Since today is when the Mayans predict to be the end of the world, I found it fitting to talk about R.EM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”, in conjunction with some other songs, as my first blog post.
Every single time I hear this song by R.E.M, I can’t help but think of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and find myself comparing the two every time I hear one or the other. Surprisingly enough, R.E.M’s was released in 1987 – two years before Billy Joel’s was released. I assumed it was the other way around simply because Billy Joel has been around longer and R.E.M seem to be more recent than the 80′s (that’s a scary thought! I’m getting old).
There are MANY similarities between these two songs but what always gets me linking the two is the style of the rapid movement of the lyrics in the verses. While they move quite quickly from word to word, the lyrics also seem random and incomplete. This is because Billy Joel’s lyrics refer to historic headline events that occurred between his birth in March of 1949 to the year 1989 when the song was released. There are over 100 historic events mentioned or referred to so one can imagine how rapid the singing would have to be in order to touch on all these events in four minutes and fourty-nine seconds! Over 100 events in 5 minutes means if there are 20 events a minute, each event gets three seconds BUT that doesn’t take the chorus into consideration and also it is 11 seconds shy of 5 minutes so it is probably more like 1 second of mention per event….that’s a definite reason for rapid singing!!!
R.E.M’s song sounds a bit more random and the the lyrics don’t seem to fit together. I came across an interview R.E.M’s frontman Michael Stipe did for Q Magazine in 1992 where he discusses this:
“The words come from everywhere. I’m extremely aware of everything around me, whether I am in a sleeping state, awake, dream-state or just in day to day life. There’s a part in ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ that came from a dream where I was at Lester Bangs’ birthday party and I was the only person there whose initials weren’t L.B. So there was Lenny Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Leonard Bernstein… So that ended up in the song along with a lot of stuff I’d seen when I was flipping TV channels. It’s a collection of streams of consciousness.”
This demonstrates that the lyrics are quite random as it is a stream of consciousness.
In contrast to the rapid verses, the choruses of the two songs are catchy and have a flow similar to many pop songs. They are easy to sing along to and easy to remember.
A more obvious observation is that the lyrics of both songs include the names of famous people (ie Doris Day, Joe DiMaggio etc in Billy Joel’s and Leonard Bernstein, Lenny Bruce etc in R.E.M’s). Another obvious observation is that the lyrics of both choruses involve the plural “we”, and the word “world”, along with lyrics that literally represent destruction (“end of the world” and “fire” although in the song, this is more figurative/symbolic rather than literal).
R.E.M’s song is said to be in the style of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and perhaps it can be said that Billy Joel’s is as well since it was released not too long after R.E.M’s and has lots of similarities. Perhaps Billy heard it and felt inspired by the style…or maybe it was a subconscious stylistic nod. Who knows….but what I do know is that every time I hear one of these songs, I can’t help but be reminded of the other…oh and also that the Mayans were not exactly right in their predictions.
Are there any songs that you find to be quite similar or remind you of other songs??