Feeling Gravitys Pull

June 5, 2008

Whereas a huge number of songs in the R.E.M. discography in some way examine the relationship between dreams and waking life, “Feeling Gravitys Pull” is fully immersed in Michael Stipe’s dream world. The song works against all odds — dream logic is almost always extraordinarily difficult to describe in a way that does justice to the workings of your unconscious mind, and anyone who has ever humored a friend as they attempt to recount a particularly evocative dream knows that it’s often a very dull chore. Stipe’s lyrics work mainly because his imagery is vivid and interesting enough to be effective in any context, and he’s not writing about a dream so much as writing about the experience of dreaming in general. In the song, the dreamscape is both a thing of mysterious, somewhat terrifying beauty, and a domain where a person can overcome the rules of society and the laws of physics, and achieve a sort of power and freedom they could never know when awake and in the real world. The song is defiant; the sound of someone finding power in a life in which they have no choice but to be passive to the humbling forces of nature.

“Feeling Gravitys Pull” is among the band’s finest compositions. It’s a very tense and moody piece of music, and much of its power comes from the way the group are capable of subtly shifting between dense, claustrophobic passages and sequences that are both grandiose and ethereal. In particular, Peter Buck shines with one of the most distinct guitar parts in his repertoire — a sinister lead line that alternates with a clanging, metallic rhythm that chugs along with Mike Mills’ thick, menacing bass part and Bill Berry’s subtly vertiginous percussion on the verses.

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48 Responses to “Feeling Gravitys Pull”

  1. protimoi Says:

    When I first got into R.E.M., i hated this song. I thought it was dull and bleak.

    Now it’s one of my favorites, completely transcending the normal sound. It ranks up there with “Leave” “The Ascent of Man” and “Sing For The Submarine” in terms of artistic growth. You can tell Stipe was pushing himself with this one.

    It’s cool to hear a live version of from the 80′s, if you can catch it. The extended feedback intro is one of my all time favorite bits.

  2. Kevin Says:

    Yeah, this opens the Rockpalast boot from 1985, which is a must-have…probably my favorite old-school R.E.M. boot. It includes “We Walk” interpolated with Nina Simone and Charlie Rich, as well as a decent cover of “Paint it Black.” Also, Stipe’s stage presence is completely different (He’s basically an inscrutable asshole: “Who’s clapping and what for?”)

    At any rate, excellent write-up: “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is definitely one of my favorites. (It made #4 on my list.)

  3. adam Says:

    it was such a cool and different way to open an REM record.. I still recall getting this cassette (!) at the time.. not knowing what to expect after having already been fan.. and the murkiness, tempo, lyrics.. it was a dreamy, arty deal for me at 14 – I love the way Michael has changed the melody slightly in the pre-chorus over the years, to make it even more melodic.. adds much to the song live

  4. profligateprofiterole Says:

    so true protimoi, took an awfully long time for this one to grow on me too, and then something clicked……and finding out what man-ray was referring to was quite the revelation

    Wicked Gravity–The Jim Carroll Band


  5. I couldn’t gracefully work this into the post, but I definitely think this is the best opening track in a career full of brilliant opening tracks.

  6. John Says:

    Excellent analysis. Here’s a quote from an interview Michael did with The Big Takeover which expounds upon this a bit.

    MICHAEL: “Sing For The Submarine” is me basically fessing up to this whole other world that I live in, every time I sleep and I dream, this post apocalyptic but not scary place. And I list in that song, I chose a lot of songs from our back catalog that are also written from that same place. For the first time I’m saying “Feeling Gravity’s Pull,” it was that guy who’s me when I’m asleep, and the same for “Electron Blue.”

  7. profligateprofiterole Says:

    interesting , your five worst, Kevin….

