June 21, 2007

The eleventh untitled track on Green is one of R.E.M.’s finest moments; a song in which half of the group wobbles slightly in unfamiliar roles, while the other plays to their greatest strengths. Peter Buck and Bill Berry’s instrument swap is key — Buck’s beat holds steady but seems hesitant and unsure, neatly echoing the sentiment of the piece while Berry’s hopeful guitar part lingers in the background of the mix. Their rhythm holds the song together, but the focus is placed squarely on the vocals. Michael Stipe’s lead performance ranks among his most emotive and soulful, while Mike Mills follows behind him with a sweet, simple harmony.

It’s essentially a song about missing someone while on tour, but the words are so careful and specific that it’s far more effective than the vast majority of tunes with similar themes. The lyrics are fixated on taking comfort in the sound of another person’s voice, whether it’s Michael making long distance calls to the people he loves (and making a list of things to say because he hasn’t much time on the line), the audience staying up late to hear him sing, or his loved ones finding strength in a song written for them. The music overflows with humility, generosity, and a genuine affection that applies to every kind of love. The world may seem “big and so awake,” but the love expressed in this song is far greater.


35 Responses to “(Untitled)”

  1. David Says:

    Incredible song and wonderfully reviewed!

  2. Justin Says:

    Great review. This song doesn’t get much attention, I suppose because it lacks a proper title. But how do you title something so obviously sentimental? Like calling one person in your life “best friend”, it just isn’t fair.

    This is definitely one of my favorite tunes on Green, and probably out of the entire Warners catalogue. It’s Stipe at the height of his less-is-more, vaguely poetic lyrical powers. A must.

  3. Jonathan Says:

    I think this song would be a lot more loved if it were titled. And I include myself in the people missing out. I always feel I should listen to it more – because I love it when I do – but I never think of it, because it doesn’t have a title.

  4. Dave s Says:

    You are so right on, it is one of r.e.m.’s finest moments. A great song, I’m curious to see if there is 100% satisfaction with this song.

  5. xman Says:

    one of their best. alt titles included “eleven” and “so awake volunteer”- how to request this song live?

  6. kirkl Says:

    thanks matthew…listening to it now.
    love the harmonies by mills. wonderful song.
    hope your adventures in moving are progressing.

  7. Adam Says:

    I used to live four doors down from Michael Stipe during the Monster/NAIHF days and one day while walking out to my car he was leaving in a limo and waving good-bye to an older couple and a child outside his house (looked like his parents and maybe a nephew?).

    As the limo got further down the street he stood up and poked out of the sun roof and was waving back and forth. The other people stepped into the street too and it was like that until the limo turned onto Prince.

    I always think of that moment when hearing this song. It was not some rock star blowing out of town – it really looked like he was going to miss whoever that was. It perfectly fit the mood of that song.

  8. ryan Says:

    One of their best album closers by a long shot – right up there with Swan Swan H and Find The River in my estimation!

    Although for whatever reasons, more than any of their other album closers, this one always makes me want to hit play one more time.

    I always liked the fact that it was untitled – somehow, it serves to increase the sense of sadness.

    BTW, keep up the good work Matthew!

  9. Eclipse Says:

    This song is really touching; at the right moment it can make me tear up. It’s so beautiful and simple and the heartfelt vocal from Stipe, backed up with Mills’ equally simple harmony is one of the finest moments on Green. It’s an oft-forgotten song, but a real gem. I love the way this song just kind of fades out, like it could go on forever.

  10. Ignis Sol Says:

    Definitely one of my favorites. It could move me to tears on the right day. I usually end up playing it twice because it elicits great emotions. Stipe’s vocal and Mills’ harmony are genuine and sweet.

    Nowadays, when I hear this, I imagine parents away in Iraq e-mailing or sending a video of them singing a song to their children who have stayed up late to hear them, “Hold her and keep her strong/While I’m away from here/Hold him and keep him strong/While I’m away from here…”

    A perfect song for this not so perfect world.

  11. Justin Says:

    I always loved this song, but kinda wondered about the lyrics. Hold him? Keep her strong? Hold her? Keep him strong? I guess I never thought about things like nephews and nieces and brothers and sisters – my mistake. I was viewing it through a narrow window, and the idea of Michael leaving his parents (maybe) and nephew (perhaps) is a nice thought and makes this song even stronger to me.

  12. Joey D Says:

    An interesting note: Berry later confessed that Buck’s drum part was so “bad” that Berry actually wasn’t able to play it himself…

    Taken from the book “R.E.M. Inside Out: The Stories Behind Every Song” — a good read that covers everything through Hi-Fi, although some of the explanations are somewhat lacking in my opinion (based upon author guessing rather than band confirmation). Check it out if you get a chance.

  13. maclure Says:

    Tuuunnneeeee!!!!!! Green would have finished on quite a sombre note with I remember California, but this gives the record a final lift… Thanks Matthew, great work for drawing us to the essential details.

  14. ADB Says:

    A lovely sweet emotive song. And a review to match. Wonderful.

  15. Jared Says:

    I think this song sounds like a “coming attraction” for Out of Time; it bridges the sounds of both albums. Mike’s backup vocals and that light, upbeat sound are something that could easily be on Out of Time, no?

  16. Kirsten Says:

    Notice how all the entries are short on this one. That’s ’cause there’s just not much to say. This song is so simply and beautifully done, it’s brilliance speaks for itself. One of their best. Great review Matthew.

