June 29, 2007

“Ba da la da da da da da, hi hi hi. Ba da la da da da da da, hi hi.”

“Endgame” has no real lyrics, but it is anything but an instrumental. Michael Stipe’s gentle, mellow vocal refrain is the crux of the song, and it twists around Peter Buck’s winding acoustic guitar figure, dropping out only to be replaced by woodwind instruments that carry the same tune. It’s a quiet, minor piece, but its arrangement is one of the band’s most elegant and refined. Every moment of the composition is calculated to maximize its pensive beauty, from the swell of the strings to the gentle ahhhs of Mike Mills’ backing vocals. The song’s melodies and textures vividly convey a sense of comfortable melancholy with incredible grace, and in all likelihood, words would have only gotten in the way.


36 Responses to “Endgame”

  1. wolfy Says:

    I love it! It has a nice, relaxed feel to it.

  2. David T Says:

    > It’s a quiet, minor piece, but its arrangement is one of the band’s most elegant and refined.

    Most definitely.

    I was a freshman in college when Out of Time was released; I was also just learning to play the guitar. I loved Endgame when I first heard it (still do) and thought, “Hey, I bet writing something as simple, moving, and beautiful as that would be easy.”

    So I tried. And found out, nope, I was wrong…it’s not that easy…not easy at all…

    Also, didn’t the band play this during the “outtro” of their MTV Unplugged appearance in ’91? (I remember thinking how lovely the song was even sans the strings and woodwinds…)

  3. RPI Says:

    My favorite of all their instrumental interludes. Every step seems so right, but it doesn’t feel obvious or overly clichéd.

  4. Bruno Says:

    Oh come on, DavidT, surely its just a strum here and a strum there, throw in some other bits and Voila! – you’re done.

    But seriously, this is definitely one of the standout tracks from Michael’s spandex period.

  5. Mary Alice Says:

    I like how Out of Time has two sides that work well as two mini albums. I got it on casette from this outdoor tent selling used CD’s at my college and still haven’t gotten it in any other format. I love the act of flipping over the casette and the feeling of two sides…they both start off very energetically and close with a good closer.

    I listen to Automatic the whole way through, and all the earlier ones I got on CD so I can’t imagine the two sides…but out of time just seems to be two little mini albums with thought given to the spacing to make it that way.

  6. David T Says:

    > Oh come on, DavidT, surely its just a strum here and a strum there, throw in some other bits and Voila! – you’re done.


    Not to compare apples and appliances, but a memorable, deceptively simple song like Endgame makes me think of the beginning of Amadeus, when Salieri is in the insane asylum and the visiting priest doesn’t recognize anything he plays on the piano installed in his cell until Salieri plays a work that the priest declares is “charming. I didn’t know you wrote that.” “I didn’t,” responds Salieri. “THAT was Mozart.”

  7. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I like “Endgame” and agree it is my favorite REM “instrumental” (for lack of a better term – mood piece maybe?). It is beautiful and has a quiet, warm positive feel to it. It also seems to fit well on Out Of Time. All of that said though, I still remember feeling (and still do to this day) that if REM was set on 11 tracks that “It’s A Free World Baby” is such a superior song to “Endgame” that it was a shame that it was left off the CD for “Endgame”. I have always felt the same way abour “Fretless” as compared to “Endgame” as well, although I don’t like it as well as “Free World”. If I was to take up Peter Buck’s challenge and cut 2 songs from OOT and replace them with “Free World” and “Fretless” I would do it in a heartbeat and cut “Endgame” and “Shiny Happy People” for those 2 songs. This, of course, would make OOT a MUCH darker record than it currently is. In a perfect world, I would simply add the 2 songs and have 13 tracks, not too many in the CD era, because honestly, losing “Endgame” would be a blow to hardcore fans and “Shiny Happy People” would be for more casual fans. How is this for a new Out Of Time Track list, keeping the order but adding the 2 outtakes:

    1. Radio Song
    2. Losing My Religion
    3. Low
    4. Near Wild Heaven
    5. Endgame
    6. Shiny Happy People
    7. Belong
    8. It’s A Free World, Baby
    9. Half A World Away
    10. Fretless
    11. Texarkana
    12. Country Feedback
    13. Me In Honey

  8. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Oh, BTW, I love the movie Amadeus!

