What If We Give It Away?

June 3, 2007

“What If We Give It Away?” is a re-written version of a song called “Get On Their Way” that dates back to 1980. I know this only because I’ve read this several times in the past — I have never actually heard “Get On Their Way,” and so aside from obviously having very different lyrics, I don’t know how much the song changed between the time it was originally penned and when it was reworked for Lifes Rich Pageant. It’s a fine, catchy song with an airy, sunny arrangement, but as much as I enjoy it, it’s hard for me not to think of it as being a filler track. Perhaps that’s the wrong word to use — “filler” implies that it’s just taking up space and weighing the album down, but that’s not really the case. The song fits perfectly into the sequence of Lifes Rich Pageant: The music maintains the record’s breezy, early summer vibe and its words nod in the general direction of the set’s political themes. There’s very little to complain about in “What If We Give It Away?,” but it just can’t help but seem a bit minor in comparison to most of its neighboring tracks.

25 Responses to “What If We Give It Away?”

  1. Ignis Sol Says:

    In Craig Rosen’s “Inside Out (The Stories Behind Every Song),” he writes that Peter Buck wishes the song was left off the album. It was an old song, but one the producer liked. I agree that it fits nicely with the vibe of these songs.

    It has a catchy chorus that I caught my self accidentally singing one day while hanging out with college friends back in the 90’s. A good friend of mine, not missing a beat, picked it up and sang with me; “What if we give it a-way…”

    I did not realize he even knew this deep album track. I was pleasantly surprised. His music prowess these days is playing trumpet for the great (and quite popular) ska band Mustard Plug. I wonder what R.E.M. song could be done ska style. On second thought…

  2. dan Says:

    Spot-on summation of this little ditty.

    “Get on their Way” (chorus: “why don’t they get on their way?”) is basically the same, just played with a little more nervous energy and with completely unintelligible mumbled lyrics. Probably would sound out of place had it made it onto Murmur, but sounds at home on Pageant.

  3. Bunnia Says:

    “I wonder what R.E.M. song could be done ska style.”

    I know many will disagree with me, but “Bang And Blame” has a ska beat to it during the verses. (It sounds like it TO ME any!) One of my favs on MONSTER.

    *ducks head as the stones are being thrown*

  4. ozon Says:

    I’ve heard many ska versions of It’s the End of the World. They weren’t very good.

    On topic: I agree with your thoughts on this song. LRP is probably my favorite album but this song, while being good, is certainly nothing special.

  5. Justin Says:

    I strongly disagree with the review and with Peter Buck. (What does he know about R.E.M. songs, anyway?)

    I think this song is a distillation of LRP, and a fine one at that. It represents for me the sonic and lyrical essence of the album, which I adore.

    I realize this puts me at odds with the comments thus far, but I have always had a strong affection for this song.

    Loved, however, the mention of the record’s “breezy, early summer vibe.” I am a big fan of music that evokes a time for me. AFTP is late summer/early fall, Up is mid-to-late fall, Out of Time is spring, Fables is late winter/early spring, Reveal is summer, Around the Sun is…I don’t know, sometime.

  6. 2d Says:

    i have the exact same feeling for this song. whenever i listen to it i feel that it’s an alright song that seems to have some great moments that i can never hear. it’s a very strange feeling, like it’s right there in front of me but all i can hear is a bland, boring, droning song… again, i don’t know if it’s bad per se, but it’s definitely my least favourite on the record and i really wish they had left it off (although it does maintain the kind of fast-midtempo consecutive tracks pace of the album). in a way, i have the same problem with “the worst joke ever”. it seems like there’s the possibility of a good song in there somewhere, but in a twisted way it sounds forced, bland and – to a lesser extent – even annoying.

    it’s refreshing to see i’m not the only one who feels like that about this song. some songs that i initially hated have grown on me, and i even love some of them now. this one was one of the few that have stayed the same throughout the years: monotonous and, indeed, “filler”.

    p.s.: could it be because i’m trying to like the songs that they sound so forced to me?…

  7. Bruno Says:

    Although parts of Life’s Rich Pageant are some of my favorite REM (I remember the opening 1-2 punch of ‘Begin The Begin’ and ‘One of these Days’ just knocking me out), ‘What If We Give It Away?’ was the first time I was really disappointed with one of their songs.

    In reality it’s an OK song but the guitars for the first time just seemed pedestrian, the progression obvious and Michael’s voice so clear and straightforward – dull really. I felt they just didn’t sound inspired. It was really the time that I realised, for me, that their magic and mystery was disappearing as they continued their path to popularity.

  8. Courtney Says:

    In my opinion, there’s very little to complain about on Life’s Rich Pageant anyway. This is a quiet, unassuming little number on a stellar album. Good analysis.

  9. xman Says:

    good song. interesting they’ve never played it live.

    “get on their way” sounds very different. it’s a bit faster. different chorus. i don’t like it as much- it fits right in with the rest of the pre-chronic town stuff though.

    “here’s a trailer, tom/ a year has come and gone” is one of my favorite lyrics.

  10. Kirsten Says:

    Well it sounds like I’m one of the few who really like this one. It’s one of my favourites from the album, and has been from the moment I heard it. The song sounds like they recorded it when they were in a laid-back, couldn’t-be-bothered sort of mood, which really adds to its charm. I always likened it to King Of The Road in that regard. But I challenge you to listen to it without tapping your toes…

    Also, REM are the only band that would write a song about not being able to sell any records!

