August 25, 2007

Not too long after Monster came out, I decided that “Tongue” and “Crush With Eyeliner” were ideally suited to accompanying the feeling of having a crush on someone. The latter is a bit obvious — the title and the lyrics are kind of a dead giveaway — but “Tongue” was more of an intuitive thing. The lyrics clearly refer to sexuality, sure, but it was really all about the way the coy, playful piano and organ parts seemed to be flirting with one another in the way they mingled in the track. The other elements — light percussion, intermittent and nearly subliminal guitar chords — shuffle awkwardly in the back of the arrangement, nervous but hopeful, like wallflowers on the sidelines at a school dance. To this day, I can’t hear the song without wanting to make out with someone.

Of course, this is all very ironic. “Tongue” is sung from the point of a woman — Michael Stipe was very keen on pointing this out on the Monster tour, frequently noting that “this song has tits” — who has grown tired and bitter of being someone’s “last ditch lay.” She’s trying to summon the self-respect and forthrightness necessary to call it off, but she keeps getting sucked in thanks to an unfortunate mixture of loneliness and passivity. She’s disappointed by her actions, entirely removed from the moment, and suspicious of her partner’s half-hearted methods of seduction and attempts to give her pleasure. Her acquiescence is basically a foregone conclusion, and she’s convinced that her suitor is aware of that, so she can’t help but to resent his efforts and question the sincerity of his attraction to her. She’s a very sympathetic character, so it’s tempting to take her word for it, and that the guy is just using her because she’s so easy, but the more I hear the song, I get the sense that she’s projecting her self-loathing on this guy.

47 Responses to “Tongue”

  1. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Matthew’s favorite REM song ? Not quite
    That would be Life And How To Live It
    pure heresay , speculation on my part

  2. It’s up there, yeah.

  3. ScottMalobisky Says:

    He said “organ parts”, the ones “flirting with each other”..Organ parts don’t flirt , when you get to that point they connect (ideally)..heeheehee

  4. davegassner Says:

    Awww, as is known to happen sometimes, Stipe’s meaning is less fun/practical; I used this as a awkward semi-obsessive crush song at least once or twice in late high school/early Uni! This, combined with Crush With Eyeliner and Strange Currencies, solidifies Monster as the REM doing romance, infatuation and longing album (granted, not in the typical power ballad high drama beautiful way, but rather REM-typical human, ugly, complex, contradictory, unfulfilled imperfect ways—ah I love’em)

    I really liked the video for this song, anyone remember it? Very fitting.

  5. Ignis Sol Says:

    I love Michael’s vocal for “Toungue.” The song surely has tits and it’s on an album with a Monster cock.

    Sexuality is spread all over this album from stars dripping down like honey to lines like “do you give good head” and “I’m straight, I’m queer, I’m bi” & on an on….

    R.E.M. explores an alternate universe of sexuality lyrically and sonically on Monster.

  6. jim jos Says:

    I got to say, that when I first heard this song, I kind of winced and had to force my way through it. Very unusual for me, it had to do with the falsetto vocal, which I found very offsetting at the time.
    I proceeded to not pay much attention to it for a long time after that.
    When I did see the video for it, I was captivated by the color, effect and mood of the seventies style innocence, loss of innocence feeling to it, and I had to watch it more than a few times. I think its extremely pretty and touching.

    Watching it repeatedly, the melody seeped into my mind and I started to think how nicely the vocal complimented it.
    Now, I really like it. One of the few cases where a video actually saved a song for me.

    Interesting to read (as always) what everybody has to say, but I am especially interested in what the female posters think on this one.

  7. This post is going to draw some really interesting google hits.

  8. 2d Says:

    i always found it very strange that many people say they hate this song, or even that it’s their least favourite r.e.m. song. it’s truly unique, original, smart, sexy and completely unlike anything they’ve ever done. the “ah” part alone is worthy enough to put in my top 20 r.e.m. songs. the dark story unveiled by the lyrics makes it more complex and eerie than it appears at first listen, but the roller-rink sound and incredible use of instruments give it a sensual, tongue-twisting appeal that has always drawn me in. everything works so well together in this song – the piano part is deliciously playful, especially when played against the steady drumbeat and chocolate-flavoured organ, completed by the sexual innuendo guitar, breaking into the wave of sparkling yet self-contained pleasure of the bridge/solo with those smooth oohs… it’s enough to get the mind and body to agree that they would rather like someone next to them when listening to this song…

  9. maclure Says:

    I’ve already been chided for suggesting Tongue isn’t, perhaps, the best, or one of the best offerings on Monster but you’re all slowly winning me over. I guess I look at it from a musical point of view and just felt it chugged along with no real intent, and the break was a very lazy, unimaginative descending guitar… but all that stuff does cohere very nicely with the clever lyrical content. I think it is great as an album track – it breaks up the guitar noise of the surrounding tracks – and it fits in and contributes to the themes of this album with “a Monster cock”. I am surprised it was chosen as a 5th single is all, why not Star 69 or I Took Your Name?

