May 17, 2007
This is kind of an understatement, but back in the 1980s, R.E.M. played a lot of covers. Many of them were one-off deals and piss-takes, but as the decade progressed, an elite number of these songs were performed with such regularity that it seemed as though the band had adopted them as their own. The group gave most of those tunes dramatic make-overs that nudged the distinct style of artists like Iggy Pop or Suicide closer to their own aesthetic, but in the case of Pylon’s “Crazy,” the song was already so similar to the band’s established sound that their version seems as though it could be an R.E.M. original.
The similarities were not at all accidental. R.E.M. were always open about their admiration for Pylon, and it’s rather clear that they had gained a great deal of inspiration from their murky arpeggios, shifting beats, and nonlinear, deliberately esoteric lyrics. Pylon also hailed from Athens, Georgia, but were wrapping up their original run just around the time R.E.M. were working on Murmur, an album that would popularize a strain of post-punk particular to the American south that they had directly influenced.
R.E.M.’s version of “Crazy” is very faithful to Pylon’s original, but as they are wont to do, the group tightened up its structure just enough to make the song a bit more accessible and intuitive. The band’s studio recording was first released as the b-side to the “Driver 8” single, but found a greater audience when it became the opening track of the rarities collection Dead Letter Office in 1987.
It’s safe to assume that most people (including myself) were introduced to the song (as well as Pylon) via R.E.M., and that without that crucial bit of exposure, the group would’ve disappeared into history entirely. They remain very obscure, but it’s doubtful most anyone outside of Athens would think of them today were it not for R.E.M.’s relentless advocacy of their music.