of And I Feel Fine ... The Best of the I.R.S. Years, 1982-87 (EMI/I.R.S., 2006), a sublime disk from first song to last (CD 2 is B-sides and rarities).

There's a Wikipedia page for "Fall on Me."

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