I’ve long been embarrassed at how slow I was to catch-on to R.E.M. and always had pangs of jealousy towards those who cottoned on from the start and got to see them before they became staples of the arena/stadium tours.

My excuse?

I was way too engrossed in UK jingly-jangly indie pop and the fact that in the early 80s my home city seemed to be the centre of the musical universe to pay any attention to what was coming out of the USA .

Besides….one look at the cover of this 1984 single and noticing that one of them had long hair was more than enough to put me off taking the band seriously at the time no matter what some folk were saying in the music papers.

But I should have trusted my ears and not my eyes. For quite simply, this single, which is rather astonishingly more than 30 years old, is quite wonderful:-

mp3 : R.E.M. – (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville

A sad tale of long-distance love told over a quite exquisite tune that can’t quite make its mind up if it is indie, pop, honky-tonk or country.

Such is my belated love for this track that on the only occasion business has ever taken me to the Washington DC (it was back in 2002 and I was delighted to learn that the conference venue, which was where I was also staying for three nights, was the Watergate Hotel), I used a spare afternoon to hop on a commuter train out to Rockville, where I had a walk around for about an hour and took some photos. It was, and I guess still is, a lovely little town.

Here’s yer b-sides of the 12″ single that I picked up second-hand a couple of years ago:-

mp3 : R.E.M. – Wolves
mp3 : R.E.M. – 9-9*
mp3 : R.E.M. – Gardening At Night*

*Recorded Live at ‘The Eldorado’, in Paris on Good Friday 20 April 1984 in mono


That equated to around £6 or $9 (US) for the ticket.



  1. None of the above. When R.E.M. hit the scene they were identified in the U.S. as a “College Rock” band. That is to say, they made their name playing universities and only got radio time on college radio stations. This was the case for a number of great American bands from the early 80’s, some of whom went on to become big acts (Talking Heads, B-52s), but many more of whom never hit the big time. Some of these — Replacements, Smithereens, They Might Be Giants, X, Husker Du — recorded fantastic albums and were tremendous live acts. But they were, as Morrissey once described the Smiths in America, “underdocumented.” Fortunately for me, I was in college when college radio was a thing, and saw R.E.M. at the perfect times (’83-’85).

    It might be amusing for you UK/European folks to know that many of your top acts from that time were also lumped together in the “college rock” pigeonhole. Mega acts like the Smiths, The Jam, Elvis Costello, Echo & the Bunnymen, Squeeze, etc. that were huge in England were “college bands” that got no radio time and played small venues over here. This was so even for bands that later got enormous in America like the Cure, INXS, Depeche Mode and even U2. The only British band that comes to mind that hit it big over here immediately was The Police.

    ‘Rockville”, as it turns out, is my favorite R.E.M. song, and I have bittersweet memories of drunkenly belting out the chorus with my friends as ‘Don’t go back to law school!”, though that was our eventual fate.

  2. I can see where your coming from JC, my local Record shop of choice Arcade Records Nottingham gave me Chronictown on a try a buy basis!, they played Rock City when Murmer came out, Wow!..nothing like the records.. cooked up a storm to the hundred of us that where there, the early recorded stuff still sounds magical..thank you Sir

  3. Yep, seems like it would be right up your alley from the beginning. We had our own jangle movement going on over here… albeit on a smaller scale, with its strongest roots in California and in the South, and Chronic Town, Murmur and Reckoning were among the finest examples. There were a few bands from south of the Mason-Dixon line with a similar sound, the dB’s, Pylon and Let’s Active to name a few, that deserved the kind of accolades R.E.M. received during this period. Personally, I managed to stick with R.E.M. through Life’s Rich Pageant before calling it quits.

  4. I think it’s great that you went to Rockville on the strength of the song. I once did something similar in Paris, Texas

  5. Pylon! They were another excellent ‘college band’. Saw them open for REM with the Feelies, if I remember correctly. Brian, I lasted through up to Green before moving on, but I’d come on back occasionally.
    JC, did Pylon get any play over there back in the day? Criminally underappreciated band.

  6. I’m probably your only regular reader with a connection to Rockville (I’ve worked there for many years), so I figure I should comment. It’s more built-up and clogged with traffic than it was a dozen years ago — and definitely more so than when REM wrote that song. It’s the kind of place where parents want to raise their kids, and that teenagers dream of escaping from. But it still has some nice residential neighborhoods and a surprisingly good variety of ethnic restaurants.
    Washington is one of the few US cities where a commercial (non-college) radio station played REM in heavy rotation from the very beginning. I’m firmly in the camp that likes their early records the best, and “Rockville” is one of my favorite REM songs. There’s a slow version that really brings out the country side of it, but I prefer the one you posted.



  7. I bought my 12″ of this from Arcade in Nottingham, same as Andy. Small correction, their first Nottingham show was in ’84 when Reckoning was current, not Murmur. There were indeed only 100 people there. It’s often considered the show where they found their live mojo, and it’s easy to get hold of, as an hour of it was broadcast on Radio 1 and widely bootlegged. I wore out my tape! I had Reckoning and went expecting The Byrds, but got The Sex Pistols. REM instantly became my favourite band for the next 25 years. The following year’s Rock City show was very full and enjoyable ut rather shambolic. The Royal Concert Hall show in 89 was incredible. Their only return to the city after that was to play the Forest Ground in ’03, a wet, windy night, and probably the least good of the 14 REM shows I saw, but still a decent set.

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