Song of the Day #200: ‘So. Central Rain’ – R.E.M.

reckoningFor my second single-band theme week (actually fourth, counting the two Beatles weeks I did several months ago) I am turning to another of my very favorite groups, R.E.M.

I’ll proceed chronologically today through Friday, as I did with Belle & Sebastian, hoping to demonstrate how the band’s sound has changed (or hasn’t) over the years.

Kicking the week off is ‘So. Central Rain,’ which I consider in many ways the quintessential R.E.M. song. Though their debut album Murmur was a critical success and a breakthrough for them, it was their second album Reckoning, and this song in particular, that really defined their sound.

They also made their television debut performing this song on Late Night with David Letterman, Michael Stipe shyly hiding in the background during the interview phase before singing the song while hiding behind a mop of curly hair. It’s bizarre to watch that clip now, seeing a baby-faced Mike Mills explain that the record label was offering Murmur at a discounted price to generate interest in the band. I’ve pasted the video it below the song clip… definitely worth checking out.

I’ve read that much of Reckoning was inspired by the death of a close friend of Stipe’s, and the repeated “I’m sorry…” in this song could be related to that. For the most part I try not to analyze R.E.M.’s songs, preferring to experience them emotionally.

Stipe’s early lyrics, when you can make them out at all, often make very little sense. On many of those songs, the sound of his unique voice wrapping around each syllable is somehow more meaningful than the words themselves.

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #200: ‘So. Central Rain’ – R.E.M.

  1. Matt says:

    I think they rarely play this song live, I was lucky to catch it last fall. It was cold and raining hard all through the show, so that must have been why they played it. The “I’m sorry…” line fit in very well.

    Nice to see your R.E.M. theme week, I myself don’t know that much about the early stages of the band, the songs are mostly familiar though.

  2. Dana says:

    Well, this should be an enjoyable week. Great first song, and what a time warp of a clip with young Dave and curly Stipe. Really good live performance, actually.

  3. Kerrie says:

    I love this song – always have! Listening to it totally took me back to my undergrad days in Gainesville…that was when I was listening to their earlier stuff even though it had been out for a few years by then.

    Another great group with staying power. They’d totally fit into today’s radio scene alongside newbies like the Fray, for instance. I’m looking forward to the rest of this theme week. You have lots of great material to choose from.

  4. Kerrie says:

    After watching the Late Show clip I have a couple of observations:
    1) Was it subtitled “Battle of the big hair?” It would have to be pretty close between Dave and everyone but Mike Mills (who had his ‘do under control).

    2) I didn’t remember that Peter Buck had such smooth dance moves. He’s awesome!

  5. Amy says:

    Wow. I stopped watching the first you tube clip at the 1:30 minute mark, where I paused it. Watching the Letterman clip (with Stipe – as I’ve always known him -singing soulfully into the microphone in the image above) was quite surreal. This is not one of my favorite songs, but there isn’t anything they’ve done that I can’t appreciate in some way. This song is no exception.

    Meanwhile, that clip makes me feel so OLD! Sheesh, I was watching Letterman with Scott and Chris in those days. Well, maybe a few days (years) later, but that era. Good thing R.E.M. and Letterman have aged with such grace; it makes the whole thing a bit more tolerable 😉

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