Theme From Two Steps Onward

August 29, 2007

I’d kind of love to know the reason why R.E.M. abandoned this song back in the mid-80s.  I mean, it’s not an obviously brilliant piece of music, but there’s clearly some potential. What could have been the deal breaker, the thing that made the group collectively give up on it, especially in the midst of recording Lifes Rich Pageant, an album that reinvented several older songs in order to fill out its running order? While it’s true that the somewhat murky tone of “…Two Steps Onward” would have been out of place along with the generally sunny, upbeat numbers on that record, but a reworked version could have made sense on Document. That said, the song does sort of sleepwalk from one part to another, and though its prominent bass line has a distinct charm, Peter Buck’s guitar chords aren’t particularly inspired. Without Michael Stipe’s vocals, the song might just sound like a random, anonymous indie band, and I can see why that would be reason enough to toss it aside.

51 Responses to “Theme From Two Steps Onward”

  1. Kirsten Says:

    I LOVE this one! You’re right, they shouldn’t have dumped it. Or at least put it on Dead Letter Office. The bass line is fantastic. Great one to sing along to and it doesn’t matter if you’re out of tune on this one either!
    I thought it was a cover, are you telling me it’s an REM original?

  2. Paul Alferink Says:

    Wow, never expected to see this one covered. I had to go digging through bootlegs just to remember what it sounded like. The answer? Non-discript REM. Really doesn’t fit in with LRP. Feels like a Reckoning song, actually. Glad it wasn’t included on anything, really. No big whoop. It’s actually on the same bootleg as Bad Day, and while I realized that Bad Day is really “ITEOFWAWKI” I always really liked the song as is also. Glad they finished it and released it, myself.
    Really, in the decade that saw “Bad Day” and “All the Right Friends” get released, we’ll know they’re out of ideas if the revisit “Theme from 2 steps onward”

  3. 2fs Says:

    I’ve always liked this one – I remember hearing it live several times in the period surrounding Fables‘ release. One thing about R.E.M. songs: it’s rarely the skeleton of the song that makes it work but the way it’s recorded in the studio. I’d say, then, it’s hard to tell how this one might have turned out had they devoted studio attentions to it. (There was an in-studio demo, I believe – I’d have to look it up – but it’s clearly not all that developed.)


  4. Yes, the studio demo appears on the bonus disc of the And I Feel Fine IRS compilation, and was the basis for this review.

  5. 2d Says:

    this song has always seemed quite bland to me… sorry😀

  6. ScottMalobisky Says:

    a googoogoo a gagaga
    is all I have to say to you

  7. 2d Says:

    ??? care to rephrase that in english?😉


  8. one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. love the live German TV version. there is, or was, a studio version with strings, no?!

  9. dan Says:

    because it’s an outtake i probably listen to it more than i would if it were an album track. it’s good (especially for an outtake), but not REALLY good.

    sidenote: there should be an r.e.m. tribute album in which people add vocals to r.e.m. instrumentals (i.e. “tricycle,” “rotary ten,” etc). i thought of this last night while dozing off. the band could unearth unreleased compositions (i.e. the Out of Time outtake “speed metal” or some of the those green-era instrumentals) and pass ’em around. it could be pretty bad, obviously, but most tribute albums are anyway, and at least this would be creative and interesting! and we’d get to hear bill berry, that’s the important thing.

  10. Ignis Sol Says:

    I like this song.

  11. 2d Says:

    short and to the point, ignis. nice work😉

  12. jim jos Says:

    Paul,

    It reminds me of Reckoning too, maybe because there are parts that remind me some of Camera.

    I guess the reason that they left this off Fables was because they lost the master demo of it, one with horns.

    Then they brought it out again for LRP, and probably were a little unhappy with it since they were trying to replay a song that was originally lost.

    I am kind of glad that it isn’t on either Fables or LRP, as I think both would be a little bit less if this was on it, though its probably only a half hearted rehash we are hearing that has survived. I am sure the original was better.

    Bill Berry calls this “The lost REM classic” and Peter Buck states “I don’t know why we didn’t put it on the record.”

    My worthless guess; I am thinking that they weren’t really feeling it the second time. Probably more interested in the newer (even if older) stuff than some song that worked better a year ago.

    I mean Just A Touch, seems to fit real nice on LRP, not sure this would have.

