Song of the Day #676: ‘Driver 8’ – R.E.M.

I generally have two important entry points to the music of my favorite bands… the album that first introduced me to them, and the album that I bought upon release and discovered along with all the other fans.

Sometimes that’s the same album. In R.E.M.’s case, those albums came a few years apart. My first introduction to the band was 1985’s Fables of the Reconstruction, which I probably heard for the first time in late ’87 or early ’88.

As is often the case, this entry point album remains my favorite to this day. That spark of first love certainly counts for a lot.

Fables signaled a change in the band’s sound, to some degree, but more apparently in Michael Stipe’s lyrics. His songs began to take thematic shape and, while in the past he was perfectly content to string together nonsensical phrases as long as they sounded good, he was now working harder to actually say something.

The double meaning of the album’s title (which can also be read as Reconstruction of the Fables) points to the record’s loose concept… this is an album about old (Reconstruction era) southern tales and traditions, and it’s also a rather scholarly stab at reconstructing (after deconstructing) those fables. Heady stuff, but it also rocks pretty damn good.

I’ve featured two of the great tunes from this album already — ‘Maps and Legends‘ and ‘Can’t Get There From Here‘ — and I could pick another handful of favorites without even trying (start with ‘Wendell Gee,’ ‘Green Grow the Rushes’ and ‘Old Man Kensey’ and go from there).

In reading up on Fables, I was surprised to learn that the band itself is not high on this album. It was recorded during a period of personal turmoil for them, and I suppose they associate it with their suffering, making it harder to appreciate on its own merits. For me, no album better captures the essence of R.E.M.

‘Driver 8’ was the second single from the album and remains one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. It describes a Southern Crescent passenger train slicing through fields and small southern towns, and oh what a mood it creates.

The walls are built up, stone by stone,
the fields divided one by one.
And the train conductor says
”Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break
We’ve been on this shift too long”

And the train conductor says
”Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break
We can reach our destination, but we’re still a ways away”

I saw a treehouse on the outskirts of the farm.
The power lines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get snagged.
Bells are ringing through the town again,
Children look up, all they hear is sky-blue, bells ringing

And the train conductor says
”Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break
We can reach our destination, but we’re still a ways away”

Way to shield the hated heat.
Way to put myself to sleep.
Way to shield the hated heat.
Way to put myself, my children to sleep.

He piloted this song in a plane like that one.
She is selling faith on the Go Tell crusade.
Locomotive 8, Southern Crescent, hear the bells ring again.
Field to weed is stricken thin

And the train conductor says
”Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break
We’ve been on this shift too long.”
And the train conductor says
”Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break
We can reach our destination, but we’re still a ways away”

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #676: ‘Driver 8’ – R.E.M.

  1. Dana says:

    As I said earlier, this was my entry point into REM and what a great introduction it was. “Driver 8” is a wonderful song, and worthy of highlighting here, but I’m sure Amy would have chosen “Green Grow the Rushes'”

    For me, this album works as a whole, with no one song standing out above the others–similar to other great albums like Graceland or Rhythm of the Saints. Still, if I were forced to pick my favorite on this album, I would probably give the nod to “Can’t Get There from Here”

  2. pegclifton says:

    I’m loving this week–just love their sound! and I’m still waiting 🙂

  3. Amy says:

    Just to get that out of the way….

    This was, of course, my “entry point” to REM as well. And it may well have been my entry point to becoming a different sort of lover of music. In the past, I had appreciated the music my parents had exposed me to or I had been a consumer of singles, enjoying the songs that I found on the radio. The albums I bought were typically odd choices (a John Travolta album! a David Soul album!) or obvious choices (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the Grease soundtrack). While I enjoyed all of those albums (those I “inherited” and those I sought out), I never approached listening to an album the way I approached reading a book, or even watching a film.

    This album changed that. I felt that I claimed REM less than I was claimed by them; this album – Wendell Gee and Green Grow the Rushes in particular – transported me in a way that no “new music” ever had. From here, I would, in quick succession, fall for Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, 10,000 Maniacs, John Mellencamp, Sting…. then later Elvis Costello, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews, Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter….

    I guess what I’m saying is that Fables of the Reconstruction was my gateway drug. 😉

  4. lepercoat says:

    I grew up in a rural environment and didn’t discover REM until I was in college. Since then I’ve become fascinated with their brilliant output, and Driver 8 is one of my favorite songs from their impressive oeuvre.

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