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.