R.E.M. insist that there is an underlying message to this song. It is about becoming involved in the places you live and work. This can be seen in the video, where people are seen doing things like recycling. Michael Stipe told Q magazine in 1992: "It's about making decisions and actually living your life rather than letting it happen. It surprises me when I walk by a parking lot and I've been walking by that parking lot for eight years but, for the first time, I look at it and say, My God! There's a parking lot! and I wonder why, for eight years, I've chosen not to look at it."
This originated when guitarist Peter Buck came up with what he thought was a stupid guitar riff. Lead singer Michael Stipe recognized the stupidity of the song and tried to write equally stupid lyrics.
Elaborating on the simplicity/stupidity of the song, Buck said in 1994: "We'll write something that's really complicated, where it changes keys in the bridge and there's these really interesting modulations and there's these great harmonies, but nobody ever notices that! You give them something like 'Stand,' where it's dumb-head plow-that-riff there, and... Not that we're going for the idiot audience or anything, but I like that kind of stuff too. The Ramones write the best songs in the world. It's all one song, but it's a great song. Some of those old Velvet Underground records have two chords on 'em."
Buck used a wah-wah pedal on this because he felt it's an overused and stupid effect, which would add to the dumb feeling of the song. "The wah-wah solo pretty much says it all," Bill Berry wrote in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011. "And it was even more impressive that Pete had acquired the pedal that day."
This was used as the theme song to the TV series Get A Life, starring comedian Chris Elliot. R.E.M. agreed to it before ever seeing the show because they loved the phrase "Get a Life." The show was on Fox and didn't last long, probably because it was ahead of its time.
The single was released with different B-sides. In the United States, it came with the instrumental "Memphis Train Blues." In Europe, the song was accompanied by a cover of the Ohio Players' hit "Skin Tight."
"Weird Al" Yankovic did a parody of this called "Spam." (thanks, T.R. - South Bend, IN)
This was used on the TV series Parks and Recreation in the 2012 episode "The Comeback Kid." It was also featured in the 2008 romantic dramedy Definitely, Maybe, starring Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin.