REM – Drive

Whenever I hear this song… I think of David Essex’s song Rock On. It makes sense…Michael Stipe wrote this as a tribute to Rock On.

They recorded a demo version of this song at John Keane Studios, a favorite place for the band to work in their hometown of Athens, Ga. Before the bulk of the Automatic for the People sessions were to take place in March and April, the group spent a little more than a week in New Orleans, playing and recording in Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio.

The ended up recording a complete demo of the song in New Orleans they would use as the basis of the song.

Automatic For the People was released in 1992.  The album title comes from a sign at “Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods” diner in Athens, Georgia. It read, “Delicious Fine Foods – Automatic For The People.” The diner was near the university in Athens, and was a regular hangout for Stipe and his friends in the band’s early days.

The song peaked at #28 in the Billboard 100, #7 in Canada, #11, and #5 in New Zealand in 1992.

Michael Stipe: There were, before Punk, a few songs that resonated with me. One was David Essex’s ‘Rock On.’ ‘Drive’ is a homage to that. It was the first song I wrote on computer. Before, I had a typewriter. The reason is my handwriting changes dramatically day to day. I don’t trust it. I will write one of the best lyrics ever and discard it because the handwriting looks like s–t. Or the handwriting looks good but it’s a crap lyric, lo and behold, it’s in the song. Too late.”

Mike Mills about the video: “I’m not much of a symbolist. There’s something messianic about being passed over the heads of the people like that, and yet we’re anything but messiahs. That was always a strange thing to me. I mean, yes, they get to touch you, but at the same time they’re holding you up like a saint.”

Michael Stipe: “The other interesting thing about that video was what happened backstage,” he added. “We shot it in Los Angeles with a thousand people as extras. River Phoenix came, hang out in the trailer. We had a great time, until Oliver Stone showed up. I think they had both been drinking, and they got in a fist fight in my trail (gaffaws heartily). I think River won, to tell you the truth. I know he did, in fact.”

From Songfacts

The central lyric, “Hey kids, rock n’ roll,” was borrowed from “Rock On” by David Essex. The words may be the same, but the mood is completely different. This is a much more somber song.

Lead singer Michael Stipe explained in the November 12, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone: “

Guitarist Peter Buck used a nickel as a guitar pick for the mid-song guitar solo to get a sharper sound. He overdubbed the track six times.

There is a line in the song that goes, “Smack, crack, bushwhacked.” This can be seen as an indictment of then-U.S. President George Bush (the first one). Lead singer Michael Stipe had taken out ads in college newspapers in 1988 saying, “Don’t Get Bushwhacked. Get out and vote. Vote Dukakis.” They weren’t very effective.

This was released two months before the national election between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Clinton won that one, but eight years later Bush’s son became president. When the younger Bush ran for re-election in 2004, R.E.M. performed concerts to benefit his opponent, John Kerry.

This song has no chorus. That doesn’t happen very often in hit songs.

This was the first single released off the album. It was issued a few days before the album came out.

At live shows, R.E.M. played a funk-rock version of this song because its ambient atmosphere was difficult to duplicate. This version appears on a 1993 benefit album for Greenpeace called Alternative NRG.

Director Peter Care shot the black-and-white music video at Sepulveda Dam in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles. The clip mostly has Stipe crowdsurfing as he performs the song.

The implication was unclear; is the audience protecting him, or ready to tear him apart? Stipe told Mojo it was both. “It’s everything. I’m about to be devoured.”


Smack, crack, bushwhacked
Tie another one to the racks, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby

What if I ride, what if you walk?
What if you rock around the clock?
Tick-tock, tick-tock
What if you did, what if you walk?
What if you tried to get off, baby?

Hey, kids, where are you?
Nobody tells you what to do, baby
Hey kids, shake a leg
Maybe you’re crazy in the head, baby

Maybe you did, maybe you walked
Maybe you rocked around the clock
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Maybe I ride, maybe you walk
Maybe I drive to get off, baby

Hey kids, shake a leg
Maybe you’re crazy in the head, baby
Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, Ollie
Ollie, Ollie in come free, baby
Hey, kids, where are you?
Nobody tells you what to do, baby

Smack, crack, shack-a-lack
Tie another one to your backs, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby

Maybe you did, maybe you walk
Maybe you rock around the clock
Tick-tock, tick-tock
Maybe I ride, maybe you walk
Maybe I drive to get off, baby

Hey kids, where are you?
Nobody tells you what to do, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

28 thoughts on “REM – Drive”

  1. One of the rare songs I can recall hearing for the first time… I was asleep, it was late night but I’d left the stereo on quietly, and this played. Somehow my sub-conscious picked up on it as a new REM song & I woke up and listened to the end… and checked how soon til the album came out. It was another of those REM experiments that probably had WB execs pulling their hair out, since as the article mentions, the song is lacking a real chorus…not an obvious choice for a single.
    They played it quite differently in concert, often making it fairly fast , but I like the original one as on the album.
    Dedicated fans of that band might want to track down the import CD single of it- that also has their great , ominous-sounding take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan”


  2. I can take a tribute to Rock On. Not bad. Now of Leppard could stop covering this song and playing it live instead of one of their classic deep cuts that would be great. Can you talk to them about that for me? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll get right on it John!!! I just heard it for the first time now…yea I would go with the original.
      It’s an odd song. I do like their cover of Badfinger’s No Matter What but I can’t help but take the original but they did a great job. I’ve read where they are fans of Badfinger and that is a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Stipe’s opening paragraph is poetry in motion on this track. I liked this album and song especially after the huge rock sound of Monster. REM always pushed themselves album to album.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Monster remains my favorite but I do like this a lot…Speaking of lyrics I asked Dave something and now I’m going to ask you and see if it means anything that you know of… the Canada part.

      If it’s a temporary lull
      Why’m I bored right outta my skull?
      Man I’m dressin’ sharp an’ feelin’ dull
      Lonely, I guess that’s where I’m from
      If I was from Canada
      Then I’d best be called lonesome

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ok that makes sense…I didn’t know if he was using the word “lonesome” to relate to a slang or whatever… lol thanks dude. Dave and you are my Canada goto guys.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. i’m reading some about them now in relation with the Replacements. They were on the same level until “The One I Love” and REM gave in more to the record company…much more…but that is not saying much lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of my favourite R.E.M. tunes. Loads to love about it… the music, atmosphere, Stripe’s vocal. All perfect. That atmosphere swirls around the whole album.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was happy to find out they did it as a tribute to Rock On… because I kept hearing that song in it… not a rip off but just it’s feel.
      It is a really good song.

      Liked by 1 person

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