Underneath The Bunker

September 11, 2007

“Underneath The Bunker” sounds like ethnic music, but it’s so jumbled and odd that it’s hard to place it properly — it’s a bit Latin, a bit Greek, a bit gah, who knows. It seems like a moment of weirdness and levity in the middle of Lifes Rich Pageant, but given its lyrics implication of war and/or nuclear devastation, it actually may be the bleakest cut on the record. Michael Stipe doesn’t even turn up til near the end of the song, and even then, he’s virtually unrecognizable what with the severe distortion and his odd, put-on accent. Its inclusion on the album is totally counter-intuitive, but somehow it works perfectly as a bridge between “Hyena” and “The Flowers of Guatemala.” I can’t imagine what possessed the band to push for the song’s inclusion, but it worked out fairly well.


39 Responses to “Underneath The Bunker”

  1. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah this is a weird one, luv it though, it’s like they’re saying, “yeah, we can write a shitload of awesome songs and then just make you all scratch your heads in bewilderment just for fun with something like this”….And they were probably sitting around having a beer and chuckling at all the people trying to figure out what it means . yes, a true original, this one , for what it’s worth

  2. Kirsten Says:

    I really love it, too. i always thought it had a bit of a Spanish feel to it. Never noticed that about an accent, will listen for it tonight. Does anyone know if it is Bill or Mike singing in the background? I thought it was Bill, but I was wondering if anyone knew for sure.

  3. ScottMalobisky Says:

    and a good song for 9/11…Obama under some bunker right now somewhere , oh I’m sorry , I meant Osama….Long day…..Oh no wait , he’s at Oprah’s mega fund raiser–Obama I mean , uh, what day is it ??

  4. xman Says:

    I can’t imagine what possessed the band to push for the song’s inclusion, but it worked out fairly well.

    alcohol! it’s a little rummy shambler

  5. 2d Says:

    i never understood why some people claim they dislike this song. i love love love it. it’s so quirky and unique, and indeed its album placement is ideal, working well as an afterthought of “hyena” and as an intro to “the flowers of guatemala”.

  6. NN Says:

    Underneath the Bunker live! the last minute or so of the video.

  7. maclure Says:

    I just love Lifes Rich Pageant to bits and can’t fathom that album without this song… it’s all part of the wild, weird, wacky walk in the wilderness the boys take us on.

  8. maclure Says:

    Good call NN, that clip made me laugh…

  9. Paul Alferink Says:

    Loved this song from the beginning. Good fun. Camper Van Beethoven says REM got it from listening to there album. Unofortunately, I’m only familiar with David Lowery’s other bad, Cracker, so I have no idea if that’s true. It doesn’t sound like Cracker, though. . .

  10. Scott Says:

    I’ve always thought it a Tom Waits tribute. Stipe listed “Rain Dogs” as one of his favorite albums of the 80’s in a Rolling Stone article. I could hear Waits doing this song and it fitting just fine on that album.

  11. Bruno Says:

    There’s definitely the Latin stuff going on but there’s a bit of an – not sure how to describe it – sort of a Flappers era thing as well. I picture someone with one of those old-style megaphones (they were just a cone with a handle) and jazz at The Cotton Club. A trumpet with one of those ‘Wha, Whaa’ muffling things on the end. Putting on the Ritz! Swanee!!

    OK I guess I have gone nuts.

    By the way, when this came out albums and tapes were still around and in that context this track wasn’t really ‘between hyena and the flowers of guatemala’ – it ended side one. Often when a band wanted to put on a weird/throw-away track it went in that spot – so it makes sense more from that perspective

  12. Andy Says:

    That’s a really great point Bruno. I always thought of it as the “punctuation” at the end of side one.

    It definitely has a WWII-era European cabaret feel to it, but I also heard it as in a similar vein to “White Tornado”–like Marlene Dietrich being played by the Ventures.

