All The Right Friends

April 22, 2008

I can’t be fair with “All The Right Friends.” It’s a competent but unremarkable bit of R.E.M. juvenilia that has been totally poisoned for me by its context. First, the song was resurrected from obscurity for the soundtrack of  the utterly dire Tom Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky. Okay, fine, whatever, it’s not as if the movie really reflects on the quality of the song either way. It was probably a favor, who cares, move on. But then, FOR SOME REASON, the band decided to include it as a track on In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. 1988-2003, which is a very problematic thing if you happen to take greatest hits records even a little bit seriously. First, it makes a lie of that album’s title twice over — most obviously, it’s entirely anachronistic. Not only does the song predate Murmur, its very presence among songs written much later in the band’s career is extremely jarring. Secondly, the song is plainly not the best of anything! Several excellent, highly worthy hits from the 1988-2003 period — “Bang and Blame,” “Pop Song 89,” “Turn You Inside-Out,” “Get Up,” “Drive,” the enormously popular “Shiny Happy People” — were omitted from In Time in order to make room for this totally mediocre tune that wasn’t good enough for the IRS records the first time around. It’s just ridiculous. The only real justification for pushing this song at that point in the band’s career was to make an appeal to old school fans desperate for another taste of the band back in their salad days.  Otherwise, it makes no sense at all.

33 Responses to “All The Right Friends”

  1. maclure Says:

    Nice to have you back, MP. Your post says it all.

  2. Paul Alferink Says:

    I like this song, although it was improved slightly between the early 80’s and it’s 2000 incarnation. The Mike Mills backing vocals (I just don’t, I just don’t WAAANNNT YOU) are a nice addition. It’s a nice song. But it totally doesn’t sound like an REM song. It’s sounds like REM covering a Troggs song or some. An REM cover of a generic Pop Song. The song itself isn’t terribly special. But damn it all to hell if I don’t enjoy it when REM covers even mundane songs.

    The whole Best of is a silly moniker. No group that ever come out with a Greatest Hits album while still a viable group EVER really just does a great hits album. It’s always “MOST” of the hits and a couple of new or hard to fine songs thrown in for completist. I mean, if they didn’t, I wouldn’t buy it. I have all there albums. And people like me are garunteed cha-ching when it comes to REM albums. They are never going to pass up my easy $15. Never.
    List of “Greatest Hits Albums” with new material:

    Tom Petty “Last Dance with Mary Jane” “Call out the Instigator” (?)

    U2 “Sweetest Thing”

    REM Eponymous “Romance” plus all the re-mixes.

    Billy Joel volume 1 and 2. “Second Wind” “While the Night is Still Young.”

    Van Halen

    Bruce Springsteen “Murder, Inc.”

    And Many, Many others. At the end of there career, there will be another, honest to goodness, Greatest Hits Album, Like a Steve Miller Greatest Hits album. You know. The one everybody owns cause it has all the Steve Miller Band songs you like on one album. When REM is done, that’s what you’ll get. So I’ve gotten over it. Heck. Sometimes, Like “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” it’s even a worthwhile song in it’s own right.

  3. Flor Says:

    The new version was released in 2002 and “the best” is entirely subjective, I don’t see the problem with including it on In Time: the Best of 1988-2003.

    I like the song, but then I also liked Vanilla Sky.

  4. Paul Alferink Says:

    Vanilla Sky fell apart. Not the worst movie; at least it tried, but it really fell apart.

  5. davegassner Says:

    Aw, I liked Vanilla Sky… 😦 Meanwhile, Family Guy recently referred to it as an “Abortion”…I don’t know, I’m starting to think I unknowingly missed half the movie or something…

    It did make cool use of “Sweetness Follows” though.

    “Competent but Unremarkable”
    “Not the Best of Anything”

    …well, I do agree with your asseessment of “All the Right Friends”! Not bad for a bunch of 20-year olds I guess.

  6. Ben Says:

    I’ve only seen the movie once, and that was years ago and I was probably stoned. So I don’t remember it all that well, but how did it use Sweetness Follows?

    But about All The Right Friends, since it was a one-off soundtrack song I never really paid it much mind. It’s not as good as Revolution or Draggin’ The Line, but it’s harmless. I really like that they went back to polish up a relic from the past (like they did, with better results, on Bad Day), and approached with the same abandon that you can hear on the old live recordings.

    So, for what it is, I think this is a damn fine little song. And since the song choices for In Time were so piss-poor anyway (Stand? Really?) it also doesn’t seem too out of place on that collection.

  7. Kirsten Says:

    Wow, I really like the original version better. Sorry Paul, but it’s Mike’s backing vocals that I dislike, along with their change of “folks” to “friends”. Folks is so much more southern – I love it. And I absolutely adore the way Michael sighs at the end of the original. The original also had a bit more attitude to it – a little more punk and more fun to dance to. Huge fan of the original, the remake, in my opinion, is only so-so.