  8. Ignis Sol Says:

    “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is a great way to kickoff Fables of the Reconstruction. I did not realize how trippy-surreal it was until years when I had more patience to actually listen to it and get lost in it. There used to be a bar in my neighborhood called Manray (the whole block torn down for condos) and whenever I would pass or go to it I was reminded of this song. The bar itself was white with ovalesque panels that protruded from the walls, the bigger shape jutting down from the ceiling. Both walls and ceiling had dim lighting that slowly changed colors. The ceiling hung over a matching shaped bar. It reminded me of The War Room (incidentally the name of club up the street) in Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove…” I would ask friends and others if they were familiar with song (or the artist Manray) and they were not. Peter’s guitar is magical as it is catchy.

    There is one friend – a metaphysical writer and my roommate, whose dream tales is not a “dull chore” to listen to. In fact, it is quite the contrary. He listens to my vivid dream explanations, too. On the few mornings we see each other we have dream telling time. We share a few of our trippy-surreal dreams for no other reason than sheer entertainment or maybe thieving them for our respective creative works. :)

  9. Mr Cup Says:

    This is where it began for me. Bought the cassette from a discount bin more for the cover than anything, though I had heard of the band.

    The opening riff cut across everything I’d ever heard before. It was just so wrong and yet, so right. It is, for me, Buck’s most inspired riff and it complements Stipe’s lyrics so perfectly. Everytime I hear it I’m lifting and falling in all directions at once. It’s a beautiful thing.

    Step up
    The sky is open armed

  10. Andy Says:

    I’m intrigued by how much Matthew writes about the lyrics, relative to the music. For me, I’ve always appreciated how a song like this was very democratic: no band member seemed to dominate. To spend so much of this entry talking about the lyrics seems to really miss-out on the fact that Berry, Mills, and Buck contribute 75% of what makes this song’s dream-like qualities work so well.

    Without the other three, the lyrics might very well be someone boring us with a story about one of their dreams. What is so powerful about dreams is that indescribable sensation: it’s sound, texture, feeling. The lyrics alone can’t accomplish this.

  11. Andy T. Says:

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned the strings there at the end of the song. Me I’ve always thought they were a good addition, a unusual twist to an usual song.


  12. Andy, I kinda made a point of talking about the music and all four members in this one!

  13. Andy Says:

    It’s true, Matthew, but it seemed like a matter of emphasis. I didn’t mean it as a complaint: I love the entries, and the best thing of all is that this blog has helped this IRS-era snob appreciate some of the later stuff!

    Only 1 week to the Boston show!

  14. Daniel Limburg Says:

    To me this has always been a song about an out of body expirience.

  15. RDB Says:

    Opening Tracks question

    I started listening to REM in 1984 when I was in college. Reckoning had just come out. When Fables was released, it seemed like a downer in comparision to the brightness of the first two albums. I wonder how much of this is due to the album as a whole, or how much of it is due to the fact that “Gravity’s Pull” is the opening track. While I agree that it’s a great song, it’s certainly not the logical choice for an opener. I just wonder if the album would have the same “dark” feel if it opened with “Driver 8″ or “Can’t Get There” the more obvious choices.

    This was a balsy choice for an opening track by a brilliant young band, but it leads me to ask this question: would some of the “lesser” albums in the REM catalog be considered better if they just had different opening tracks?

    I think New Adventures is easily their most under-rated album. Would some people have given it more of a chance if it had opened with, say, “Wake-Up Bomb” or “Departure”? I remember talking to quite a few people in the mid-90′s who hated the album, but I don’t think many of them got past “How the West was Won”

    Another example: “Airportman” on Up. What if the album had started with “Lotus,” “Hope” or “Daysleeper”? Would the album be considered a better album?

    Another way to ask this same question:
    Would Murmur be the same album if it started with “We Walk” instead of “Radio Free Europe”?
    Would Document be the same if it started with “Lightning Hopkins” instead of “Finest Worksong”?
    Would Out of Time be the same album if it started with “Country Feedback” instead of “Radio Song”?

