After a few questionable choices of singles, 1986 saw the release of what was arguably one of R.E.M.’s best-ever singles. Fall On Me was a prelude to the band’s fourth album ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ (no apostrophe again), though in many ways it didn’t tell the whole story of what that record would sound like.
In terms of what Fall On Me is about, you just need to read the Wikipedia article as it sums it all up nicely. I want to talk about my personal thoughts of the song and where it stands among R.E.M.’s canon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_on_Me_(R.E.M._song)
In one of my many musings on R.E.M. over at my place, I mentioned that ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ was the second R.E.M. album I ever heard, shortly after ‘Document’. I was struck by the quality of the songs which I found to be more accessible and melodic than much of what I’d heard previously. It was an album I listened to for months and months on end, even though it was getting on for two years old at the time. I had copied my friend’s cassette of it, and had it on one side of a C90.
(The other side was ‘Strangeways Here We Come’ by The Smiths, in case you were wondering. I had a Walkman practically surgically implanted onto my hip and for quite a while I only listened to those two albums on repeat.)
After the loud rush of the opening two numbers, Fall On Me came into play. I was yet to discover the wonders of the first three R.E.M. albums so I wasn’t to know that this song was probably the most similar to those earlier recordings. The one thing that struck me immediately though was the vocal, or rather the vocals, plural. Fall On Me has what could be the best interaction between Stipe and Mills of all. The harmonies and counter melodies were divine and I’d argue probably never bettered by the band over their next 25 years.
I might contradict that last sentence a few times in future articles.
It remains one of my favourite R.E.M. songs. Whenever I attempt to sing along, I find myself alternating between the lead and backing vocals, especially during the closing refrain. I even sing Bill Berry’s parts. Hopefully you never have to hear that.
In the UK, where the band was building an ever-growing following but had still to crack any mainstream outlet, Fall On Me didn’t chart. Which is quite incredible, when you think about it. In the US however, it made the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, while also rising to the dizzy heights of #5 in the Mainstream Rock charts, meaning it was the fifth most-played song on US rock radio stations during that week.
mp3: R.E.M – Fall On Me
R.E.M. were not the greatest b-side band, often presenting unused demos, live tracks, covers and nonsense songs on their flips. Fall On Me was no exception. The 7” in all territories included the jazz-tinged instrumental Rotary Ten, a short, inessential throwaway item. Of more interest was the bonus track on the 12”, a cover of Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic. This was R.E.M. properly rocking out, Stipe sneering Stephen Tyler’s lyrics with real attitude and Buck doing a bonafide rock guitar solo. It’s good fun and was played live quite a bit during the Reconstruction and Pageantry tours.