Star 69

December 2, 2007

Though most of the songs on Monster are concerned with characters who are so consumed by their obsession with someone else that they either try to recreate or obliterate their own identity, “Star 69” comes from the perspective of a person who has become the object of someone’s obsession. Perversely, it is the most cheery and playful number on the record. Granted, the stakes aren’t as high as in, say, “I Took Your Name” or “You,” but there’s a sense that the singer isn’t that bothered by the fact that he’s being stalked by his ex, and is actually enjoying the drama and the attention. The words are a bit goofy and friendly, but they hint at the possibility that the protagonist’s self-absorption may eclipse the obsession of the person who keeps calling him and hanging up.

An outmoded technology note: I’m a big fan of artists referring to the technology of the moment in their songs because I always enjoy concrete details in lyrics, and the way specificity ties a song to an identifiable moment in time. For those of who don’t recall, *69 is a telephone feature that allows someone to automatically call back or find out the number of the last call their phone received. It’s still around, but it’s totally redundant now that caller I.D. is a standard feature on pretty much all telephones.

27 Responses to “Star 69”

  1. milesy Says:

    Good review, Matthew.
    And wasn’t this a great rock-out song to finish off the main set on the Monster tour? Sung (yelled!) with abandon by Mr Stipe. Was that really 12 years ago..?

  2. ScottMalobisky Says:

    if a caller has the Restricted ID feature so as not to be identified , does *69 still work ? and can’t a recipient of a phone call override the caller’s Restricted ID with the proper upgrade, and then can’t the caller supercede the recipient’s Caller Restricted ID override with an upgrade on their end ? ah, the insane tennis match of technology

    this song coulda benefited from maybe a bit more takes and time spent honing it to, perhaps , something a bit more nuanced , (perhaps) , a lot of the stuff on Monster has an unfinished feel to it and this is a prime example…also, a lot more to the lyrics than originally meets the ear…..

  3. Oh, I totally disagree about that — I really love the sound of this track, especially the way the vocals are just a little out of phase, giving the song this great, delirious feeling.

  4. Dark Bob Says:

    I always thought the lyrics were quite humorous, especially “Spy vs. Spy” (a reference to the Mad Magazine comic strip). A pretty good song. Not their best, but certainly not their worst. I never thought Monster had an unfinished feel to it. In fact I think the opposite. I remember reading an interview with Bill Berry saying that he was getting annoyed with how much time the band was spending trying to polish up the tracks, his response was “You can’t polish a turd!”.

  5. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Point is taken , and I agree that the whole intent of Monster was a feeling of rawness and not too much tinkering with the songs and all ….But even Stipe said that much of the record has an unfinished quality to it…which certainly isn’t a bad thing necessarily when you got other records to show off your exceptional proclivities in the other direction

  6. narcizo Says:

    I like it. I like it a lot. It works great as an interlude between “I don’t sleep, I dream” and “Strange currencies”. I don’t know why, but for me it always had a faux RHCP-feeling, kinda funky, kinda dumb. It fits perfectly into the whole concept of the lp; think about it, on the other hand it’s a bit kinky to enjoy such a behaviour from someone.

  7. maclure Says:

    I think this song was great live but also an important part of Monster’s progression as an album – short, snappy and loud before (and after) some mid-tempo tracks, toned down tunes. This song, IMO, has the fingerprint of Cobain-esque Grunge all over it. 4 power chords (A,D,G,E I think), rough and hazy feel of the lyrics, theme of obsession, repeated chorus words… I just feel Star69 lacks a certain something that hinders it from being a great, great song.

    ps. technology note was interesting Matthew. Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite is another phone song, a pre-cellphone song…

  8. Paul Alferink Says:

    This was my favorite song on Monster when I first got the album. It got passes up by a couple of songs, now, not because I enjoy it less, but I learned to love other songs more.

    Best Lyrics:

    I know all about the warehouse fire
    I know squirrelys didn’t chew the wires

  9. protimoi Says:

    A personal favorite, and some of Michael’s funniest wiseass lyrics to date.

  10. ScottMalobisky Says:

    narcizo, “a bit kinky , to enjoy such behavior..”, sorta like (but not really) when a c-list celebrity is dying for some serious paparrazi action to validate their existence -perhaps going so far as to have an assistant plant info with the paparazzi of an inevitable appearance somewhere– the c-list celebrity acting all the while as if he/she is disgusted with it , the paparazzi an all, but really eating up the attention , knowing how much their career needs it.


  11. Kirsten Says:

    Luckily I read some reviews before I bought the album that said what *69 actually is or I would’ve been completely lost! (*10# does the same thing here – doesn’t quite sound as good somehow).
    Second maclure’s comments on it being great live – so full of energy (the new ITEOTWAWKI). Heaps of fun to sing along to and I love the way the words echo over themselves.
    Monster is a fabulous album and I don’t think it sounds “unfinished” at all. I think it’s pretty close to perfect. Probably my 2nd favourite album.

  12. Mr Cup Says:

    This was more indecipherable than End of the World. As Kirsten says, *69 was meaningless. I naturally thought it was sexual.

    For me this song always sounded like 2 cars doing laps at the speedway, with the vocals slightly off kilter adding to that feel.

  13. Kirsten Says:

    Hey Mr Cup – love the car analogy!