  16. Kirsten Says:

    Wonderful write-up Matthew. I’m surprised so many of you took a while to get into this one. For me, it was one of the defining songs that kept me searching for more. It is a brilliant epic of a song that became one of my favourites instantly, and still is. I was completely mesmorized by the guitar work and the dreamy/distant sound of Michael’s voice. And the strings at the end – I don’t like the way they fade out, so I use to just turn up the stereo as it went. They should’ve left them at the same level as it is such an excellent ending. For 4 & 1/2 minutes, you are completely immersed in this song – another great one to listen to in the dark.

    One of their best.

  17. Kirsten Says:

    RDB,
    I’d just like to say that Airportman, Feeling Gravitys Pull and How The West Was Won are all some of my all-time favourite songs. They all sucked me in straight away and made me excited about what the rest of the album would sound like. I think they are all excellent opening tracks. They’re all songs I loved from the 1st hearing, and still love today.

  18. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Have to agree with Kristen that Feeling Gravitys Pull and How The West Was Won are great openers and two of my favorite REM songs.

    Concerning Feeling Gravitys Pull it is among my very favorite of all REM songs, I love the dark menace of this song and it is possibly my favorite pre-Document song. This is REM at its most post-punk (filterd through that trademark REM “southern gothic” tone). However, musically this song could almost have been a Joy Division track – and strange as it may seem I would LOVE to hear Interpol cover this. Haunting, in a word.

    I also love that Michael name drops this song on Sing For The Submarine as these two songs seen cousins of a sort in mood and tone, as well as topic.

  19. Paul Alferink Says:

    “This is the easiest task I’ve ever had to do…”

    I first heard this song in a show about REM that I’m sure was on VH-1 or MTV. I loved it and ran out and bought the album. I remember being surprised, the show never talked about that song. They talked about lots of song, just not this one. This one just played in the background at one point.

    I don’t know if this is my favorite opener, but it’s pretty darn close.

    Really, it’s that dissonant guitar riff that starts of the song that pretty much makes it for me. And the harmonics. I remember, in the early days of the internet reading how to make that sound and learning about the 5 7 12 harmonics. All so I could play that opening riff.

    Can’t figure out why this wasn’t a single, although I suppose it’s not very commercial, is it? Heck, Wendel Gee was released as a single in Europe. This would have been a better choice. Overlooked and underrated.

  20. Paul Alferink Says:

    Ignis-

    God I love that movie!

    “Gentleman! There’s not fighting in here! This is the War Room!”

  21. Mr Cup Says:

    Somewhere near the end it said
    “You can’t do this”, I said “I can too”
    Shift sway rivers shift
    oceans fall and mountains drift

    oceans fall or form ?

  22. maclure Says:

    Can’t add much to a great write up and some interesting thoughts from the usual and unusual commenteers above. When I was discovering R.E.M.’s back catalogue this song stood out to me as being so different because of that riff. Mr Cup is right – it cut across everything else I was hearing.

    Also, unlike (or inverting) many R.E.M. songs the middle 8 is a sort of major chord, breezy interlude. It’s like someone taking a refreshing breath before sinking down again into a troubled dream… the song finishes off even more sinister than it started with that haunting string arrangement.

    Can I get a witness: how good are the set-lists coming out of this tour? Would love to have made the Red Rocks gig. Makes me wish the REM LIVE DVD was pulled from this tour…

  23. Patrick Says:

    Agreed Maclure – this tour has had some unbelievable setlists. Red Rocks was top drawer.

  24. Mr Cup Says:

    If this tour doesn’t come down under…they are sooo dropped!

  25. maclure Says:

    I’ve seen REM on every tour since and including Monster but am gutted to miss this one. I fear the boys are unlikely to add a date in the north east Brazilian outback…

    Forgot to say what a good word “vertiginous” is. Another Perpetuan lexical delight.

  26. Matheus Says:

    maclure:

    I live in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro). I have heard some rumors that the band was planning a show in Sao Paulo between September and December. A Brazilian fan of the band went to one show and talked to all band members including the band’s manager and she asked them if they would eventually come here all of them said that her dream could come true by the end of the year. The manager (I’m sorry I don’t know his name) even mentioned some venues of Sao Paulo and showed that he knows the best places for the band to perform.

