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The initial demo for this song was recorded in New Orleans, and when the band reconvened in Nashville a few months later they opted to add only Stipe's vocal and some brushed drums. All three R.E.M. members contributed to the instrumental bridge played on a Korg monotron.
Stipe's esoteric lyrics frequently defy coherent interpretation. Producer Garret "Jacknife" Lee admitted to The Huffington Post
regarding this song, "Michael had a lyrical idea that was so complex that I didn't understand what he was getting at, even after he explained it to me. He has pages and pages of lyrics and ideas, with back stories for characters that don't figure in the song."
Michael Stipe explained the song's meaning to the German edition of Rolling Stone: "I wanted to picture an almost blunt outsider's perspective – the experience of a guy who is walking through a city that is completely new to him and still very unfamiliar. I have combined these two words to express that. I don't pretend being a German or a Berliner. Not at all. I just tried to figure out the mind of this outsider. The city could as well be New York. In each of these big, great cities, you can be completely alone. This is the guy up to the last verse, when he finds somebody and says: 'Let's try to make something happen. Tonight. Right now.' I write fictional life stories. It's about thoughts and emotions and fears people have. Expectations and optimism and desire. That's not hard [to figure out]. People always project a lot onto public figures and perhaps they think that I only hang out with Eddie Vedder and Patti Smith and Gwyneth Paltrow, but it's not like that. My life is different. I don't know many people who set themselves apart from the so-called normal life. And even these people come from ordinary backgrounds and have become famous coincidentally and luckily. But I don't see myself that way. I ride the U-Bahn like everyone else."
Mike Mills (from the German edition of Rolling Stone: "We couldn't believe that this pun isn't used more frequently! The song's protagonist – at least that's my interpretation – has had a lot of trouble, many problems and goes to Berlin to get out of it. I can still empathize very well with people that have ordinary jobs and struggle with everyday life and wait for the evening to come. I have cleaned toilets, mucked out horse barns, worked at McDonald's. I remember the daily grind, just like Peter and Michael do. Those who forget that, they have a problem. Besides, we only really started making money with music quite late in the 1980s – thus I have worked from the age of 15 until almost 30, although already being in the band."
Mike Love of The Beach Boys
The lead singer/lyricist of The Beach Boys talks about coming up with the words for "Good Vibrations," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Kokomo" and other classic songs.
Dean wrote the screenplay and lyrics to all the songs in Footloose
. His other hits include "Fame" and "All The Man That I Need."
Jonathan Edwards - "Sunshine"
"How much does it cost? I'll buy it?" Another songwriter told Jonathan to change these lyrics. Good thing he ignored this advice.
Kristian Bush of Sugarland
Kristian talks songwriting technique, like how the chorus should redefine the story, and how to write a song backwards.