  8. milesy Says:

    In the sleeve notes to ‘The Best of James’, Tim Booth said something like, ‘It may not be the best of… but it’s f***ing good’. Which could equally apply to the songs chosen for In Time.

    (For Ben): Stand. Really. A must.

  9. 2d Says:

    matthew, you said it all. my feelings exactly.

    damn, you’re good!

  10. 4trak Says:

    I don’t think the song’s that bad. But it ain’t that good, either.

  11. I really love the song, and i really love Vanilla Sky. Both are just fine.

    That’s all i got.

  12. Rich Says:

    It would be absurd to leave Stand off an R.E.M. hits compilation.

  13. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I agree with all the comments concerning the very weird and weak song choices for the In Time compilation. For me, any REM compilation that does not include Drive and Shiny Happy People cannot make any claim at being difinitive or even a true collection for the casual REM fan. That said, I really love All The Right Friends. It is fun and upbeat and Mike Mills backing vocals are my favorite on any REM song except Fall On Me and Free World Baby. Is this song essential? Not in any way, but it si good and was a welcome change of pace (along with Bad Day) following the more produced and synthetic tones of Reveal and Up. I sort of think that this song would have been a great fit on Reckoning and is WAY better than Revolution.

  14. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    As to a truly comprehensive REM “hits” collection like the ones that exist for the Steve Miller Band, it will be much harder because 1) much larger backcatalogue for REM and 2) they went from being undergorund critical darlings to megatars to respected elder statesmen in the span of their career so some key tracks are not really hits. But, if a 2 CD greatest hits album were released with 30 songs this would be my attempt to do it justice:

    1. Radio Free Europe
    2. Talk About The Passion
    3. So. Central Rain
    4. Don’t Go Back To Rockville
    5. Driver 8
    6. Can’t Get There From Here
    7. Begin The Begin
    8. Fall On Me
    9. Finest Worksong
    10. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It
    11. The One I Love
    12. Pop Song 89
    13. Stand
    14. Orange Crush
    15. Losing My Religion
    16. Shiny Happy People
    17. Drive
    18. Man On The Moon
    19. Everybody Hurts
    20. Nightswimming
    21. What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
    22. Bang & Blame
    23. E-Bow The Letter
    24. Electrolite
    25. Daysleeper
    26. The Great Beyond
    27. Imitation Of Life
    28. Leaving New York
    29. Supernatural Superserious
    30. Living Well Is The Best Revenge

    I know, I missed some singles, some of which were even hits: Turn You Inside-Out, Radio Song, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Crush With Eyeliner, Strange Currencies, Bittersweet Me, Lotus, At My Most Beautiful, Reno, Electron Blue, Pretty Persuasion, Gardening At Night, Bad Day, Near Wild Heaven, 7 Chinese Bros. (Man, those 15 songs I left off would be an amazing hits collection for most bands and I LEFT THEM OFF!!!)

    I also know I missed some nearly essential key album tracks, fan favorites, and early minor singles: Perfect Circle, Feeling Gravitys Pull, Life & How To Live It, Superman, Cuyahoga, I Believe, King Of Birds, Heron House, World Leader Pretend, Country Feedback, Find The River, Try Not To Breathe, I Don’t Sleep I Dream, Leave, Wake-Up Bomb, Diminished, Hope, I’ve Been High, Around The Sun, Free World Baby, Until The Day Is Done, Houston, Man-Sized Wreath – I could go on.

    This is all making my point that a solid REM retrospective is difficult.

  15. milesy Says:

    That’s great work, BWD. Boy, I love seeing ‘complete’ lists of REM songs like that! My single change from your 30, would be sidewinder for nightswimming, which (this side of the Atlantic, at least) I think was a more significant REM song in the public consciousness. (although, personally, I prefer nightswimming as a song). And maybe I would have to make it 31 by adding Lotus. But I basically agree with what you say here.

    And to think of the great album you could still make from songs that didn’t make any of your lists above! Shaking through, untitled 11th, etc etc

  16. Paul Alferink Says:

    Two Words: BOX SET.

    One more: Please?

  17. Mr Cup Says:

    Taxonomists of the world, unite and take over!

    I like this song in its original form and that’s how I’ll remember it.
    My comments on Animal could be applied here: Did they forget how to write???

  18. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I agree Paul, except a box set is not for the “casual fan” – its for us loonies who would buy 4 discs of material we already have just to get 3 rare tracks, 2 remixes, and a photo of Bill’s childhood pet.

    By the way, when their career is really over and done and they really do want to put out a hits compilation I think they should add one new track, and get Bill Berry to come back into the fold to be the driving force behind the one new song, just to bring the boys full circle.