  9. ADB Says:

    Ah, this one reminds me of my first year at Uni, listening to Out Of Time endlessly in my room. Then getting the bus into Manchester and finding myself humming the vocal line. It still pops into my head on a fairly regular basis – a sure sign of a great melody…

  10. David T Says:

    I can comment on the inclusion of “It’s a Free World Baby” (only heard it once!), but, I agree:

    9. Half A World Away
    10. Fretless
    11. Texarkana

    would be a nice transition…especially since both Fretless and Texarkana are (I think) in the key of E-minor…the melancholy, slowing-down ending of the former, then BAM that bass intro and then the full band kicking in in the same key…cool effect!

  11. maclure Says:

    When I first heard this song it was on a tape as an 11 yr old just after it came out. I don’t think I had the track names, either. The songs all sort of blended into one long track… so I don’t think it was until several months later that I realised Endgame didn’t have any lyrics on it… although it does have singing. It fitted so well the sound of the album it strikes me as murderous to suggest it should be cut in favour of other tracks, irrespective of how good those other tracks might be.

    This was also one of the first riffs I learned on the guitar. It was fairly easy to play but sounded really elegant and I remember chicks digging that at school.

  12. drew. Says:

    not long after Out Of Time was released, NPR started using Endgame as an interlude between stories. i was never more proud of R.E.M.

  13. Carolann Monroe Says:

    Nice article. You wrote it in the style of the song, and captured it well. Nicely done.

  14. I was working at an alternative music format radio station at the time, and “Endgame” was one of the instrumentals that I used to read the signoff statement (we signed off at midnight) over. Sounded real nice. That is, until I started reading, heh.

  15. Elliot H. Says:

    I know this is kind of strange, but bare with me on this one.

    When I hear this song, I think of the cover of the album. Not the yellow polygon and ribbon, but behind it.

    What is it? Where is it? It looks very alien, strange. The elongated woodwind notes in the background of the song totally put me in that dimension, if you will, on the cover.

    Endgame is also where I think R.E.M. came up with the album name “Out of Time.” I like to think of the way they use this phrase not as in “Running out of time” and more as an area or state of mind that is different, alien, and “Out of normal time and space.”

  16. Scott Malobisky Says:

    lovely song and odd title —why would they call it that ? Mungu only knows—not that odd though I guess cuz’when I punch Endgame into Rhapsody by track name I get 21 Endgames including one by the Kidney Thieves, Giddy Motors , Fairyland , Greenroom , Forensics , Amp, and even Tim Rice………some strange birds out there in this world….oui oui..I do not have the time or the inclination presently to listen to see if any of these are a cover….non non

  17. Evan Says:

    Is it named after the Samuel Beckett play?

  18. Scott Malobisky Says:

    oh , I don’t know, maybe the title means ….like , this is the Endgame , the ideal of how one should feel when it’s all said and done –this transendent peaceful with oneself and the world feeling that is at the core of this song…just seems strange because the title has such connotations of competition/ sport , war even,it doesn’t fit the sereneness transmitted

  19. Bruno Says:


    This blog has, with perfect timing, coincided with a personal look back at REM and my love for their music – especially for their earlier stuff.

    So, maybe I’m a bit behind the times for those die-hard fans but, through the magic of file-sharing there’s a ton of REM-related stuff out there that I’ve never taken the time to try and search for before.

    I don’t know whether links can be posted but I’ll try. This (the link below) is a good example of many rare videos- interviews, performances etc – from their early days posted by a dedicated user – including a complete set of live clips from ’84 which shows them young and hungry – must have been the same tour in which I saw them in Vancouver at a place called The Ballroom.

    I’m sure some of you have seen these before but some may have not and like me over the past two hours, will enjoy the experience.

    So I’ll post the link and in case that doesn’t work, go to youtube and search (user) REMchout.



  20. Paul Alferink Says:

    Endgame is originally a chess term.

    So why is it called Endgame? For the same reason they are called REM. Cause it sounds cool. Why Rotary Ten? Rotary Eleven is, I assume because it sounded a little like Rotary Ten. Zither is named after the instrument. On “Automatic” they’d stop trying and named it after the city it was recorded/ written in. Instrumentals rarely have names that mean anything, (Even in classic music they are usually referred to by type of piece, or by the occasion for which they are written.)