  17. Scott Malobisky Says:

    bravo !!!!! hadnt’ heard this in a while , made me take a listen keeping in mind the instrument swap, never knew about that before..(and Adam, where would that obviously exclusive area be where you lived “four doors down” from Stipe ?? just curious , would that be the Atlanta area , I’m guessin’ ? And who are you , another rock star ?? perhaps Adam Ant 🙂

  18. Kirsten Says:

    Maybe Adam’s the reason Michael had to move?? I know he’d need to move if I lived 4 doors down…….

  19. Mary Alice Says:

    wow I never liked this one that much but y’all are giving me good reason to listen again and stuff and try to appreciate it more, thanks!

  20. Scott Malobisky Says:

    that reminds me –I forget the details–but I remember before ATS came out , it was a website or something that supposedly listed the titles of the new as of yet unreleased songs , and one of them was called ‘Stop Coming To My House ‘, in retrospect obviously a joke but perhaps based on fact( In Dylan’s autobiographical ‘Chronicles” he speaks of what he and his family went thru trying to live a normal life in upstate NY in a house complete with the white picket fence in the late 60’s, can you imagine ??? All sorts of freaks and weirdos showing up looking for THE ANSWER, would hear “bootsteps on his rooftop” in the wee hours of the morning !! Got to the point where he started to consciously do certain things to bring himself down in the eyes of his followers–the first being the Wailing Wall incident– because he could handle being a “legend” but he couldn’t handle being “messiah” ) ..I heard that Mr. Stipe’s got an apartment in LA and NYC and and a big house in the Atlanta (not that it matters but one can’t help but be fascinated by the details of such things..)..The Stipe of this song is so child-like and so empathetic and so simple-loving, it really contrasts with the over the top frontman/ incredibly intriguing somewhat dark and very complicated dramatic presence that one gets a glimpse of in Tourfilm, you know ? :Such a totally fascinating character , I could go on and on…

  21. 2d Says:

    there is really nothing more to add about this song, just that it really stands out on “green”, as the powerful drumbeat and clearer vocals give me the impression that its production is more crisp and clear. seems more like an afterthought to the album, much like “me in honey” from out of time (even though that one does blend in with the sound of the album). (untitled) is a moment of true sweetness, warmth and innocence on the otherwise dark side of the album.

  22. That’s funny, when I was writing this up I was thinking that the most similar R.E.M. song was probably “Me In Honey,” but I’m pretty sure it’s not because I feel like either is an afterthought — I think they are two exceptional closing tracks, and definitely better conclusions than the more somber “I Remember California” and “Country Feedback.”

  23. You’ve now covered a song that’d probably be in my top 10. Though that’s more due to what it makes me feel than what it actually is…

    Before you said it I had no idea about the switching of instruments. I could, however, tell that the drums were “off.” I actually thought it was a drum machine set to some cheesy basic pattern!

  24. 2d Says:

    i agree that “me in honey” is an exceptional closer as well, in fact it was my favourite song from out of time when i first heard it. come to think of it, it may very well still be! 🙂

  25. will Says:

    I was fortunate enough to see the live debut of this song. Michael sang it at the Athens Music Festival in Sept. of 88. He played a couple of new songs off of Green, which was due out in Nov. I obviously didn’t know what I was hearing but it stuck with me and I jotted down a few of the lyrics that I remembered when I got home. Months later I was so happy to see it on Green. What a beautiful song!

  26. Driver 9 Says:

    This song gives me chills. Absolute chills. One of the most beautiful endings to an album, ever.

  27. ADB Says:

    Yes! Can totally see the ‘Untitled’ / ‘Me in Honey’ comparison, tho’ it’s never occurred to me before. They’re both relatively simple, and musically and lyrically straightforward and unadorned, which I guess makes them quite unusual within the REM canon. Two great album closers too, if not quite up there with Find The River and Electrolite. But more of that when those songs get the treatment…

  28. Mellow Jazz Docent Says:

    Will, I was at Athen Music Fest ’88 too, and I remember seeing Michael sing “(Untitled)” and really loving it! Didn’t he also do “Hairshirt?” There was also a great cover of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” with the Indigo Girls

  29. will Says:

    MJD…that’s cool you were there too. Yeah, he did play “Hairshirt” as well. I remember writing down, “it’s a beautful life” trying not to forget what I had heard. Amy Ray and Emily from the Indigo Girls(they aren’t even listed on the shirt that I still have) backed Michael up for the show. I remember that he opened up his set with “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Talk about perfect. Do you remember the full moon? Amazing night that I still think about almost 20 years later!

  30. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Untitled is absolutely the perfect “untitled song” – it may be the only song with that name (or lack thereof) that I actually think it is appropriate and well-fitting. Not only that being that this was the first “secret song” that I remember hearing it seems even more appropriate. This song is sad and beautiful and hits me deep down inside every time. The harmonies between Michael and Mike are great. One of the drawbacks of recent REM is how little they let Mike sing and harmonize.

  31. Adam Says:

    Scott, unfortunately it’s negative on both counts. That was in Athens and honestly we were about one block from Da Hood. Stipe actually owns two houses but it is a really cool little neighborhood of houses from the 30’s. My rent was only $150 – wish I had that now. Same deal with the rock star – just a lowly art student. Although EVERYONE in Athens is in a band (including me at the time…)

  32. Silvio Calixto Says:

    I remember my surprise when Untitled started for the very first time in my pick-up, cause I though there was no more songs…

    I can say I’ve played a lot this song since that day and it keep surprising me, with its simplicity and beauty.

    great song.

  33. Paul Alferink Says:

    Best Lyrics: This world is big, and so awake.

  34. RedParakeet Says:

    I never knew they swapped instruments.

  35. themanbeyond Says:

    ” ” the best title in the world.

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