  13. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Mike Mills: “The Monster tour , ooh,,that was a lot of fun ! A lot of people said that must have been a horrible time, but except for a couple of months of discomfort for Bill, I had a really good time. I guess it was the height of our popularity. It was fun being a big deal–the size of the shows, the buzz, the amount of records you’re selling. It’s nice to feel that momentum.” And furthermore: “Y’know the first thing you have to realize about toruring is that you ARE gonna go nuts. I think ’89 put a pretty big crunch on everybody. It was funny, when we were out in ’95 on the Monster tour, we played Singapore, I think, and I walked into the dressing room, and there was just this mountain of beer and liquor and wine and vodka and Courvoisier , and I was like -What the hell is this stuff? It turns out someone mistakenly loaded the ’89 rider into the dressing room ! I was like, Oh Jesus, no wonder ’89 almost killed us ! And after that ’95 tour, it took me over two months to get back to normal. I mean as normal as I get..”

  14. Justin Says:

    I had a live version of this from a performance on/at Rockpalast in 1986. I love the end of the song, and the verses are dark and pretty, but the chorus is where it stumbles (and that’s precisely where a pop tune needs to coalesce). If they’d ever worked out the hook, it would’ve been a contender, for sure.

    Great lost title, too, second only to “The Devil Rides Backwards on a Horse Called Maybe”.

  15. ScottMalobisky Says:

    God rides sideways on an armadillo called Perhaps

  16. Ignis Sol Says:

    “The Christ Rides in Circles on a Rhino Called Definately”

  17. protimoi86 Says:

    would have fit perfectly on Fables. Oh well…

    and where did you guys hear of “the devil rides backwards…” is that another outtake from the early days?

  18. ScottMalobisky Says:

    that was actually a working title of a Stipe compostion during the Automatic sessions that , apparently,…. never came to it’s fruition ….as a song …….or maybe it did….in some form with a different title. If I got my facts right though , it did not ever evolve that far .

  19. 2d Says:

    hmm looks like this is one of the least successful songs when it comes to feedback! this, so soon after the tongue/nightswimming combo is a serious anti-climax to the social life on this board😀

  20. 2d Says:

    sorry, blog. or, unwillingly and inadvertently ransformed into a board… blog.

  21. jim jos Says:

    seems like everyone is as excited about writing about it as the band was about putting it on an album.

    Matthew, gotta give us something new, man.

  22. Ignis Sol Says:

    irony? two steps ONWARD? ha!.. onward?

    back to my holiday weekend drinkin’…..

    onward, for sure

  23. Kirsten Says:

    What’s wrong with this song? I like it. This blog encouraged me to listen to it on the weekend – it’s great. I think it would have fit brilliantly on Murmur, or even fit well on Lifes Rich Pageant.

  24. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Oh, there’s so many thngs that I could talk about but don’t encourage me…:)

  25. Kirsten Says:

    OK then, I wont.

    (That should be enough to do it….)

  26. Elliot H. Says:

    So I was just watching TV, and these two women were talking about how if you want to get a good man, look at how expensive looking his shoes are.

    I found myself quietly singing in a room full of people.

    “When you meet a stranger, look at his shoes. Keep your money in your shoes.”

    I know this doesn’t have anything to do with this song, I just thought it was funny.

  27. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I never heard this song.

  28. maclure Says:

    Scott, shouldn’t you use the Present Perfect tense to describe a negative life experience? ie. “I HAVE never heard this song”. Or, are Americans more slapdash with their use of this tense? My mother is American, my Father British so I grew up learning the spelling and grammar of both places so I’m a confused boy. Anyway, sorry to go on about this. No offence intended. Just twiddling my thumbs for the next post is all.

    Oh and by the way, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I never heard this song either.

  29. ScottMalobisky Says:

    no , maclure , I love your attention to such things, I am grammatically and spelling(ly) and vocabulary(ly) correct to the point of being obnoxious I’m sure to those who don’t give a hoot about such things ( I am more careful than ever with people in everyday conversation because I am coming to the conclusion that the way I speak actually either 1. turns people off {like Frazier or Niles on Cheers though I’m not that bad} or 2. intimidates people, ……..hence a continuous failure to connect ……so I try hard NOT to talk that way, to not use too many big words and such, sad huh? I DESPERATELY need to get back into school and be around smart people {I’m withering on the vine , Man})..To answer your question, I’m not sure , pretty sure both are correct….BTW, what are the words to this song anyway ? Is it about anything in particular? I guess I could look it up………

  30. maclure Says:

    Have no idea about this song or the words in it but I will make a point of looking it up. I have the I feel fine DVD but not the CDs…

