2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 1 PICK 8- A SOUND DAY SELECTS- ‘DRIVER 8’-R.E.M.

Driver 8 - Wikipedia

2021 Movie Draft- Round 1 Pick 8- A Sound Day selects- ‘Driver 8’- R.E.M.

A Sound Day’s blog can be found at – https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/77533465

I’m looking forward to both reading and taking part in this event, and thank Hanspostcard for inviting me to do so! I loved doing the “Album draft” here last year, though it was tough to narrow down the list of worthy records to praise and review to a dozen or so, So imagine how much more difficult it is to whittle down a list of songs to that. So obviously, it will have to be a bit random and scattershot for me, since not only will there be hundreds of great songs I won’t be able to get to, there’ll be in all likelihood some great genres and artists that will be skipped over. Anyway, to start it off, no surprise to those who know me well, I’m going with R.E.M.  This is a modified version of my 1000th music blog, almost two years back, so it might seem familiar to my regular readers. I hope you enjoy it though and can take something out of it. I start my list with a song that’s almost a personal anthem, “Driver 8.”  A single off their 1985 Fables of The Reconstruction album.

Fables…was the Georgia band’s third album, but was a departure for them both literally and sonically. It was the first one they’d recorded away from the Deep South – far away in fact, London, England – and they were homesick. They reactively put together an album of songs reflective of their southern roots they so missed in the British rains. The album also expanded their sounds somewhat, with songs that were flat out country-ish (“Wendel Gee”), radio-pop (“Can’t Get There From Here”) and neo-psychedelic (“Maps and Legends”, “Life and How To Live It”) mixed in with their more familiar jingle-jangle rock they’d mastered on the previous couple of records. “Driver 8” however, has been described as the “protoypical R.E.M. song” with Peter Buck’s jangly, rising Rickenbacker guitar at the core.

Buck says he came up with the guitar bits inside of five minutes and at times has been dismissive of it and alternately saying it’s a rather brilliant little riff. The band say the same basic chord structure and pattern was used again on their hits “The One I Love”, “Bang and Blame” and especially “Imitation of Life.” Likewise, singer Michael Stipe has suggested not to read too much into the lyrics, he didn’t even think much about them but has also said when he listens to it he’s thought “Wow! That’s really good! You’re not the hoax you think you are!”

Really good it is. “Driver 8” perhaps is the closest R.E.M. has come to putting together a classic, ’60’s-style standard riff that would be worthy of sitting side by side with the classics from the Stones or middle-era Beatles. Rolling Stone, in one of the three articles they ran that year about the album, suggested it was the “strongest single” they’d put out to that point and noted it’s “Byrds-like” sound. Why do I love it? Several reasons. I remember the first time I heard it.  I walked into a record store in the mall and they were blasting it. I recognized it as being R.E.M. – Stipe’s voice is pretty distinctive- but didn’t know the song. Another R.E.M. song followed and I went to the counter to see what it was. I walked out of the store with a copy of Fables of the Reconstruction, forgetting whatever it might have been I’d gone in looking for initially. The whole album was outstanding but it was “Driver 8” that really caught me.

Not only is it to me a darn near perfect riff, the lyrics grabbed me right away. Oblique as all Stipe lyrics were back in the day, they were decipherable enough to give away two things about the song. It was train-inspired (Stipe says trains and train travel “represent part of ‘mythological America’”) and they were uplifting… inspirational. Now ever since Iwas a little boy, I loved trains and spent a number of hours of my childhood both playing with HO scale model trains and standing around in a park near my house watching freight trains rumble by. So that spoke to me. But what was more, the lyrics really seemed oddly profound to me.

“The walls are built up stone by stone, hills divided one by one” it starts, true enough. Every  job, no matter how big or intimidating, gets done by little step after little step. Rome wasn’t built in a day as the saying goes. The chorus of course resonates that theme. “We can reach our destination, but it’s still a ways away.” It made sense to me then, makes sense to me now. No matter what it is I’m striving for, it’s in each but it’s still a ways away. I need to keep on rolling, building it up, stone by stone.

The icing on the cake was a few years after that when I saw the video for the song, which Stipe has called something like “a nice train video for a nice train song.” Flying in the face of the fashion of the mid-’80s, they eschewed hot girls in stylish cars, live performances of them lip-synching the tune or computer-animated characters to have four minutes of footage of, yep trains. Not any trains mind you, a Chessie System rail yard in Virginia. Chessie was a short-lived railroad of the ’70s formed by merging the B&O and C&O railroads of Monopoly fame with another short line, the Western Maryland railroad. The Appalchian/Midwestern rail line with its flashy yellow and orange locomotives and navy and yellow boxcars was a favorite of nerdy railfans like me (it in turn merged with another line and became part of CSX Transportation.) It didn’t get much better than that!

