Aug 132010

I’ve always thought classic REM sounded like Neil Diamond in a minor key with added twinkly guitar bits. Until the other night, I had not heard more than a single REM song at a time in a good 15 years. One of the friends we’re renting a place with in New Mexico played a half dozen or more REM songs from his or her iPod, and my old thoughts about REM and Diamond were revived.

Michael Stipe has similar phrasing and vocal tone to Diamond. He projects a similar “solitary manliness,” laying into the opening phrase of almost every line. The choruses of REM and Diamond have a lot in common too, sweeping upward and pouring on the solitary manliness established by the verses.

Listen to almost any classic REM song and see if you can’t sing the lyrics and melody of one of Diamond’s big hits. You may have to pause between verses now and then to allow Peter Buck to play one of those twinkly parts, but it’s not that hard to hear the similarities in songwriting and structure.

Like Diamond, Stipe and company abandoned their “forever in blue jeans” Look and gussied themselves up to project “larger than life.” For the last 20+ years Stipe has felt compelled to act out some larger drama for a loyal, aging audience. Diamond perfected this approach 20 years earlier.

I’m not holding this comparison against REM; in fact, I’ve always had the slightest of soft spots for Neil Diamond. Thinking of REM in this way helps me like them more than when I think of more common comparisons, like how they used to be compared to The Byrds because of the twinkly guitar parts and folky vibe. I think that comparison has always sold the band short.


  9 Responses to “REM = Neil Diamond”

  1. I’m with you but Richard Ashcroft/The Verve are strong contenders too. Lend an ear here..

  2. sammymaudlin

    One of the friends we’re renting a place with in New Mexico played a half dozen or more REM songs from his or her iPod,

    Not sure if they’re a boy or a girl?

  3. misterioso

    Mod, I hope that when you write, “I think that comparison has always sold the band short,” you mean it sells The Byrds short, not REM.

  4. Having a little trouble with this one, mostly because Stipe has so little “mandom”. Neil can get some real anger/lust out of his voice which is not true of Stipe. REM likes their 70’s pop trash but I’ve never heard them cover Neil Diamond. I bet the original lineup could have done well with something like “Cracklin Rosie”.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    sammy, it could have been the iPod of a woman or it could have been the iPod of a man. I have friends of both genders, you know.

    misterioso, I meant that the Byrds comparison sells REM a little short. Of course, my tongue is partially in cheek, but what I mean is that I have a better chance liking REM if I note similarities to Neil Diamond than if I note similarities to The Byrds.

  6. misterioso

    Oh, I knew what you meant, Mod…

  7. BigSteve

    I wasn’t really following Mod’s association of REM with Diamond. After all, Diamond’s early hits are famous for being built on powerfully strummed acoustic guitar chords, while REM’s early sound was notable for the arpeggiated chords on Rickenbacker electric. I never understood why people always said REM was Byrdsy either, but that’s just me.

    But just now I was listening to the deluxe reissue of Fables of the Reconstruction (nice remastered sound, not their best album), and I noticed that one of the album’s more famous songs Driver 8 sounded suspiciously similar to Solitary Man.

    Solitary Man:

    Driver 8:

  8. Mr. Moderator

    I know a leap is required to get what I’m getting at, BigSteve. Thanks for making it. “Radio Free Europe” is a rare REM song with big chords. A lot of Diamond songs fit into that one. Same goes for “The One I Love.” That “Rockville” song could also be Diamondized. Maybe Neil and Rick Rubin can do an album of REM songs.

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