    I know the whole story sounds strange but I read it in an online community and the girl had some pictures to prove that she met the band.

    By the way. I’m 17 and have been following this blog since the beginning and that’s another great review Matthew! I guess I can be considered a new R.E.M. fan since some of you have been fans since the eighties and I only started listening to their songs five years ago when I bought In Time. But since then I was able to get all their CDs and DVDs and I listen to their song daily!

    As for my opinion on Feeling Gravitys Pull I think it is an awesome opening track. I like the live version better. It sets the tone and prepares you for the dark and moody group of tracks that are about to come. For me it works in a similar way to Airport Man as it introduces you to the whole concept of the album right from the start.

  27. Dark Bob Says:

    For me, FOTR will always be the album that truly captures the heart,soul and essence of REM. The imagery of the songs really reflect where this band came from and the things that influenced them artistically. I think this was a perfect opening song. It sets the mood for the rest of the record. I’ve never understood why this is one of the bands least favorite records.


  28. Bob, I was always under the impression that the band likes the material on the album, but they have a lot of bad memories from the period when it was written and recorded, so it gets tainted by all that.

  29. Dark Bob Says:

    Hi Matt, I know this song was recorded in London during a very cold winter and the band were broke and homesick and so on. But I think that was what made this record so great was that the longing for home and familiar faces, it came out in the songs. But I’ve also heard they were unhappy with Joe Boyd. I think, over the years Stipe has come to appreciate this record more.

  30. Rob Says:

    I’ve been waiing for this. One of my firm favourites, even if I slightly prefer the version from Tourfilm. Thank you…

  31. maclure Says:

    Matheus, thanks! Nice to have another Brazilian on here. And good story, let’s hope its true. They have a good following here so I wouldn’t be surprised. Sadly, I’m all the way up in Natal, RN 3000ks from Rio yet alone SP. It might be just as easy and cheap to fly to Europe…

  32. Kevin Says:

    I read FotR above and thought Fellowship of the Ring, not Fables of the Reconstruction. Nice acronym overlap, there.

  33. Jared W Says:

    I can’t find any friends to come with me to the Jones Beach show :(

  34. profligateprofiterole Says:

    RDB , if the band had opened FOTR with the rollicking romper CGTFH, the fatihful would have been left in a state of mystified stupification at the rest of it. Imagine McCain getting elected and as his first order of business giving the order to bring the beleaguered, misappropriated troops home to their families, saving us 500K/minute and untold negative blowback in the international community. Kind of like that.


  35. I’m going to the Jones Beach show, Jared.

    You know, now is as good a time as any to express my powerful disdain for acronyms. It’s so much more clear and communicative to type Fables rather than FOTR, or Kenneth rather than WTFK, or Automatic rather than AFTP, so on so forth. It’s just one of those little things that really nags at me, and it seems to be a big thing with R.E.M. fans for some reason. Maybe it’s because the band’s name is itself an acronym?

  36. Dark Bob Says:

    WTF! LOL!!!!!!

  37. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Although I am sometimes guilty, I have to agree with Matthew on the acronyms:

    And now… The moment none of you habe been waiting for… What song would I choose to start each REM album if I could not use the song that really does start the album. I have no solid method to my madness, but generally I will try and choose one the sets the tone for the record or one that I think changes the tone to fit better, and maybe sometimes I’ll just use a song I like or go with a gut feeling. In honor of our man Matthew, this post will be acronym free!:

    Murmur: Pilgrimage
    Reckoning: Little America
    Fables of the Reconstruction: Life & How To Live It
    Life’s Rich Pagaent: Fall On Me
    Document: King of Birds
    Green: You Are The Everything
    Out Of Time: Country Feedback
    Automatic For The People: Monty Got A Raw Deal
    Monster: Crush With Eyeliner
    New Adventures In Hi-Fi: Leave
    Up: Walk Unafraid
    Reveal: She Just Wants To Be
    Around The Sun: Aftermath
    Accelerate: Accelerate

    I have reasons if anyone cares, and a few albums I like the real choice better (especially on Around The Sun), but most of these I think would work great.

