Get Up

April 27, 2007

A lot of songs that implore the listener to “do something” with their lives can seem awfully smug and self-satisfied, but R.E.M.’s “Get Up” side-steps that trap by making it clear from the start that the singer is addressing himself as much as the audience. The lyrics are intentionally vague about what Michael Stipe wants us all to do, but the basic point is abundantly clear: No matter who we are or what we do, we need to resist the empty comforts of apathy and become active members of society. The song is meant to apply to everyone, whether they are a teenager who needs some kind of permission to pursue a life in the arts or sciences, an office worker who needs the extra push to get involved with local politics, or a member of a pop band who needs to do more than just indulge in hedonism.

As noted by Marcus Gray in his book It Crawled From The South, “Get Up” is essentially a “lullaby in reverse.” The song hops in place like an impatient and excited little kid, and its peppy bubblegum hooks place it among the most joyous and immediately ingratiating songs in the band’s repertoire. It also boasts a rather clever arrangement full of interesting details that aren’t exactly subtle, but fit together without distracting the listener from the tune. The chorus features one of the best examples of the band’s contrary approach to writing lyrics for background vocals — as Michael sings “dreams they complicate my life,” Bill Berry counters him with “dreams they complement my life.” It’s not really an argument, though. Even if the song is an exhortation to action, it acknowledges that our dreams supply us with an essential motivation as long as we don’t get lost within them.

24 Responses to “Get Up”

  1. zozoe Says:

    I have to agree with you, pep song – and god do we need them sometimes. I adore this song.

  2. karen Says:

    my ex (the super-long-term first one) used to listen to green to get psyched up for his awful retail job, and this one and “pop song 89” were the go-to numbers for that purpose.

  3. MoL Says:

    I know you focus a lot on the meanings of the songs, but how could you omit the fact that they used 12 music boxes during the bridge. Now there is something you do not hear everyday.

  4. Courtney Says:

    A gem on what I have always considered an underrated REM album.
    Dreams they complicate my life, indeed.

  5. I’m so happy to know the meanings of the songs.
    thanks for your post 🙂

    Best Regards…

  6. >s Michael sings “dreams they complicate my life,” Mike Mills counters him with “dreams they complement my life.”

    You know, I’ve probably heard Green end-to-end more than any other album over the course of my life…and I NEVER realized that Mills did anything but echo Stipe’s “complicate” line. Good ear.

  7. jim jos Says:

    Wasn’t this song inspired by Mike Mills habit of sleeping in/late? I think I read that once.

    I am glad that someone is taking the time to look into the poetic undercurrents of R.E.M. songs, and that there are several people who put in their inputs as well! I wish to have a big lyrical appreciation for the music and discussing the lyrical themes is a great joy for me!

    “dreams they complicate my life, dreams they complement my life” is my favorite line from this song. It is dreams that can make life so complicating. If one didn’t dream and took everything for granted life would be a lot more simple. But it is these hard to obtain/sustain dreams that make life worthwhile and create a better life. The dream creates a better reality, but until it is realized, they can be a huge source of uncertainty and often misery.

  8. Isaac Says:

    Very interesting reviews, keep up the good work.

    I just finished listening to Get Up, and from what I can tell I think it is BILL BERRY who counters Stipe with “dreams they complement my life”, not Mike Mills, although I could be wrong.

  9. David Dark Says:

    Ever notice the bit on “You’ve got all your life,” where holds out the last syllable and adds one, a “fuh” at the end?
    I’ve always liked that.

  10. chinese brother Says:

    pop song 89 + get up + you are the everything = a pretty good batting order

  11. Jimmy B Says:

    >s Michael sings “dreams they complicate my life,” Mike Mills counters him with “dreams they complement my life.”

    Bill Berry is the one countering with “dreams they complement my life”- from what I’ve read, and it does sound more like him you listen.

  12. David Says:

    Congrats on the mention at, Matthew!