  10. 2d Says:

    “star 69” was a single before “tongue”, and there were six singles in total. “tongue” was released much later for some reason, and that’s why the video isn’t on “parallel” – i was very happy to finally own it on the “in time” dvd!

    it makes for a very unusual single indeed, but then again, such a peculiar track deserves a video. i wish they chose more un-r.e.m.-ish singles like this one in the future, to really show how versatile the band can be! i mean, the three singles from “reveal” and “around the sun” were ok, single material, but some of the more obscure but potentially good and slightly different material was not that promoted. think “disappear” (with the right video it could have been quite intriguing) or “the outsiders”… everyone around me tells me that all r.e.m. songs are so similar, and i have to agree, the singles really are. but there is so much diversity in their catalogue, i wish they would take some “less safe” single choices (at least for no. 3 onward), what do they have to lose? popularity? hardly! i think it would actually benefit them to show their “not-r.e.m.-by-numbers” repertoire.

  11. maclure Says:

    Star 69 was a single? I know it had a video, but it wasn’t released in the UK – or was it? I was my most rabidly-fanatic at this time… surely can’t have missed it!

  12. Yes, “Star 69” was the fifth single in the US, if I recall.

    1. Kenneth
    2. Bang and Blame
    3. Crush With Eyeliner
    4. Strange Currencies
    5. Star 69
    6. Tongue

  13. jim jos Says:

    I have heard that criticism of R.E.M. “the whole many songs sound the same” I just don’t see it. When you are talking decades of music you are going to, of course, have some things that are similar, but really, do any two R.E.M. cds sound the same? I have never understood it when people have said this.

  14. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    When I first heard this song I thought it was silly and lighthearted fluff (and sort of it is) but as time went by I realized how creepy and strange it is. It also is perfect as a mood and tone breaker in the middle of the Monster album. Sort of the opposite of “Electioneeering” on Radiohead’s OK Computer. By the way, song was a pretty big hit in Japan if I remember right.

  15. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’m pretty sure Star 69 wasn’t a single, only a video and then mostly promotion for the Tour.

    Love the song. Mostly because I have a developed falsetto, so it’s fun to sing along (I love “Laid” by James for the same reason) But it’s a lovely sad, and heartbreaking song. And yes, that organ lends it’s beautifully to 70’s roller rinks.

    Best line “you want a room with a fire escape.
    I want to tell you how much I hate this.”

    Second best line: “Caramel turn on a dusty apology”

    By the by, this post is ladies choice. . .

  16. 2d Says: – wow, you are so right! i never knew that, i just assumed every song with a video was a single! i bow to your overwhelming r.e.m. knowledge πŸ˜€

    jim, of course to me the songs sound different, not to mention the albums they are on, but i cannot deny that there is a certain something to some post-green r.e.m. songs that, to the casual fan, can be a similar vein. with all the particularity, i feel that “electrolite”, “daysleeper”, “imitation of life”, “man on the moon”, even “leaving new york” and “aftermath” share a certain, single-material, r.e.m.-esque feel to the casual fan more than, say, “leave”, “tongue”, “ligtnin’ hopkins”, “lotus” etc. i can’t explain it, firstly because i don’t really feel it anymore after so many listens, but they’re the sort of mid-tempo, friendly, hooky songs. many of my friends (non-r.e.m. avid fans) believe this, and i am always half surprised, half not. i won most of them a bit with songs like “let me in”, “drive”, “why not smile” or “circus envy”, and they said that the band is surprisingly versatile, but that nothing ever drove them to look for that diversity… sad, really. luckily i was there to open their eyes a bit πŸ˜€

