100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s #20 R.E.M. – Man On The Moon

Released : 1992

Not many artists have the either longevity or luxury of ending up being the counter-culture they help create. R.E.M. arguably did as much as any to shape an alternative path for American music in the 80’s, and their reward was to emerge blinking into the post-Nevermind sunlight with the commercial dreadnought that was Automatic For The People and otherwise, barely a scratch.

This new breed though were not like the old one. Whilst the quartet looked like they had no more worlds to conquer, guitarist Mike Buck revealed that when they finally stopped to reflect, it was with a tinge of sadness they saw contemporaries such as The Replacements and Hüsker Dü had fallen by the wayside. One of the consequences was that their collective intent to produce an eighth album with a suitably harder edge for times met the same fate.

Man On The Moon was Michael Stipe’s salute to Andy Kaufman, the groundbreaking comedian known solely in Britain for his role as Latka in the sitcom Taxi. Despite the singer’s perennially inscrutable lyrics, Buck, whose capering slide gave the song it’s deceptively languid motion, revealed in an interview that ‘When Michael sings about Andy Kaufman and Elvis, he’s singing about Andy Kaufman and Elvis. It’s not about wheat prices in Russia.’ Now alone at a summit of their own design, for Stipe and co. it seemed that collectively being understood was the new cryptic.