Worst Songs Ever: R.E.M.’s ‘Can’t Get There From Here’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

R.E.M. – “Can’t Get There From Here”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #14 in 1985 on Billboard Top Rock Tracks

Praised during their lifetime for pursuing Fame On Their Own Terms, R.E.M., it’s worth remembering, hired the horn sections that every band in pursuit of A Different Direction shoehorns into tunes — and often fucks up while doing so. If “Can’t Get There From Here” had served as my intro to the Athens quartet in 1985, I might’ve taken a pass. Noxious white funk with a nasal vocal and weightbelt-tight rhythm lick, “Can’t Get There From Here” boasted a title that proved prophetic: wherever they were going during the High Eighties it was not in the Feargal Sharkey direction.

Fables of the Reconstruction‘s obscurantic Southern tropes got caught in Stipe’s throat and the swamp mud coating the rhythm section,” I wrote two years ago when assessing the forgotten R.E.M. legacy. When they obsessed me during the Poppy Bush Interzone, Fables remained the pokey little puppy in the litter: Reckoning was no advance from Murmur; Fables spun in place kicking up dirt. Celebrate the details because the song doesn’t deliver:  the intentionally garbled, distorted guitar talk in the intro to the otherwise ponderous “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” (their true Wire homage); Michael Stipe holding a low note beneath the chorus of “Green Grow the Rushes” as if he were imitating a second bass; the careening “Driver 8”; the change from that rhythm guitar skitter to Soft Boys chime for the  “Can’t Get There…” bridge; and Mike Mills’ enthusiastic harmonies all over the place. The rest of “Can’t Get There…” sounds like a band wondering who cut the cheese.

Other crabbed R&B flirtations followed, “Radio Song” with KRS-One” most infamously, but guess what? Maybe “Can’t Get There..” ain’t so bad: thanks to it, I can stand “Radio Song,” always have.

5 thoughts on “Worst Songs Ever: R.E.M.’s ‘Can’t Get There From Here’

    • Relief! I have already three songs on “my list” that you hate. But “Stand” might not be a fantastic song, but it’s pretty great as a “single”. In spite of the no-nonsense, the wah-wah guitars in the bridge get me every time! Not since “Radio Free Europe” the group were so inviting to dance to!

      BTW, as a well-known contributor to the “canon” lists that polluts websites and finally appear on Royalty Canon site “acclaimedmusic”, why your peers never considered some Mekons songs? Why not, say “King Arthur”? Or “Club Mekon”? You collectively like those albums but NOT the songs because they weren’t singles? Well, they were in my mind. Or should have. You also should do lists of songs you like, too!

    • Anytime! Come down to Buenos Aires. Y hablemos español!

      Follow you silently since “Stylus”. Boyh you and Matos were my favourites writers. Matos was so keen on “dance” music it was hilarious. He dug all that acid house singles from the late 80s. Those 10 minutes “singles” I wish I could only hear on buzz. Because sober and out of club can try my patience. And my dream is writing to all the pollers in the Pazz & Jop and ask them, for once: “Have you really could tell apart a “track” from a “single”? Because you seem to do now, but back in the 90s or 80s you wouldn’t even bother with a “deep cut”! Where are those fucking Mekons songs?? Or Darling Nikki?’
      Or the people at Pichfork, like: “Ok, you were the first ones to accused Whitney about oversouling the phone-book and now she’s dead and all of a sudden she’s so cool that “I Wanna Dace with Somebody” is your freaking 20th. best track of the 80s? Are you kidding me? With Narada Michael Walden’s adding those dated synthetizers embellishments? I’d rather stick to “Freeway of Love”!
      She was never cool (not while I was listening in real time, in the 80s) she had big pipes and all kinds of melismas for decent to poor material, especially her ballads. But cool? She was not. Cool was Chrissie Hynde. And Chaka. And my beloved Kisrty McColl. Hey, even Maria McKee’s gargantuan voice deserved some coolness! But then she died and all critics went mournful, pretty puppies. And, suddenly, “liked her”.

      Another trend now that bothers me senseless is the new cool becomes the “thrillion-times sampled song”. Like, who were they when tracks like “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” or “Juicy Fruit” came up? “When the Levee Breaks” acquired its cool status because everybody has sampled it. It’s a good song to begin with, but before the samples they were all about the incredible riff of “Black Dog”. More than “chasing trends” they look like they behind them. Sampling informing criticism of neglected songs. Cool!

      PS: At least I’ve always loved “Peg”, and my surprise was De La Soul sampling it and not the other way round. That’s cool!

      Sorry, it’s not you. Critics at large. I’m trying to understand “Your Ever Changing Moods”

      Ohhm I forgot to mention Blow Monkeys “Diggin’ your Scene” in the 86 canon. So many good, neglected, pop songs.

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