  13. Bandwagon03 Says:

    Quirky is a excellent word for that song. I always envisioned something similar to Bruno’s vision. Maybe, like everyone is forced “underneath the bunker” and there is some odd spanish style band playing, dancing girls, etc. I am pretty sure the vocal is sung through a megaphone, or at least is supposed to sound that way.

    Yea, maybe i have gone over the deep end too!


  14. Andy Says:

    …you can’t really be “underneath” a bunker, can you? It’s a fortification that one gets inside of, right? Is that relevant? Maybe it doesn’t matter…

    (it probably doesn’t matter)

  15. Eclipse Says:

    Paul, I’d love to know where you got that David Lowery comment from. I’m a huge CVB fan! If you listen to some old CVB, their first album or two, you could definitely hear a similarity between them and this song; old CVB is a mishmash of world/ska/stonerpunk music and is definitely worth a listen! Nice to think one of my favorite bands might’ve influenced one of my other favorite bands. 🙂

  16. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I have always loved this song too! Quirky, interesting guitar work and an incredibly dark lyric for such a “throwaway” song. As to it possibly being inspired by Camper Van Beethoven, I don’t know if its true but by the sound of it, it easily could be true.

  17. adam Says:

    I loved when REM records had this kind of stuff… miss it miss it. Still love the band.. but these kind of things made the records special.. and the extra little instrumental interludes on Reckoning etc

  18. jim jos Says:

    good call by those who noted the Camper influence. CVB was the opening act for R.E.M. during this period. I always imagined that the band was listening to them and it inspired this song. I think it adds a good element to one of my favorite albums of all time.

  19. Elliot H. Says:

    For years, I always thought this song sounded kind of like Surf-rock, but as I sit here thinking about it a voice is in my head

    “What are you, retarded? It doesn’t sound like surf-rock at all”

    I listened to the song again. sure enough, it doesn’t.

    Anyway, you’re right. This song is a great bridge between Hyena’s rock and Guatemala’s quiet

  20. Bruno Says:

    Yeah, that’s it Andy – European Cabaret.

    So let’s see now…

    A dark, quirky, dancing girls, Marlene Dietrich, flappers, Ventures, Camper Van Beethoven (Was Deaf), bit Latin, bit Greek, bit gah, WWII-era European cabaret rummy shambler.

    Got it.

  21. Theresa Says:

    I’ve always really liked this song, but I could never place quite why. I don’t have much to add, besides that. Just thought that I’d say something.

  22. Kirsten Says:

    I think I can help sum it up Bruno – It’s REM.

  23. Mr Cup Says:

    Lotta love for this song, lotta love.

    I think it’s a further nod to Peter Sellers (DR Strangelove comes to mind), “You can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”.

    On my top quality cassette I always thought the line was ‘wait for bombs the bombs shall come’.The actual line is far more optomistsic.

    The backing harmony…oh boy. Lotta love.

    by the way- whats a rummy shambler?

  24. Mr Cup Says:

    …and in closing, as Andy suggests, hiding underneath the bunker adds to that crazy humour. It’ll be a lot safer under the bunker!

  25. Ignis Sol Says:

    “Underneath the Bunker” is where I hide the whiskey that gives me the groovies (and good for my precious bodily fluids) ….cha cha cha

    Great Dr. Strangelove… reference, Mr. Cup. Kubrick is one of my favorite directors. I just watched it Labor Day weekend again. And that ‘war room’ line has to be one of my favorite lines!

  26. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Theresa, great to hear from you !
    Where you been, in jail ?

  27. Kirsten Says:

    She’s been hiding Underneath The Bunker….

  28. ScottMalobisky Says:

    well, we got bunker busting bombs in our arsenal, Honey , you’re not safe there

  29. […] Underneath The Bunker “Underneath The Bunker” sounds like ethnic music, but it’s so jumbled and odd that it’s hard to […] […]

  30. Paul Alferink Says:

    Peter Buck said in an interview that they went to a Greek restuarant, and this was the kind of music they where playing. They went back to the studio and wrote this, their version of this.