    I know there are New Orleans Instrumentals #5 and #2. Are/ Were there 1,3 and 4?

  21. >Instrumentals rarely have names that mean anything

    Best name for an instrumental? Frank Zappa’s “The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution.”

    Actually, I’d say that title means a LOT…but it’s probably unrelated to the music it’s attached to, which I think is your point.

  22. Scott Malobisky Says:

    or , FZ, Black Napkin

  23. Scott Malobisky Says:

    hey , speaking of Fretless….who is the woman that says ,”Don’t talk to me.”…? Anybody I know ?

  24. Paul Alferink Says:

    Kate Peirson of the B-52’s. Same as the rest of the album . . .

  25. jim jos Says:

    New Orleans Ins. #1 will be released on an upcoming documentary about Kurt Cobain, I have read.

  26. Scott Malobisky Says:

    yeah , Eliot , as in Dylan’s ‘Time Out Of Mind’…actually I read somewhere (may have been REM: from Chronic Town To Monster by Bowler and Dray) that they were literally “out of time” in the studio , somebody said it and it stuck…although I find this a bit hard to believe, seems like such a pedestrian way to end up titling such a great work of art

  27. Kirsten Says:

    I agree with Scott – on both titles. I had also read somewhere that someone in the studio said “OK guys we need a name right now”. Mike said “Shit, we’re out of time” and someone else jumped in and said – that’s perfect. But OOT refering more to time & place rather than minutes does sit perfectly with the album, and the sort of title REM would have. Or perhaps it’s deliberately confusing?? Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that it really fits.
    As for Endgame I’m with Scott again. The song to me certainly has a “reflective” feel to it. “END” being at the finish of something that’s happened and “GAME” which could refer to any event or situation in your life. Maybe it’s a reflection of a beautiful album just finished and the journey to get there and to create it.

    One more thing – The violin part on this song is absolutely breathtaking. I didn’t even notice it for the first year or so, but wow, it’s a beautiful melody under the guitar line.

  28. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Actually, as to the title “Out Of Time” the above is true, the album was done and the release date was imminent and the band still had not chosen a title. I remember an interview with Michael where he said the problem was largely that he really wanted to title the record “I Am The Answer Grape” aften an obscure 70’s televisiion wine ad that had a question answering animated grape, but the other guys hated it. Unable to come to an agreement and being out of time, they went with that – “Out Of Time”

  29. Jared B. Says:

    I think I recall them saying at one point that “Cat Butt” was another contender for the album title.

  30. Kirsten Says:

    CAT BUTT was Michael’s idea – I think they made the right choice.

  31. Paul Alferink Says:

    I always liked Bills recurrant suggestion, “The Return of Mr. Mumbles”

  32. Jasper Says:

    This song is, to me, one of the amazing pieces that make up R.E.M.’s most beautiful album, and my overall favorite. A friend of mine had just started at Paisley Park Studios at the time, and got to sit in on some of the mixing sessions, as well as act as a chauffer and a go-fer at times. Our lives were going in vastly different directions. While this period of my life was not very happy, I remember with great affection the times I spent listening to this, over and over.

    Question: The instrument that solos the main theme at one point is a French Horn, right?

  33. Scott Malobisky Says:

    certainly sounds like it but I don’t know , Jasper , but maybe if you were quicker in your go-fer duties and chaffeuring they wouldn’t have been out of time ,then what the hell would they have called it ?……oh the things we’ll never know

  34. Scott Malobisky Says:

    oh , it was your friend , sorry ….if only there was a way to erase something once it’s posted here .nonetheless I hope you appreciate my attempt at humor 🙂

  35. david williams Says:

    i reckon this is a sort of tribute to the unfinished beach boys SMiLE tapes – if you listen to most of the things that have surfaced from those sessions, like Do You Like Worms, and I Love To Say Da Da, The Child Is Father of the Man, the similarity is quite striking… mostly those are finished instrumental tracks with wordless backing vocals but no leads.

    instrumentally it’s similar too – rich but quiet, intricately constructed out of simple parts, touches of strings, horns, hand percussion, an almost glowing tone.


  36. ScottMalobisky Says:

    ……in time and out of season
    the hitchhiker lowers his thumb
    in the cold calculus of reason………

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