This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #487: The One I Love by R.E.M.
I recently read a quote that stated something like, “The purpose of life is to become someone’s memory.” To be the sort of person who carried themselves in such a manner as to make a difference in the life of another and, by doing so, be immortalized in the form of a memory, is a high honour. One-off actions are usually not enough to warrant memorialization but over time, the cumulative effect of kindnesses granted, trust given and love accepted, can change worlds. I believe this to be true in my personal endeavours. I, also, believe this to be true of artists.
It is not unusual for a musical artist to have a hit song. The world is festooned with one-hit wonders. The real trick for a musical artist is to build upon that first hit record with a second and then, a third, after that. Good singers or bands are the ones who manage to hone their craft and grow their skill set while doing so. They take the core of their vision and use it to evolve into all sorts of musical directions that are at once, fresh and new while, still retaining the architecture of what made them trusted and loved. R.E.M. is one such band who has managed to establish a career that is extensive, diverse and yet, accessible and pleasing.
R.E.M. was formed in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s. The band consisted of Michael Stipe as lead singer, Peter Buck on lead guitar, Mike Mills on bass and Bill Berry on drums. They are regarded as one of the first, true Alternative bands. One of the characteristics of R.E.M. that carried them through all of the stages of their lengthy career, are songs lush with harmony; voices in waves and layers, instruments amplifying voices or creating distinctions between verses or lines in a song. They played as a group like a musical heartbeat; pulsating in time with each other. They did this in a louder, more jangly fashion earlier in their careers. They did this more lushly and in greater complexity as their career evolved.
This song, “The One I Love” is from their fifth album entitled, “Document”. By the time this song came to my attention, the band was already starting to transition away from their earlier sound and move toward songs like “Losing My Religion” that would come to cement their status as one of the biggest music groups ever in the US. I feel lucky to have found them at this point because I got to thoroughly enjoy their “early work” before they completely blew up and became megastars. While, “The One I Love” was a hit for the band and received lots of airplay on radio, it is easily their most misunderstood song. This song is not a love song. In fact, it is the opposite of a love song. It is a song about using someone for your own personal gratification. It is about treating someone as a commodity or as being disposable. The first line of the song repeats the song title and gives the listener the initial belief that this song is for their sweetheart. But, if you give serious thought to the whole verse, you will quickly discover the true nature of this song:
“This one goes out to the one I love. This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind. A simple prop to occupy my time. This one goes out to the one I love.”
This song became a huge hit in a song catalogue filled with huge hits. It sounds like a cool song, despite of the message being provided by the lyrics. One of the things about music, as with life, is that not everything need be rosy and sunny. The world is made interesting by the variations evident in all human conduct and aspirations. Songs should reflect that. This one does.
R.E.M. is a three-time Grammy Award winner, they have had multiple Top Ten hits and have sold an estimated 90 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. “The One I Love” is one of the reasons why. Enjoy.
The link for the music video to This One Goes Out to the One I Love by R.E.M. can be found here.
To learn more about R.E.M. or to buy cool merchandise, check out their website by clicking here.
Thank you to the folks at KEXP whose epic list of 500 of the greatest songs of all-time helped inspire this post. You can access their website by clicking here.