    The original “Get On Their Way” turns up on a lot of their earlier shows. Not as good as the LRP version.

  11. protimoi86 Says:

    Matthew, I feel vindicated! My situation is the opposite of yours; I’ve heard a couple live versions of Get On Their Way and recognized it as a prehistoric version of the Lifes Rich Pageant track. However, in blogs, forums and even articles written by professional journalists, Get On Their Way is talked about like it’s a lost song or something. Thanks for giving me another piece of evidence to refer to on this matter!

  12. Carolann Monroe Says:

    Justin, how about “Around the Sun” is January? It has a wintry feel to me, but in a braced-for-it kind of way, like when you’ve accepted that the days are really short and you’re not even dreading February, really, because March will come after. And the title song and New Year’s Day go well together.

    I agree that Up is like late fall. Though I do like eight of the 14 songs on it very much, listening to Up in its entirety just gives me the blues… as does late fall! :-\.

  13. Clive Says:

    This is a real ‘surface song’ – it’s pleasant to listen to, Michael’s voice sounds archetypical of everything we’ve come to know and love about his vocal style and yet the song has no great depth. This would have made a superb “Dead Letter Office’ song, but not sure it was written with as much thought and intelligence as most their other album tracks.

    clive.butler25@ntlworld.com
    http://www.macjams.com/artist/cliveuk23

  14. millroy Says:

    Bunnia – Bang and Blame doesn’t make me think ska, sorry. I always thought that Get Up lent itself to a fun ska interpretation though. The chorus could have a great horn part, and not too much has to change in the verses.

    I ran out of time yesterday, but I can’t believe we’re a quarter through already. I’m going to miss this when it’s over. What a great idea for a blog.

    Can’t you just go through them again once your done? I’ll pretend it’s new. It’ll be great, just like old times. Honest.

  15. Bandwagon03 Says:

    You guys are right, this song is not a heavyweight, not some big epic earth-shattering tune. I always liked it though, for some reason i see the lyrics as more of a political opinion than anything else…of course, with REM lyrics one never knows. ; )

  16. David T Says:

    Many of you have crystallized my thoughts about this song; it’s not my favorite on LRP, yet I generally don’t skip it, either. For me, its role on LRP is somewhat similar to New Orleans Instrumental No. 1’s role on AFTP…it’s both a distillation of the overall album (as someone above put it aptly) and a chance for a breather while listening to the album from start to finish.

  17. corduroy13 Says:

    “Also, REM are the only band that would write a song about not being able to sell any records!”

    Kirsten: see Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free”, from her album Time (the Revelator). If you like the idea of songs about giving it away, you’ll love it!

  18. James Says:

    Wouldn’t “Harbourcoat” make good ska material?

    LRP is an odd album, in that part of the record consists of older songs the band hadn’t released before (much older, in this case, and for “Just A Touch”), and a cover. That doesn’t make me think any less of Pageant, but I do think the record does have a more mainstream, “traditonal rock” sound than anything previous, and early on, R.E.M. weren’t too far off from a garage band.

  19. Theresa Says:

    I found a recording of “Get On Their Way” on YouTube. They played it during a concert at Tyrone’s in 1981. Here it is, if anyone wants to hear it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-HA6m0Pq5c.

  20. adam Says:

    the short bridge of this song has always seemed exquisite and economic… really nice

  21. Doctor Casino Says:

    Agreed with the review and the general tone of the comments – it’s not bad at all but it’s hard for me to imagine it being my favorite, or me missing it if it weren’t on the album. It seems a perfect match for “Romance,” really.

  22. Scott Malobisky Says:

    very strange dichotomy in the vocal here for me ..I hear really deep/yearning/wailing heaviness about something (what exactly?) in the OOOOHHH -AAAHHHH—IIII–AAHHH chorus thing that is quite moving ( one of my favorite Mr.Slinky moments actually , this series of seemingly heartfelt and disturbed cries from the visceral gut)but then it subsequently disentegrates into the question almost asked like an afterthought, “What if we give it away?”..Who’s he talking to ? The record company execs ? Does this song reflect frustration with the lack of an adequate contract ? ..It is right before the initial Warner Bros. signing bonanza …So , maybe the angst expressed is about that situation, going thru contract negotiations… Generally speaking and music-melody-wise this album is just gorgeous…And how can you beat that one-two kickoff punch (well, perhaps Phys.Graf.:)

  23. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I have to agree with Matthew’s original take on this dead on, it fits the album, but sort of just passes you by without leaving a real lasting impression. Also, to reply to Scott just above me here, they still had another album prior to the Warner signing (actually two committed albums, hence Eponymous’ existance if I am not mistaken) and the band like IRS generally anyway, so I don’t think they were complaining about that. But maybe I miss your point.

  24. steve Says:

    OK, I must be either asleep or lost, or both.
    I thought it was about a run down, worthless, trashy looking mobile home.

    “what if we give it away”
    “here’s the trailer tounge”
    “we’re not moving”

    sidenote- notice how we “stitch it on our tie”
    (instead of our sleeve? LOL)

    awesome


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