  17. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I need to listen to this song NOW against the backdrop of these comments but am unable to due to technical difficulties. (can’t believe it’s raining hard here , first raindrops since , maybe, February)..Last night I was at a really cool music store that I go to, came across a used copy of MOJO Magazine from July 2003, has REM on the cover (the three piece)…Some really interesting reading and pics inside including one of Michael taken from the side where with his attire and reading glasses (he’s reading) and totally bizarre haircut–his head is shaved on the very top above what appears to be BLACK hair (maybe it’s the lighting) making it look like he’s wearing a skull cap !!- makes him look like a total Rabbinical student or something …He speaks in the article about how the time of Fables is when he went off the deep end with haircut experimentation and such due to the weird state and vibe within the band at that time. His “tonsorial statement” at that time, ” I was on the way to losing my mind, and that’s what happened , some good haircuts–HAHA”..Some great reading and a particularly interesting photo of the band in Paris in 1985-looks like a dressing room or something with dull yellow wallpaper and cheap chairs–very colorful of the foursome , Bill and Peter very heavy on the eyeliner (Peter actually appears sinister and menacing or pissed or something), Mike in a tres chic , very nice looking brown aviator’s jacket and wearing a vague half smirk smile that could express any number of things (maybe he had just been to The Louvre, trying to imitate the Mona Lisa), Michael looking like he’s not even there in the eyes , lost living inside himself–somewher else, with his right finger in his ear looking , yes, quite preoccupied it seems ….with the short bleach hair from Can’t Get There From Here, maroon sweater corduroy jacket sorta thing with a metal of some sort pinned to the left lapel , over a light blue t-shrt with a serpeant looking image that reminds me of the Reckoning artwork.An exceptionally compelling photo…makes you wonder EXACTLY was going on behind those eyes and between those eight that precise moment, infinitely fascinating to me ,( Mr. Moki is Stipe’s fake check -in name at the time of this magazine interview at the Opus Hotel in Vancouver) ..a funny story about how a guy walks up to Mills on the street while the three of them are there in downtown Vancouver waiting for a photo shoot and says , “Hey , isn’t that the guy from REM ??!”, pointing to Stipe with apparently no idea that he’s talking to Mills himself…Stipe talking about the Green sessions,” I remember my dog was sick, and he was with us the whole time. He had parvo, which is a horrible disease.Consequently I had to feed him a certain kind of food and he just smelled horrible through it , and he wasn’t house trained. He was in the control room just farting his little doggy butt off for most of those sessions.”..The band seems quite proud of Reveal (this may surprise some of you) , call Up “a song or two too long” but couldn’t decide which songs to eliminate..”ok , well , let’s not use yur song here , Man”, “No , let’s keep mine and get rid lof yours “..I’m paraphrasing here…Artistic bickering , no member wanted to be the one having their song not included so it all made the record, those Up sessions “riven by creative inertia” (another example of tension and turmoil creating remarkable art IMO),finished up barely on speaking terms..Only after finishing a Manager Downs instituted “four day clear the air summit at a ski lodge in Idaho in July of ’98 did they resolve to continue”……….

  18. 2d Says:

    scott, it sounds like you indeed need to listen to “tongue”, but with someone to make out with in your arms ha ha ha… πŸ˜‰

    just kiddin’ ya man.

  19. Kirsten Says:

    To be honest, it took me a while to come round to Tongue, I’m ashamed to say it. It’s now one of my favourites. Gotta agree with 2d on the “ah” – a great moment in music. Not to mention the mirror ball. The piano in this song also has a delayed effect. Does anyone know if this was done on the mixing desk or if there were two pianos like on Perfect Circle? Really enjoyed the cover (by I can’t remember who) on the Christmas Single last year.
    Brilliantly written and performed. The music mirrors the distress in the lyrics perfectly. Similar in context to my view of Bang And Blame.

    Pure Brilliance…

  20. ScottMalobisky Says:

    don’t know the answer to your question , K.
    I am just dying to hear this song right now for research purposes but I can’t due to technical difficulties…….

  21. Kirsten Says:

    That’s OK, I’ll sing it to you! πŸ™‚

    Call my name….

  22. 2d Says:

    oh and i forgot to mention michael’s dance (to be read: slight swaying from side to side body movement), mimicking the girls in the video. now that’s something even catchier than the “stand” dance!

  23. 2d Says:

    kirsten, you were a bit off key there! also, could you move slighlty forward towards scott, so he can enjoy the soft singing more? *slowly backs away toward the door*


  24. ScottMalobisky Says:

    she’s got a whole ocean to cross

  25. 2d Says:

    “7 chinese brothers swallowing the ocean…”

  26. ScottMalobisky Says:

    2d, go to Astronomy Picture Of The Day (one of my daily morning stops) for further info on Void In Universe

  27. ScottMalobisky Says:

    2d, where are you at , west coast area, USA, right?

