Song of the Day #680: ‘Welcome to the Occupation’ – R.E.M.

These R.E.M. theme weeks break down pretty conveniently into three sets of five albums each, with each of those sets representing a different stage in the band’s career.

The first week, spanning Chronic Town through Lifes Rich Pageant, captured the college years, when R.E.M. first broke onto the scene and popularized a new sort of cerebral alternative music. If I had to pick a favorite span it would be that one… something about that sound just hits me in the gut. But this second week’s batch of albums would be a close second.

This group of songs encompasses R.E.M.’s move from the alternative to the mainstream (though mainstream R.E.M. is still on the outskirts of the mainstream) and also the band’s emergence as rockers.

First up is 1987’s Document, released just a year after Lifes Rich Pageant. The album became their first platinum hit and contained their first hit single, ‘The One I Love.’ But despite those achievements, and general critical acclaim, I consider this one of the band’s more underrated albums.

Perhaps that’s because I myself have underrated it over the years. For some reason it took me longer to warm to this record than to their others and as a result I continue to be surprised at how good it is when I return to it.

In addition to ‘The One I Love,’ a dark song about romantic objectification that has often been misinterpreted as a love song, Document contains the frenzied ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine),’ a memorable twist on the white boy rap style of Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues.’ That song was a modest success but remains a fan favorite.

The rest of the album is thematically political and musically dense. The appearance of a saxophone on ‘Fireplace’ marked the beginning of instrumental experimentation that would carry over to their subsequent albums, but mostly Document was a chance for Peter Buck to rock out on the guitar. ‘Finest Worksong,’ ‘Exhuming McCarthy’ and ‘Lightning Hopkiins’ were a far cry from the jangly sound of the band’s first few albums.

‘Welcome to the Occupation’ is an interesting song tucked away at the beginning of the album. It has no proper chorus, just four verses, a short instrumental bridge and Stipe’s repeated call of “Listen to me” to end the song. It’s a great example of momentum in a song… once it kicks in, it pours out of your speakers in what feels like one urgent breath.

Hang your collar up inside
Hang your dollar on me
Listen to the water still
Listen to the cause where you are
Fed and educated,
Primitive and wild
Welcome to the occupation

Here we stand and here we fight
All your fallen heroes
Held and dyed and skinned alive
Listen to the Congress fire
Offering the educated
primitive and loyal
Welcome to the occupation

Hang your collar up inside
Hang your freedom higher
Listen to the buyer still
Listen to the Congress
Where we propagate confusion
Primitive and wild
Fire on the hemisphere below

Sugar cane and coffee cup
Copper, steel and cattle
An annotated history
The forest for the fire
Where we open up the floodgates
Freedom reigns supreme
Fire on the hemisphere below
Listen to me
Listen to me
Listen to me
Listen to me

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2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #680: ‘Welcome to the Occupation’ – R.E.M.

  1. Dana says:

    I don’t often return to this album either. Maybe it’s the album title itself that just feels so unfriendly and antiseptic. I do like both of the “hits” from this album a great deal, and this song is very good as well. Perhaps I need to revisit this album as you did and I too will likely be pleasantly surprised.

  2. Amy says:

    I like this song but not nearly as much as the others you mention here. When you capped off the Y2K New Year’s Eve party compilation tape with “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” I just knew we’d all be fine.

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