    I like your comments, Scott. I can’t imagine you have a Frazier or Niles voice – I don’t hear it when I read your post entries. What do I hear? An impassioned street preacher bellowing the gospel of REM, perhaps? But then I’ve never met you to confirm. I’m teaching some English to Brazilians at the mo which is why I’m tuned to this grammar stuff having never really learned it as a kid… you’re right, both your sentence and mine are correct. I just think mine is perhaps more correct (ouch!) as it implies experience whereas “I never heard this song” sounds like it refers to one event. For example, it makes it sound as if you were in the vicinity of the song one day but it was too quiet to hear, or perhaps I asked you if you heard it once on the radio and then you remind me you went out before it started playing…

    Right, I’m boring myself now. Not a peep from me about this again. Sorry folks. La de da, back to work…

  31. Ignis Sol Says:

    Listening to Up now. I just love “Sad Professor” and “The Apologist.”

    At times we all fit into an R.E.M. song category. Whether it’s the keen observer of “Good Advices” or the penitent character from “Falls to Climb.”

    Today, I am some where in between “Sweetness Follows” and “Circus Envy.” I hate where I wound up.

  32. 2d Says:

    hey ignis… “why not smile”?… you’ve got “all the right friends” here, maybe we can give you “the lifting” you need. *hug*

  33. Ignis Sol Says:

    Thanks 2d – very sweet and clever, I do have the “Perfect Circle” of friends here. I guess, at times, “Everybody Hurts.” So, I will “Get Up” and take a “Stand” because today I am the “King of Birds.”

  34. 2d Says:

    yes, sometimes life will pay you in “strange currencies”, but don’t go hiding “underneath the bunker” (even though there is rumoured to be some rum in there!), and remember that sometimes, to “talk about the passion” is really to “walk unafraid”. and when friends come at your door saying “let me in”, you’ll know that, for them, “you are the everything”. never lose “hope”🙂

  35. 2d Says:

    and please, call me… mandark!😀

  36. ScottMalobisky Says:

    “bellowing” , right on . So , if one is belligerent they exhibit the quality of belligerence , does that mean that if one is bellicose they exhibit the quality of bellicosity and what is the viscosity of this oil anyway?

  37. ScottMalobisky Says:

    just looked up the lyrics, “the quarter you live in haunts my eyes” is poetic , dont need any music to enjoy that one:)

  38. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I wonder if Matthew has 9/9 planned for 9/9? I hope I didn’t just ruin it.(:

  39. 2d Says:

    no no no, according to his secret murmur pattern, it’s going to be “catapult”😛

  40. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I wonder if “Catapult” will comment on that one, haven’t heard from him in ages…unless he changed his moniker.

  41. ScottMalobisky Says:

    And wonder what happened to Matthew Black, PhD. That cat fascinated me (check out this comment on Low…as NN loads a salvo into his cyber-bazooka)

  42. ScottMalobisky Says:

    his comment on Low

  43. Mr Cup Says:

    Chaps…what’s the collective (or singular) thought on the reissue of an unedited “On the Road”?

  44. ScottMalobisky Says:

    You mean Kerouac ?
    What’s you talkin’ about, Willis?

  45. Mr Cup Says:

    Sorry – Kerouac’s “On the Road”.

  46. Paul Alferink Says:

    Um . . . Kerouac was a lazy genius and “On the road” is moments of fantastic writing separated by gulf’s of horrendous boredom?

  47. Mr Cup Says:

    Yeah. It’s an odd book. Took me ages to read it as it felt like a 14 year old boy had written it (not that there’s anything wrong with that) so I kept putting it down. While there are some great passages, it’s probably not that fantastic as a whole. For me it’s more the spirit of the book rathere than the actual writing. Like Pollock’s paintings, there’s a freedom and a flow that can work beautifuly or just fall in a heap.
    When I was doing the backpacker thing some years ago, I was reading it outside a hostel one afternoon. I looked up to find 3 other people reading it as well. It suits a time in your life.

  48. ScottMalobisky Says:

    wasn’t he totally jacked on amphetamines when he wrote that ?

  49. Mr Cup Says:

    Benzedrine and coffee is the official word.

  50. Kirsten Says:

    I know this conversation finished a week ago, but I was listening to this song last night and I’d just like to say that it really is fantastic. I was listening to Murmur an hour before and it really would’ve fit in well on that album. Essential R.E.M.

  51. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Capote on ‘On The Road’ : “That ain’t writing, that’s typing.” Funny.


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