  13. David T Says:

    This was the song that made me come ’round about REM.

    Until my junior year of high school, REM was “that band that the cooler kids dug,” and I almost went out of my way not to like them. Something about the lead single from Green (“Orange Crush”), though, caught my ear, and I ended up with a copy of the record (dubbed onto cassette after a “cooler” friend lent the CD to me) soon after it was released. I loved the guitar/bass/drum sound of the record as a whole, but I became a true REM fan (regardless of what or whom I associated with them) the moment I heard Michael Stipe’s voice break at the start of the song’s last phrase (“This time, there’s no escape…”).

    The vulnerability of that tiny moment was unlike anything I had heard on a commercial recording up to that point. I was hooked, and still am.

  14. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    “Get Up” may be REM’s very best pure pop song. It is such a fun song to listen to that it baffles me that it wasn’t a radio hit (not that REM have ever truly cared about that too much). Still, had “Get Up” been released as the follow-up single to “Stand” it would have been an unescapable smash on the radio. I am a person who generally prefers a little darker tone and mood to my music but “Get Up” is addictive, propulsive, and sheer fun and I can’t help but love this song. Finally, as has been mentioned the “dreams they complicate/compliment my life” section is pure genius and makes the song lyrically deeper than it initially appears.

  15. Griffith Says:

    This song sorta reminds me of The Beatles’ “ob-la-di ob-la-da”, with the contradictory lyrics REM: Compliment/Complicate Beatles: hand/foot. The addition of the music boxes in the middle adds an oddly dreamlike quality as well (and another Beatles reference for me, like the alarm clock in ‘A Day in the Life”).

    Lyrically, I’ve also felt that this song was the optimistic version (positive, upbeat) of a call to action while ‘World Leader Pretend’ was the pessimistic view (somewhat negative, almost defiant). Maybe ‘pessimistic’ isn’t quite the right word, but for me, WLP is more of the aftermath, the learning from one’s mistakes. Whereas GU is about going out and taking chances to begin with.

    Positively a bubblegum song, but really, what is wrong with that?

  16. Jack Snipe Says:

    On Tourfilm, Michael Stipe announces this song as “my favorite song.” It is pretty catchy.

  17. raav Says:

    I just had one of those moments…you listen to a song for half your life then one day, you hear something you never picked up before.

    Just after”…I’ve seen you laying down” (1.23) There is a really bassy “down” vocal.

    Anyone else have those moments?

  18. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    Hi Raav

    I’ve had those moments too….it’s great when it happens. I was playing Yellow Submarine to my kids a while ago and “discovered” a third harmony in the chorus that is really cool. I use ” ” because it’s actually not hidden – I just hadn’t noticed it before :)(and then I had to listen to it like a billion times because my youngest fell in love with the song….)

  19. Joe Baine Says:

    Green was the first CD I ever owned. I got it for Christmas when I was, I believe, 12. This was ’92. Get Up has always been a favorite.

    Regarding the debated Mills/Berry BGVs discussions… I’m currently watching Tourfilm and noticed that Bill does sing said line. There’s a shot of the line being sung with Mike a few steps back from the mic, looking down at his bassin’ hands.

    Anyway, love this blog – KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!

  20. transformerdog Says:

    this is the song hummed by the worker elves and honey bees working for the Great Spirit , busy busy polishing the intricate engines of light alive in the middle of seeds. It’s special

  21. transformerdog Says:

    Absolutely Raav, BIG TIME, lately with Fables !!!!

  22. […] i.e., these are lyrics that the band want you to notice and think about a bit more than, say, “Get Up” or “Stand.” Michael has said that the lyrics were printed mainly because he felt that […]

  23. zozoe Says:

    transformerdog is my hero

  24. […] is essentially a song about what happens when dreams cease to complement or complicate our lives. The character is listless and emotionally drained, and forced by circumstances to work […]

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