  19. Kirsten Says:

    Don’t talk about the end of the world, BWD – I can’t even begin to comprehend that terrible, awful world. And as for that list? Well I could complain about several individual songs that were left off, but I’m aware of the room problem, but NOTHING from Reveal or ATS? They’d never do that, and it’d be a shame to not have them at all represented.

  20. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I included Imitation Of Life and Leaving New York, the two lead singles.

  21. Jared W Says:

    Totally weird aside… I enjoy taking a stab at predicting the lyric snippets on the rollovers in MP’s writeups that include other song titles. I think I am batting about .600 on them.

  22. Buckner Says:

    I personally don’t see why they didn’t just stick “All the Right Friends” on the bonus disc of In Time. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great.

  23. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    If any of you are Death Cab For Cutie fans their new album “Narrow Stairs” comes out mid-May. Woo-hoo!

  24. jim jos Says:

    I like the track listing for the I.R.S. best of. (Ok, that could have had Harborcoat on it) but the four songs from five albums, plus one from the EP, did a really fine job. The big difference between IRS best of and WB best of is that THE BAND were, and are, still on the label.
    If WB would have made it the best of 1988-1996 (which I can understand why it wouldn’t) it would have had much more unity, as the lineup and sound changed after Hi-Fi.
    So, four songs from each of the five should have looked something like this: Three singles and perhaps the top fan favorite)

    Pop Song 89
    Orange Crush
    World Leader Pretend.
    Losing My Religion
    Shinny Happy People (I know, I know)
    Near Wild Heaven
    Country Feedback
    Man On the Moon
    Everybody Hurts
    Nightswimming (Find the River)
    Whats the Frequency, Kenneth
    Bang and Blame
    Crush With Eyeliner
    Strange Currencies
    E-Bow the Letter
    Bittersweet Me

    If they wanted one or two “bonus” songs (I, personally oppose them, but, I understand)
    both Fretless and It’s A Free World Baby would be your calls there.

  25. 4trak Says:

    I’m probably gonna come up with my own ultimate Best Of R.E.M. 1983-2008 later on. Also (in relation to BWD), I’m not really a “Death Cab” fan, but IWPYH does seem interesting.

  26. Paul Alferink Says:

    Of the PRE-Murmur original material that you’d most like to see reworked and released, which would you choose?

    Hey Nadine?
    Body Count?
    Permenant Vacation?
    Baby I?
    All The Right Friends?

    I know I missing a couple, but I can’t click on the link at work to find out. The only ones that stand out at all to me are Wait, All the Right Friends and Body Count.

  27. Paul Alferink Says:

    By the same token, Romance is the “All the Right Friends” of Eponymous, but it didn’t inspire any vitrolic response. Both Romance and All the Right Friends were old songs, dusted off for soundtracks, that show up on Greatest Hits albums despite never being hits. The only diffences are:

    Romance fits into the Eponymous Timeline better. Yes, it is old, but not older (at least much) than Gardening at Night and Radio Free Europe.

    When you bought Eponymous, it was your first exposure to the song, whereas we had heard “All the Right Friends” on old bootlegs.

  28. Ignis Sol Says:

    The “All the Right Friends” is fun to listen to, but it does not rank high in my personal favorites. The best part is the breezy melody of the verses.

  29. Kid A Says:

    I, as opposed to so many here, really adore All the Right Friends. It’s a good pop song. And I can’t help but be a little disappointed by the lack of commentary on the song. This seemed more an entry about the failings of In Time than about All the Right Friends.

  30. jim jos Says:

    all the right friends,

    It is interesting that the band did not try to “update” this song when the re did it. A little different take on the vocal, and they added harmonies, but I think if you placed this one in front of a non die hard R.E.M. fan they would most likely assume that it was from the early 80’s. Fits right into my Chronic Town Album, the remade version that is, as I like that one a little more. Is it me or on the original when Stipe sings that “aw too, aw, too aw toooooo” he sounds a little like Forrest Gump?

    “you’ve been hanging with the wrong crowd, you’ve got all the right friends” is really pretty brilliant.

    Good to see that Cameron Crowe is an R.E.M. fan, sometimes the absolute best thing about his movies are the soundtracks. He knows his music. All the Right Friends is a good song.

  31. profligateprofiterole Says:

    I quite like this one , love that wicked chord change b4 ,”I don’t wanna be with you anymore”….or is that a key change? (he inquires for the 235th time)..I remember talking about this song on another song posting but I forget which one…It’s out there sonewhere if my loyal fans wanna search for it.

  32. profligateprofiterole Says:

    KID A
    You The Man !!

  33. Kenneth Says:

    I think the inclusion on In Time was to give fans an easy access to a song they had recorded that had not been included on any other band release, and to emphasise the omission of “Shiny Happy People”. Well it did for me, I was like “this wasn’t even a single!” Although In Time is a best of, not a greatest hits, so it’s all down to what songs the band prefers to how popular they were.

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