“Driver 8” is one of the fewish songs I can listen to almost endlessly and enjoy. There’ve been times when I felt very low and “Driver 8” reminded me to keep at it… we can reach our destination! The fact that it barely registered on the charts back in ’85, means there’s little danger I’ll get sick of it since I pretty much have to decide when to listen to it. Radio hasn’t given it the “Losing My Religion” treatment, let alone the “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen treatment. In fact, it’s quite a shock to me when I do hear that distinctive opening riff blasting from a radio.

So, that’s my song for today. Do you have a “personal anthem”? I’d love to know what it is, and why. Feel free to tell us about it in comments!

34 responses to “2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 1 PICK 8- A SOUND DAY SELECTS- ‘DRIVER 8’-R.E.M.

  1. A solid pick and a solid R.E.M. song. I always liked the guitar work in their songs. They certainly have their own sound.

    This is one I have only heard a few times, but in listening to it again today, it’s worthy of many more listens. Great riff.

    • glad you like it! It’s a bit like “Satisfaction” or “Smoke on the Water”… rather simple little riff but it really grabs you.

  2. Superb pick, that could have made my short list as well. Your description gives it significance and meaning. I didn’t realize that train video was the official video. That makes me appreciate it even more.

    • they were even quirkier with their videos than their music back then – remember “Fall on Me” shot upside down in B&W, with shots of factories and ports and things? Brilliant whether intentionally or unintentional… were they trying to be different to get MTV play or trying to make things as far from the norm as possible?

    • A little of both reasons maybe? I never saw their videos during those years, because I was living in a tiny town with no MTV available. I only knew them from radio and cassette tapes. So I think I missed out on much of their uniqueness.

  3. R.E.M. was one of my favorite bands throughout the 1980’s- early 90’s- ‘Driver 8’ a great tune- it would be hard for me to pick a favorite from that band. Saw them in concert a couple times. Great pick!

  4. Thanks for a wonderful write-up. One of my favorite REM songs I really enjoyed reading about what the song means to you. In listening to it just now through your lens I’m thinking the line “Take a break Driver 8” could also be taken as a reminder that life needs to be balanced and not all one dimensional. Looking forward to reading your future entries!

  5. I havent heard this for ages and man does it still sound good. I have not had this band in my regular spin list for a while. Maybe I should change that. These first albums are where i came in and where my ear still goes. Good one Dave.

    • hopefully true! Good, well-played catchy stuff maybe has the best chance of that – a lot of Beatles for example. The overly-intricate or unusual perhaps not so much … honestly I almost always change stations if I hear the opening line of “Bohemian Rhapsody” for instance, yet when I was a kid in ’76 I LOVED the tune and played the single to death. I was quite happy when it got renewed attention in 90s… until it became every radio station’s once-a-shift go to song.

  6. I love the guitar on this Dave. Great song all together and not one of the ones that are worn out. In fact I don’t really hear this enough. I will get back with you on the personal song.

    • it always ranks high when their office or fan club do polls or “brackets” of favorite songs. I imagine most bands are like that – there are a few tunes that the fans love that weren’t well known compared to the radio hits.

    • Those are the songs I usually go for because usually like you said…they are not worn out and we caught something that the public didn’t.

  7. You know, I love R.E.M. but, I have never bought an album or a single. I guess it is because they are such a great band that, you are bound to hear them on the radio on any given day (on retro stations, not Top 40).

    • Fair enough. For awhile they were being played it seemed almost hourly on both the ‘classic rock’ & ‘alt rock’ stations in Toronto but that had changed by 2007 or ’08. My problem with them on radio here (in TX) is they rarely play anything but ‘Losing My Religion’. Once in awhile ‘The One I Love’ but seldom other hits of theirs, let alone album cuts. Course, same holds true with most artists in today’s era of tiny playlists.

    • Your particular area of Texas may have stations that have a “hits” line up instead of a true retro station. This area of NC has a lot of eclectic stations because of UNC & Duke.

    • nice! Well , there are several “retro” based stations here, but none of them seem to play a wide playlist. There is a university station here, which perhaps I should give more of a try, it seems largely talk and sports but I have to figure some times they must spin music.

    • Fall on Me is real good too…it actually got me to buy ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ (coupled with good reviews I’d read) which actually happened before I bought this one which came out earlier.

  8. Sorry for the late response, yesterday was a busy day. You know I love REM as much as you do. Excellent write-up. I never get tired of this song either. I love the circular sound of it that is mesmerizing to me and the details of what’s seen along the tracks is exquisitely and achingly beautiful. Also love how it slides into the bridge. GREAT CHOICE.

    Another of their songs I look at as an Anthem is Stand from Green.

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