Song of the Day #4,574: ‘(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville (Live)’ – R.E.M.

Continuing the chronological presentation of my 25 favorite songs…

(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville‘ – R.E.M. (1984)

If I weren’t limiting my Favorite Songs playlist to one song per artist, R.E.M. is the band that may well have landed more than one track in the lineup. ‘Driver 8,’ ‘Maps and Legends,’ ‘Half a World Away’ and ‘So. Central Rain’ all were finalists for this list.

But it wasn’t hard to give the slot to ‘(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,’ the earnest, lovesick country track on the band’s second full-length album, Reckoning. I’ve adored this song since I first heard it in high school and it’s only grown more effective in the years since.

R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills wrote ‘Rockville’ in R.E.M.’s very early stages, after his college girlfriend told him she was leaving Athens, Georgia, to live with her parents in Rockville, Maryland. The song was initially a punk track before the band changed it up, reportedly as a joke on their manager. Inadvertently, they struck gold and ended up with one of their most beloved songs.

Mills imagined Rockville as a depressing factory town, a characterization far from the truth. In 2011, Ingrid Schorr, the woman whose departure inspired the song, wrote a great article about what it’s like to be a footnote in rock history. Over the years she has been written about in dozens of books on R.E.M., with most of the authors not bothering to contact her first. It’s a quick, entertaining read if you’re interested.

The clip below is from a show called The Cutting Edge that aired on MTV in the early 80s, featuring live performances by little-known bands. The casual jokiness with which the band approaches the performance is a joy to watch. Michael Stipe leans into his Georgia twang and playfully nudges Mike Mills, while drummer Bill Berry and guitarist Peter Buck crack goofy smiles. Four college dropouts embarking on one of the great musical careers in rock history.

Don’t You (Forget About Me)‘ – Simple Minds (1985)

I chuckled last week when my sister Amy recalled hearing David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ during the opening credits of 1985’s The Breakfast Club. While Bowie’s song is quoted at the end of those credits, it is of course Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ on the soundtrack. I didn’t want to point that out and tip my hand about today’s selection.

Of course, Amy knows full well that this is The Breakfast Club‘s iconic anthem, as does anybody who was a teenager in the 80s. I accompanied her to watch the movie in the theater (I was 13, she was 17 and thus able to buy tickets to the alluringly R-rated film). It was the first of many, many viewings, and through them all this song never lost its glorious impact.

‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ was written for the film by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, whose original demo is worth a listen. The offered it to Simple Minds, Bryan Ferry Billy Idol and were initially turned down by all three. Simple Minds were adamant that they should release their own songs, not songs written by others. Ironic that this became their biggest-ever hit.

Billy Idol recorded the song in 2001 for a greatest hits collection, providing a glimpse of what might have been.

Listening to Idol’s version as well as the original demo, it’s clear that the wise hand of fate delivered this song into the hands of the reluctant Simple Minds, who reworked it into a modern-day classic. Their slower, more emotional version, building to a crescendo of “la la la las,” is the perfect realization of the material.

[Verse 1]
Looking at your watch a third time
Waiting in the station for the bus
Going to a place that’s far
So far away and if that’s not enough
Going where nobody says hello
They don’t talk to anybody they don’t know

[Verse 2]
You’ll wind up in some factory
That’s full-time filth and nowhere left to go
Walk home to an empty house
Sit around all by yourself
I know it might sound strange but I believe
You’ll be coming back before too long

Don’t go back to Rockville
Don’t go back to Rockville
Don’t go back to Rockville
And waste another year

[Verse 3]
At night, I drink myself to sleep
And pretend I don’t care that you’re not here with me
‘Cause it’s so much easier to handle
All my problems if I’m too far out to sea
But something better happen soon
Or it’s gonna be too late to bring you back

Don’t go back to Rockville, don’t go back to Rockville
Don’t go back to Rockville and waste another year

[Verse 4]
It’s not as though I really need you
If you were here, I’d only bleed you
But everybody else in town only wants to bring you down
And that’s not how it ought to be
I know it might sound strange but I believe
You’ll be coming back before too long

Don’t go back to Rockville
Don’t go back to Rockville
Don’t go back to Rockville
And waste another year
Don’t go back to Rockville
Don’t go back to Rockville
Don’t go back to Rockville
And waste another year

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,574: ‘(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville (Live)’ – R.E.M.

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Your REM pick brings me back to when we used to do that game of pitting two songs from an artist against each other to vote as to which one would advance to the next round. I recall you voting for this song, but it ultimately didn’t have Amy and my support over our favorites. I can’t recall which song ultimately won. Do you?

    Anyway, while this song would not make my top 25, I suspect another REM song would. Those in immediate contention would be the gorgeous “Nightswimming” or the jubilant “Can’t Get There From Here.”

    As for your second pick, I can’t argue with it. It’s a great song that immediately takes me back to high school and one I never grow tired of hearing. I had not thought of it for my top 25, but it may well make a run for it.

  2. Amy says:

    Yes, Amy, does well know that “Don’t You” is the iconic song from The Breakfast Club, though John Hughes’ films, in general, are the first time I remember always wanting the soundtrack for ALL the musical selections. I graduated from high school the year this film was released, and our class adopted this song as our unofficial anthem, when The Carpenters’ lovely but dated “We’ve Only Just Begun” won the class vote earlier that year.

    As for R.E.M., I, a Fables/Pageant girl, so a song from one of those two favorites will wind up in my top 25.

  3. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    This is my first time hearing “(Don’t go back to) Rockville” and I’m a fan! The way that this sole country song differs from the rest of R.E.M’s discography and is almost a testament to their ability to make good music in any genre reminds me a lot of Fountains of Wayne. On “Welcome Interstate Managers”, one of my favorite songs is “Hung up on You”. It’s so different in sound and attitude from the rest of the album and yet so good. I love it when an artist takes a moment on record to diversify their sound and show their range.

    “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is a classic. If this song soundtracked more life, it would likely make my Top 25. Whenever I hear it, I’m fully consumed. Its crescendo might be the greatest one in music history, so jam packed with emotion and so uplifting. I recently watched “Pitch Perfect” and this song is used so effectively at the end and although I am a sensitive soul, that moment always brings me to tears.

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