Album: Automatic For the People (1992)
Charted: 11 28
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  • The central lyric, "Hey kids, rock n' roll," was borrowed from "Rock On" by David Essex. The words may be the same, but the mood is completely different. This is a much more somber song.

    Lead singer Michael Stipe explained in the November 12, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone: "There were, before Punk, a few songs that resonated with me. One was David Essex's 'Rock On.' 'Drive' is a homage to that. It was the first song I wrote on computer. Before, I had a typewriter. The reason is my handwriting changes dramatically day to day. I don't trust it. I will write one of the best lyrics ever and discard it because the handwriting looks like s--t. Or the handwriting looks good but it's a crap lyric, lo and behold, it's in the song. Too late."
  • Guitarist Peter Buck used a nickel as a guitar pick for the mid-song guitar solo to get a sharper sound. He overdubbed the track six times.
  • There is a line in the song that goes, "Smack, crack, bushwhacked." This can be seen as an indictment of then-U.S. President George Bush (the first one). Lead singer Michael Stipe had taken out ads in college newspapers in 1988 saying, "Don't Get Bushwhacked. Get out and vote. Vote Dukakis." They weren't very effective.
  • This was released two months before the national election between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Clinton won that one, but eight years later Bush's son became president. When the younger Bush ran for re-election in 2004, R.E.M. performed concerts to benefit his opponent, John Kerry.
  • This song has no chorus. That doesn't happen very often in hit songs.
  • This was the first single released off the album. It was issued a few days before the album came out.
  • At live shows, R.E.M. played a funk-rock version of this song because its ambient atmosphere was difficult to duplicate. This version appears on a 1993 benefit album for Greenpeace called Alternative NRG.
  • The album title comes from a sign at Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods diner in Athens, Georgia. It read, "Delicious Fine Foods - Automatic For The People." The diner was near the university in Athens, and was a regular hangout for Stipe and his friends in the band's early days.
  • Director Peter Care shot the black-and-white music video at Sepulveda Dam in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles. The clip mostly has Stipe crowdsurfing as he performs the song.

    The implication was unclear; is the audience protecting him, or ready to tear him apart? Stipe told Mojo it was both. "It's everything. I'm about to be devoured."

    "The other interesting thing about that video was what happened backstage," he added. "We shot it in Los Angeles with a thousand people as extras. River Phoenix came, hang out in the trailer. We had a great time, until Oliver Stone showed up. I think they had both been drinking, and they got in a fist fight in my trail (gaffaws heartily). I think River won, to tell you the truth. I know he did, in fact."
  • Bassist Mike Mills was always uncomfortable about the mixed message the video conveyed. He said: "I'm not much of a symbolist. There's something messianic about being passed over the heads of the people like that, and yet we're anything but messiahs. That was always a strange thing to me. I mean, yes, they get to touch you, but at the same time they're holding you up like a saint."

Comments: 12

  • Carol from North CarolinaSeveral years ago, this song was featured in the opening scene of a show that I caught on TV- with one man practicing a martial-arts type sequence to it. Does anyone happen to remember what show this is?
  • Rautry from Athens, GaMichael Stipe is a full fledged, card carrying hypocrite! I went to school with him. Less than a week before Stipe took out this full page ad in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, USA Today, Atlanta Journal & Constitution, and Athens newspaper, actually the day before Thanksgiving, right before that election, Michael Stipe and REM performed at the Fabulous FOX Theater in Atlanta. During that concert, Stipe lashed out at U2 singer and humanitarian, Bono, accusing him of HERD POLITICS...trying to herd the masses into your political way of thinking and voting. Everyone I knew at the show from Athens was astonished. I didn't even know what HERD POLITICS meant until Stipe used it, then he is guilty of blatantly personafying the word.
  • Adam from Boyce, VaDefinetly an eerie and haunting song.
  • Elissa from Manhattan Beach, CaI was actually in this video. It was filmed on an August night in 1992 at the Sepulveda Dam in L.A. I'm fairly certain it was already known as "Drive" at that time because they gave us hats that said "Drive- R.E.M. Filming in August" on them. An amazing experience, by the way!
  • David from Denver, CoOllie Ollie In Come Free - has nothing to do with politics, income, Oliver North, etc., though you can read politics into anything I suppose. It was shouted at the end of a kids' hide and seek game, and probably started around the turn of the 20th Century, because of its mix of German/English, etc.

    Lots and lots of theories from lots and lots of sites. Most from Jesse at Random House:

    1. The phrase is used in a variety of children's chasing games, especially hide-and-(go-)seek. The rough form of this game is that a player (called "it") gives other players a chance to hide, and then tries to find them. When "it" finds the first hider, he calls out some phrase indicating that the other players are "safe" to return "home," at which point the person "it" found will succeed him as "it."
    The original form of the phrase was something like all in free or all's out come in free, both standing for something like all who are out can come in free. These phrases got modified to all-ee all-ee (all) in free or all-ee all-ee out(s) in free; the -ee is added, and the all is repeated, for audibility and rhythm.
    From here the number of variants takes off, and we start seeing folk etymologies in various forms. The most common of these has oxen replacing out(s) in, giving all-ee all-ee oxen free; with the all-ee reinterpreted as the name Ollie, we arrive at your phrase, which, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English, is especially common in California. Norwegian settlement areas have Ole Ole Olsen's free. For the out(s) in phrase, we also see ocean, oxford, ax in, awk in, and even oops all in.

    2. One guess is that the original was something like "all in free" for "all who are out can come in free", to indicate that the person who is "it" in the game of hide-and-seek has caught somebody to become the new "it", and so everybody else can come out of hiding without the risk of being caught.
    Oral transmission has garbled this in fascinating ways, with all in, for example, being translated by a series of mishearings to the name Ollie (short for Oliver, once more common than it is now). And oxen may have come from an intermediate form out's in free - other recorded versions are awk in, Oxford, and ocean.
    Various subscribers remember versions that suggest the first part of the catch was once something like "all of you". Charles Wilson wrote: "When I was growing up in the American South we actually said, 'All ye all ye outs in free' when playing hide-and-seek (although we called it 'hide-and-go-seek)".

    3. Its root seems to be an English-Norman French-Dutch/German concoction: "Alles, Alles, in kommen frei"or "Oyez, oyez, in kommen frei!"
    "Allez, allez" was a Norman addition to the English language, pronounced "ollie, ollie" and sometimes written "oyez, oyez" and meaning "everyone." "In kommen frei" was a phrase popular in Dutch/German New York and Pennsylvania, where many Zonians came from, meaning "come in free."
  • Fredrik from Stockholm, SwedenThis is one of my all time favorite songs. Even to day i can remember the first time I heard the song. I thougt: "Wow, this is realy f.....g great". I sounded like nothing I ever heard before.
    The song is so haunting.
    I remembered that they played this song live when they were in Stockholm in January 2005. Stipes singing sounded realy desperat. He somtimes screamed out the lyrics in som kind of anger and dread. They did it a bit different then the original but it was so beautifull and powerfull that it make me shiver sometimes even to day when I think about it. It sounded allmost better then the original.
  • Andrew from New Bethlehem, Pa"Maybe I ride, maybe you walk, maybe I drive to get off, baby." I've always loved those lyrics
  • Ben from Bristol, Englandthis song is amazing and so is the album. R.E.M are such a great band
  • Patrick from Cleveland, OhI think the line is "Ollie ollie income free", referring to the conservative position on income taxes.
    And I think the reason this song sticks with people is that it's so haunting. No one knows quite what the lyrics mean, but there's something ineffably sinister about them. Coupled with the very ambient and minor guitar lines, this song becomes almost scary (especially when alone at night).
  • David from Haskell, Njas a conservative REM fan...
    It just says so much about the early 90s.
    Music was splitting apart. The shifts of music, from a grunge, hair, college etc.
    Rock music was changing and if you will growing
  • Athena from Athens, Greecei really don't have a clue why but this song is definately one of my all time speaks straight to my heart it's just so powerful..."hey kids rock and roll nobody tells where to go baby/hey kids where are you?nobody tells you what to do/hey kids shake a leg maybe you re crazy in the head"
  • Marvin from East Brady, PaIn addition to the "bushwhacked" line, I have always thought the line "Ollie, Ollie, Ollie come free" was a reference to Oliver North's getting out of his role in the Iran-Contra scandal as a hero rather than a criminal.
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