  28. 2d Says:

    hahaha. think more like europe πŸ˜‰

  29. 2d Says:

    all this talk about the universe -astronomy and mathematics – has reminded me of this great short animation on youtube that i love so much, i think it’s positively brilliant.

    viewers beware! it’s math humour. πŸ˜€

    “i didn’t do it, i did”

  30. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Europe ? What country ?

  31. Ignis Sol Says:

    and yes radio will free Europe!!!!

  32. 2d Says:

    ha ha we actually had that station here! hmm actually we still do, go figure.

    as for the country, think about this guy:

    or, if you prefer:

    but it’s neither that scary nor that bohemian. those are just demo’s πŸ˜‰

  33. 2d Says:

    anyway, i am still surprised there is so little feedback on “tongue”, how strange! it’s surely a polemical song to say the least, i was expecting a cascade of replies… both good and bad!

    where are you people?

  34. narcizo Says:

    …on vacation (work starts tomorrow…)
    cool song, me likes lines such as this one: “ugly girls know their fate, anyone can get laid”.
    I said it once and I ‘ll say it again: “Monster” IS a concept album about our darker side; the clarity of Stipe’s remarks is wonderfully annoying.

  35. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:


    James is one of my very favorite bands, rival REM even, so underrated. The states so missed the boats with those guys.

  36. adam Says:

    the whole falsetto as woman interesting experiment.. I mean why not.. but, it worked better without michael having to explain that.. then it becomes boy singing as girl and it seems like 10 year old on school yard doing girl’s voice.. I dunno. not my favorite

  37. Kirsten Says:

    Off Key?? Me?? Never!! πŸ™‚

    Great point about the dancing, too 2d.

    Guess no one knows the answer to my piano question. Only noticed it a few weeks ago..

  38. Kirsten Says:

    Does anyone know where I can get the piano arrangement for this song? I’d love to learn to play it (drown out my off-key singing)

  39. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Romania huh ? doesn’t get much more exotic than that (to me) incredibly cool

  40. 2d Says:

    scott, i wouldn’t call romania exotic. it has some beautiful landscape, some nice people, the vernacular architecture is very homey and familiar, and some very special traditions – half-pagan, half christian. we are at a crossroade between russian, turkish and western europe influences, and that makes for a very quirky mix of mentalities. sadly, after 1989 (not that the communist regime was such a good thing, of course!), there has been nothing but chaos and confusion. we have easily fallen prey to the influences of u.s.a. commercialism, in a time when the country was at its weakest. we picked up most of the bad things and applied them wrongly too. thus, things are very shakey right now, but hopefully, with our admission in the ue, we will be back on a normal track sometime soon. bucharest was once called “little paris”, now it is more like “little paris ghetto”… lots of potential that is never explored. poverty, nepotism and corruption are main problems. sad really.

    all is not lost though, i am sure. perhaps growing up in bucharest has shown me a slightly darker side, but then again i have relatives in the country where i have always loved the unity and way of life. they were quite poor, but still smiling and enjoying life!


  41. rodhutch Says:

    I’ve always loved this song. From the day this album was released, it was one of my favorites because it was so different, not just from all of REMs catalogue but from the album itself. Some kind of little Chi-Lites tune in the middle of a hard rock album. I’m with you, 2d, about the dance from the video. Very Temptations/Four Tops backup singer style. To this day I can’t hear this song without breaking into the dance. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it rivals the Stand dance.

  42. Melonie Says:

    I hate that I arrived so late because no one will ever read this. That said, as one with an XX chromosone makeup, I find it interesting that someone listed “ugly girls know their fate” as one of their favorite lines. That actually is the one lyric that makes me almost not like the song. It’s beautiful and sad in many ways, but that line bugs me. I don’t know if it just cuts to close to the bone, but it really makes me have a great deal of conflicting emotions about my ability to like this song.

  43. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I will.

  44. Melonie Says:

    thank you. πŸ™‚

  45. diana Says:

    I love that line! ‘Ugly Girls know their fate’ because it perfectly sums up the self depricating attitude of the girl (I hesitate to say woman) who narrates the song. In one line!

    Didn’t we all know that girl as teenagers? The easy one who was so down on herself that the sex just seemed like another chore but at the same time was the only thing she felt valued for?

    Er… Maybe that was just me πŸ˜‰

  46. ChampionOfTheWorld Says:

    Butthole Surfers got a song called Tongue on an album called Idependent Worm Saloon produced by John John Jones……Other songs on the record include The Annoying Song, Who Was In My Room Last Night?, and Dog Inside Your Body

  47. ChampionOfTheWorld Says:

    uh that’s John Paul Jones

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