  38. Paul Alferink Says:

    Murmur: Sitting Still
    Reckoning: Second Guessing
    Fables of the Reconstruction: Life & How To Live It
    Life’s Rich Pagaent: I Believe or These Days
    Document: Lightning Hopkins
    Green: Get Up
    Out Of Time: Texarkana
    Automatic For The People: Monty Got A Raw Deal or Sweetness Follows
    Monster: Star 69
    New Adventures In Hi-Fi: Departure
    Up: Lotus
    Reveal: All the Way to Reno
    Around The Sun: I don’t really know the album well enough to have an opinion.
    Accelerate: Accelerate or Supernatural Superserious

  39. jft Says:

    Murmur: Sitting Still
    Reckoning: Little America
    Fables of the Reconstruction: Driver 8
    Lifes Rich Pageant: These Days
    Document: The One I Love
    Green: Turn You Inside-Out
    Out Of Time: Losing My Religion
    Automatic For The People: Man On The Moon
    Monster: I Took Your Name
    New Adventures In Hi-Fi: So Fast, So Numb
    Up: Why Not Smile
    Reveal: Imitation Of Life
    Around The Sun: Electron Blue
    Accelerate: Man-Sized Wreath

  40. jft Says:

    well, but actually their openers mostly are that good that I would only really exchange them with:
    Green, Out Of Time, perhaps Up, Around The Sun, Monster and Murmur. that’s it. they seem to have a good hand for great openers.

  41. profligateprofiterole Says:

    FYAWAWHS

  42. jim jos Says:

    dead on about the difficulty of thinking of most R.E.M. albums starting a different way, because I think they almost always choose the best path.

    My Stab:
    Murmur – Talk About the Passion
    Reck – Pretty Persuasion
    Fables – Maps And Legends
    Pageant – These Days
    Document – Welcome to The Occupation
    Green – Orange Crush
    Out of Time – Half A world Away
    Automatic – Man on The Moon
    Monster – I Don’t Sleep, I Dream (love it if the whole album kicked off with them drums)
    Hi Fi – Low Desert
    Up Walk Unafraid
    Reveal – She Just Wants To Be
    Around the Sun – High Speed Train
    Accelerate – Houston

    On Feeling Gravity’s Pull…More so than any other song on the Fables (even more than Can’t Get there from Here, which, lyrically is in tune), this one seems out of place the most, it is not Southern, its not all that gothic, there are no mentions of trains or southern country folk, yet I can’t imagine the album, or want it to start off any other way.

  43. MM Says:

    To me Feeling Gravity’s Pull for REM is the same as The Queen is Dead or How Soon is Now? for the SMiths. Each piece is a masterpiece that is stylistically set apart from the rest of each band’s other work.

  44. profligateprofiterole Says:

    trivia question :
    When else did Matthew use the word “vertiginous” ?
    What song ?

  45. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Hey Paul, Lotus IS the opener on Up :), with an extended intro…..

  46. jft Says:

    matthew, I discovered you spelled Feeling Gravitys Pull without the apostrophe (= the right way). I was just reading some older entrys (in this case “Airportman”) and in there you said you wouldn’t spell this song without the apostrophe.

    good choice to do so…

  47. jft Says:

    wow, this emoticon wasn’t intended at all.

  48. Matheus Says:

    I never thought this would be so damn hard:

    Murmur: Pilgrimage
    Reckoning: Little America
    Fables of the Reconstruction: Life & How To Live It
    Life’s Rich Pagaent: These Days
    Document: Welcome to the Occupation
    Green: Get Up
    Out Of Time: Me In Honey
    Automatic For The People: Try Not to Breath
    Monster: Bang and Blame
    New Adventures In Hi-Fi: Bittersweet Me
    Up: Hope
    Reveal: I Have Been High
    Around The Sun: Final Straw
    Accelerate: Supernatural Superserious


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