  14. jft Says:

    i’ve got to say I don’t really like this one. it’s not exactly bad or so, but it’s the only song on monster that didn’t grow on me – at first I didn’t really like the album, my mind has changed. but this song is far too catchy, too fast and too flat in the chord progression and so on… somehow it’s a boring song, even if you can’t really say that about an uptempo number like this one. I mostly skip this one, as to me it’s just a filler between two of monster’s best songs.

  15. Kirsten Says:

    jft – the fact that it is between 2 of your favourite songs probably has a lot to do with why you don’t like it. I’ve found that the song directly after my favourites seem to be my least favourites. They’re not bad songs, but they simply don’t stack up to the one before it.

  16. Mr Cup Says:

    Thanks Kirsten,
    Don’t wanna sound like a bogan or nuthin’.

  17. jim jos Says:

    you don’t have to take the bar exam to see
    what you’ve done is ignoramus 103.

    that’s not very nice.

  18. Kirsten Says:

    Neither is calling someone and hanging up.

  19. protimoi Says:

    never thought that the protagonist was actually enjoying the attention he or she was getting.

    and i thought the dude from “I Took Your Name” was sick…

  20. gluefoot Says:

    for me, this a fine example of a track from Monster that would have benefitted from rawer production values.. like it is thrashy and on the brink of some kind of mania but it could have easily been so much more so..

    Circus Envy is probably the track that sounds most like what i’m talking about, but even on that one the fuzz and feedback seems too controlled.. it seems the band willingly laid their head to Warners’ demands that every record be of a certain production value/up to their standards of “listenability” or whatever..

    imagine Monster as a record of pure abandon after the refinement & quite grace of most of OOT and AFTP, and recorded and produced as such.. Monster, as it exists, is that is some ways, certainly the songs are strong enough and the lyrics are impressively brash, but it’s the production..

    it should have been something of a (post) punk record for the 90s.. imagine if Wire had done Star 69, that’s what i mean..

    i really like Monster and always stick up for it but it could and should have been SO much better.. and it’s a shame ’cause the songs were all there.. i’ve love to hear the demos…………

  21. 2d Says:

    i love everything about monster, from album “concept” to song-by-song sequence to the individual songs to all the parts that make up the songs to the little details you can hear in the background. it’s been my very favourite r.e.m. album for quite some time and i wouldn’t change anything about it. i love the fact that it has so much energy that sparkles and explodes, but still manages to sound somehow confined and dark. a glamorous restraint of anger. this album always calms me down or picks me up when i need it. it also has one of the best song triplettes in their catalogue: star 69 / strange currencies / tongue, with the latter two being among my top 10 r.e.m. songs. if there were one minor flaw in the album is that it lacks just a bit of spontaneously orange energy towards the end, something that a song like “revolution” would have brought if set between “let me in” and “circus envy”. but still, all the songs are top-notch.

    as for “star 69”, i never thought the character likes being stalked, but it’s food for thought really. i get the feeling he is disappointed, angry and reproachful towards someone who used him and betrayed his trust, and is now trying to get back in his good graces. the song is simple madness and gets my butt off the chair from the first note, and that ain’t bad! love the ironic title, making also a reference to “star me kitten” off the previous album. like, “for star me kitten you were shocked to find that it meant fuck, in total contrast with the lovely adorable feline, but for this obviously sexual and kinky title your expectations are again blown up sky-high, i’m talking about the callback function on the phone!”. this is the genius of r.e.m.!

  22. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Good, not great song, always seemed like it sonically stood out from the rest of the CD as it seems brighter and less murky that almost all the other Monster tracks. It’s a ton of fun to crank in the car though.

  23. lenny Says:

    Pretty good song, and a good review, as usual. I would disagree about the outdated technology, though — I don’t like the way that *69 dates itself. I prefer songs to be timeless, and my favorite songs of all time are the ones that sound great whether they are new, just a little old, or even ancient. This song just loses its appeal to me as time goes on.

    As far as the album goes, and the discussion of the production — I much prefer Circus Envy to Star 69, as far as the raw and thrashy sound is concerned. I don’t think Circus Envy needed to change one bit. I especially love the buzz of the last chord, which is a perfect segue to the amazing album closer, You.

  24. Paul Alferink Says:

    I had friends who were in a band, and this was in there set list for a while. When I came to watch their shows, they always let me sing this song. It’s fun to sing. I remember doing my best Michael Stipe manic gyrating with the mike stand when I sang it.

    Shout out to Hiccup. Thanks for letting me play rock star.

  25. DJ Says:

    I always thought that this song…… most of the tracks on monster had that quality of garage music slamming into a polished glam punk kind of sound. This record whether you love it or hate it was a ballsy move by a band that had become rich by using an acoustic/strings sound on the previous 2 records. I love to crank this record up to full blast.

  26. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Thought I had short-changed this a little as I was tight on time when I posted the first time. Is there a more punk-influenced song in the entire REM backcatalogue? I don’t think so. If you stripped away the fuzzy guitar and played it more straitforward you could almost hear Green Day or Blink 182 playing this song. Is it REM doing pop-punk and in that regard it is an amazing testament to REM’s skills as songwriters and musicians. That said, it is not a classic in the REM classic sense, merely a very good genre excercise that fits well on Monster.

    That said, I love the semi-subtle sexual imagery of Star 69, whether or not the technology is outdated or not. Who are the stars in this 69?

  27. 2d Says:

    this and “pretty persuasion”, these are songs that go together well, vont bien ensemble 🙂

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