    A member of CVB said once (I think it was in an REM Biography that was just a collection of quotes from other people, I forget the title, and the book is in storage somewhere in my garage) Anyway, the CVB member said he had sent REM a Camper Van Beethoven album album and he was so excited, because when he heard this song, he assumed they had listened to it and were influenced by it, which he was thrilled by. And then he had heard the Buck quote and was disappointed/ not sure if he believed what Buck said. The author then points at the song certainly does sound like a CVB song.

  31. mjd Says:

    Funny story re: Camper opening for R.E.M. Apparently Camper was handing out/throwing from stage backstage passes for R.E.O. Speedwagon. Typical of their warped sense of humor…

  32. Dark Bob Says:

    I always thought of this as a Civil War themed song along with Swan Swan H. What ever it is, it’s a fun song.

  33. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Woo-hoo! I got a name drop in Bruno’s post! (Sort of).

  34. Figgy Says:

    Oddly, this was one of the first REM songs I ever heard! Many years ago a guy at school put the whole of ‘Document’ plus ‘Begin the Begin’, ‘Hyena’ and ‘Underneath the Bunker’ on one side of a 90-min cassette for me to listen to.

    Very enjoyable song – love the quirky guitar and percussion and the slightly dark lyrics. I had no idea at the time whether this song was typical or atypical of REM. I suppose nowadays I see it as typical of the spirit of REM at that time, recording interesting covers and originals (sometimes while drunk and obviously having fun being in a band) that would end up on b-sides and/or ‘Dead Letter Office’. As adam said earlier, it would be nice to find this kind of fresh, fun and (I’m guessing) quickly-written spontaneous stuff on new REM albums.

    A couple of months after getting the tape, I saw REM live for the first time and to my delight they peformed this song, Stipe delivering the vocals through that bullhorn he used on the Green World Tour for ‘Orange Crush’ and ‘Turn You Inside Out’.

  35. Theresa Says:

    I haven’t posted any comments in quite a while because school started. I’ve been really busy, and haven’t had much time. Plus, I usually can’t think of anything interesting to say.

  36. Bunnia Says:

    Hey guys,

    Remember me? No? Well…it’s OK. 🙂

    I haven’t posted any comments in a long while but I’ve really enjoyed reading all of the wonderful reviews and comments here in this blog. There are some I agree with and others that I don’t, but all the same I appreciate your insight! Y’all are awesome! I’ve wanted to leave comments but can never think of anything interesting to add, so I missed out. Sometimes it’s hard for me to express my love for R.E.M. There’s so many songs here that MP has reviewed that I love and adore and they have truly inspired me for personal reasons. Then again there are many that haven’t been mentioned yet that I’m really looking forward to. All in all, I’m thankful that R.E.M. has given me (and their many fans) so much diverse music to choose from.

    UTB: One of the songs that helped me determine that R.E.M. was unlike any band (or music) I was listening to in the 80’s, especially because of my background. To me, this song is brilliant because it caught my attention and it’s different from the typical rock song. *But so are a lot of R.E.M. songs, that’s why I’m thankful for them* I enjoy the pauses and then when the guitar comes in…makes me want to stomp my foot and attempt to do some kind of Latin dance! Beautiful drum and bass. I don’t think it sounds jumbled at all. It’s a nice little gem–short and sweet but full of rhythm!

    Did you guys hear about this:


  37. Ignis Sol Says:

    Bunnia thanks for sharing your story! I like your insight and agree with you about the rhythm. Thanks for the link, too.

  38. trevor g Says:

    if you like this song you will almost certainly love Telephone Free Landslide Victory by Camper Van Beethoven

  39. Maurice Says:

    I always thought the voice sound and the title were references to William S. Burroughs, whose windowless Lower East Side apartment in a former YMCA was referred to as “the Bunker.”

    I dunno, I always dug the 60s surf/spy feel to the track.

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