King Of The Road

May 27, 2007

It may be a bit more fair to categorize R.E.M.’s version of Roger Miller‘s “King of the Road” as an improvisation rather than a straight cover. The band seem to only have a passing familiarity with Miller’s 1965 country and western hit — Michael Stipe only sings its first verse and flubs some of the lines, and Mike Mills shouts out the chord changes as they go along. It’s a mess, for sure, but the laid back, tossed off performance allows the listener a rare opportunity to hear R.E.M. goof off in a rehearsal. If only the band allowed themselves to sound so loose and informal more often — Michael’s voice is especially gorgeous on the chorus, and the recording has a lovely, ramshackle charm that suits the no-frills character of the song.

24 Responses to “King Of The Road”

  1. 2d Says:

    so true. i think this is my favourite track from “dead letter office” – from a recording session that shows just how much fun the band had in the studio when half drunk! also it’s such an appropriate way to end that album, hilarious.

  2. Carolann Monroe Says:

    Reminds me of years ago when Paul McCartney was on “Unplugged,” and did “You’ve got me singing the blues…” I always loved that old song, it’s so early rock and roll/country crossover. And to hear HIM singing it…. it was just too much fun packed into two and a half minutes.

    I’m not big on cover songs generally, but there’s something fun about hearing an iconic singer or an iconic band covering a great song and just having a lot of fun with it.

  3. Kirsten Says:

    I always had this image that they were drunk while playing this, which is why it’s so fun (it also sits well with the general feeling of the song.

  4. Kirsten Says:

    I also love the way the argue at the end about whether or not they were recording. Thank God they were….

  5. Theresa Says:

    When I played this for my sister, she was horrified that they were playing a “country song.” (We’re not big fans of country, although I kind of like this song.) But I didn’t really think of it that way. I love this song because it’s a really informal and personal glimpse at the band. It’s like they went out, got drunk, and then decided to drop by the recording studio to record a song. This is an invaluable contribution to Dead Letter Office, the album wouldn’t be complete without it.

  6. Andy Says:

    Roger Miller has ended up being one of my favorites, and I have R.E.M. to thank for the unconventional introduction. There was definitely a more pronounced country influence on the early records, and on DLO, “King of the Road,” a countrified “Pale Blue Eyes” and Peter Buck’s reference to Bill Monroe made it clear.

    I also like the looseness. It’s strange to me that back when Stipe seemed far more self-conscious, he was actually able to cut-loose a little more often. As far as I’m concerned, I’d love for the band to release another DLO!

    Finally, a plug for Roger Miller: look beyond the novelty hits, and you’ll find one of the best songwriters in country music and an amazing, expressive singer.

  7. jim jos Says:

    I met a girl from Athens. I told her I was a big REM fan. She told me that she was too. This is the first REM song that she chose to listen too. Out of all of them. I think that speaks of how special this song is to many REM fans.

  8. Smandung Says:

    I don’t know about this song, but I know Roger Miller is a soccer playing from Cameroon… Couse I don’t have a good knowledge about world pop song… Sorry… Good blog…

  9. Patrick Says:


    Roger Milla is the Cameroonian soccer player. I have wonderful memories of him gyrating against the corner flag at the World Cup in Italy in 1990:

    But he’s different to Roger Miller, the King of the Road:

  10. Bandwagon03 Says:

    This song embodies exactly what DLO is supposed to, just a laid back look at “throwaway” songs, and cool covers, some of which turn out much better than expected. This wasnt my first introduction to Roger Miller, but i love the way they did it! My favorite part is right before the solo, Micheal says “take it slim”


  11. dumbek Says:

    I love this track. It’s like a little glimpse of what the band is like when they think nobody is looking. So relaxed, fun and innocent. Completely unaware that they’re about to become one of the biggest bands in the workd.

  12. >I love this track. It’s like a little glimpse of what the band is like when they think nobody is looking.

    I don’t have DLO so I haven’t heard this, but I sure did get a kick out of “Chance”…

  13. Clive Butler Says:

    I’ve always been confused by one thing about this song. If Mike is shouting out the chords to (presumably) Peter then that would suggest that Peter hasn’t learnt the song yet – but then he goes on to play it beautifully. Maybe it’s something to do with what key it is played in.
    On a side note – when R.E.M. play this song as a gap filler on German TV programme Rockpalast in October 1985 Michael accidentally says ‘sailors for sale’ instead of ‘trailers for sale’ and then laughs – one of the only times he smiles in that show – I just thought this was worth a mention!

  14. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    So fun! Yes, they were definately drunk! A “new adventure in lo-fi” and a highlight of DLO.

  15. Alicia Says:

    My favorite part is Mike (?) in the background yelling “Easy with the key … eeeeasy with the key!” as Michael drunkenly changes keys with the melody. Good stuff.

    Great blog, by the way!

  16. Dark Bob Says:

    One thing I’ve always loved about REM are their cover songs. They choose songs that you would probably not expect a rock & roll band to cover. This is a perfect example.

  17. Scott Malobisky Says:

    I really dig the crunchy guitar riff right after the “solo” , like an augmented variation on one of the series of chords that build the song-or something like that, I’m not expert-the kind of thing that only an accomplished gutar player would know how to do; the feel for that moment by Peter is brilliant,terrifically laid down…Was it”the poison that in measures that brings illuminating vision”?

    yeah , this is country , ever hear a thing called ‘Don’t Go Back To Rockville’? it wasn’t such stretch, no?…..Doing Toys In The Attic–now that was a stretch…My claim to fame ? I once caught Steven Tyler’s harmonica when he tossed it into the crowd.

  18. Scott Malobisky Says:

    correction–sorry –the riff is later , right after when Michael goes “one more time”, check it out. thanx

  19. […] filling in the negative space before the song halts and segues into a loose, sloppy version of “King of the Road.” It’s kinda hard to be critical about a recording that is so incredibly unpretentious and […]

  20. David Says:

    Does anyone have any idea of the date when this was recorded?

  21. Paul Alferink Says:

    My mom, who loves the original version of this song, hates this version. Proabably because I learned it from this version and Michael screws the lyrics up all over the place in his version. . .

  22. Steven Says:

    live version on Tourfilm

  23. profligateprofiterole Says:

    huh ? this isn’t on Tourfilm……

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