“Stand” by REM is the dumbest song I’ve ever written about here. (But there’s actual musicological stuff if you scroll down this page.)
Who wants to learn the dance? Maybe Lego dancers will help you learn the moves.
The thing is, I like the song and Michael Stipe is on the record as intentionally challenging his bandmates to write a dumb, bubblegum song, you know like “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love in My Tummy)” or the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar.”
Seems like if he wanted to write bubblegum pop, he should have written about food. Oh wait, Weird Al helped them with that:
The proof of a great pop record is whether Alvin and the Chipmunks do a cover and it looks like Berry, Buck, Mills & Stipe succeeded:
So about the composition of this song, guitarist Peter Buck said:
We’ll write something that’s really complicated, where it changes keys in the bridge and there’s these really interesting modulations and there’s these great harmonies, but nobody ever notices that! You give them something like ‘Stand,’ where it’s dumb-head plow-that-riff there, and…
He also intentionally used what he thought of as the overused wah-wah pedal to add to the stupidity of the song.
(Before we get too far down this rabbit hole, we should point out that the lyrics are about being more aware of your surroundings and your life and are not all that different from “Once in a Lifetime” ["You may find yourself..."]. So lyrically, not so dumb. Musically, goofily so.)
And perhaps the ultimate tribute to stupid pop songs is to be used as the theme song to a television show about a stupid person (Chris Elliott’s “Get a Life”):
Wait, this is becoming as inane as the song itself. Surely we can find something musically interesting to discuss here?
Yep. And it’s called the truck driver’s gear change.
What I’m talking about here is the end of the song, when the chorus repeats and goes up two half tones. And then does it again. There’s a funny website that discusses what this is in a sarcastic manner:
1. Who or what is a truck driver’s gear change?
Many writers and arrangers feel that when their song is in risk of getting a bit tired, it can be given a fresh lease of life by shifting the whole song up a key, usually in between choruses, towards the beginning of a “repeat-till-fade” section. You may have heard this technique informally referred to as “modulation”, but the correct ethnomusicological term for the phenomenon is the truck driver’s gear change. This reflects the utterly predictable and laboured nature of the transition, evoking a tired and over-worked trucker ramming the gearstick into the new position with his – or, to be fair, her – fist.
Contrary to what many people seem to think, the truck driver’s gear change is in no way inventive, interesting or acceptable: it is in fact an utterly appalling and unimaginative admission that you’ve run out of inspiration and the song should have ended one minute ago; but you’re under pressure to make something which can be stretched out to the length of a single.
I love this website. I can’t remember when I first found it, but the comments on the songs are very funny and you can waste many minutes/hours/days here.
From the commentary about “Stand“:
This is, of course, from R.E.M.’s classic album Green, made at a time when Michael Stipe still had hair – and very dubious hair, at that. It’s a great album, but is rather spoiled by this double truck driver’s gear change. Or is it? Perhaps we should give R.E.M. the benefit of the doubt, and allow that this might have been performed in the spirit of irony. The first time it happens, the gear change seems to take most of the band unawares as they all stop except for the keyboards, but then in a split second obviously think “well, in for a penny, in for a pound” and go for it. By the second gear change I can picture them egging each other on, as Bill Berry hammers away at the drums. Finally the song ends with Michael Stipe’s ludicrous over-enunciation of the final “duh” of “Stand”. Which leads me to wonder whether they took any of this song seriously to start with. You be the judge.
I, as you’ve seen, subscribe to the theory that R.E.M. does the gear change intentionally to conform to the standards of pure pop. What do you think? Comments welcome.