The lead vocal on the chorus contains just one word: "Fire," which Michael Stipe draws out into a long wail. In the background, you can hear bass player Mike Mills singing, "She's comin' down on her own, now."
Often misinterpreted as a love song, this is just the opposite. Michael Stipe describes this song as about using people over and over. It's deceptive because it could be a love song until the line, "A simple prop to occupy my time."
This is not based on any real person or event. The band made up the lyrics while they were on a tour.
For a while, Stipe thought this was too brutal a song to record. He told Q magazine in 1992: "It's probably better that they think it's a love song at this point. That song just came up from somewhere and I recognized it as being really violent and awful. But it wasn't directed at any one person. I would never write a song like that. Even if there was one person in the world thinking, This song is about me, I could never sing it or put it out... I didn't want to record that, I thought it was too much. Too brutal. I think there's enough of that ugliness around."
This was R.E.M.'s first hit song. They had been recording since 1981 and growing a following.
Bush played this at Woodstock '99 with a much harder sound.
Robert Longo directed the music video for this song, which has images of tenement buildings, dancers and lonely couples, mixed with sweeping clouds, lighting bolts and bursts of flame. The director of photography was Alton Brown, who would go on to be a Food Network star with shows like Good Eats, Iron Chef America and Cutthroat Kitchen.
Peter Buck came up with the riff on his porch. Mike Mills recalled to Uncut: "I remember Peter, showing me that riff and thinking it was pretty cool, and then the rest of the song flowed from there. We played the whole song as an instrumental until Michael (Stipe) came up with some vocals for it."
Speaking to Mojo in 2016, Stipe said that he wasn't at all dismayed that so many people misinterpreted the sarcastic and spiteful lyrics as a straightforward love song. "I didn't like the song to begin with," he explained. "I felt it was too brutal. I thought the sentiment was too difficult to put out into the world. But people misunderstood it, so it was fine. Now it's a love song, so that's fine."