Bill Berry told Spin magazine in 1986 that the song was specifically about Acid Rain, which occurs when the burning of fossil fuels releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, causing rain to be acidic and threatening the environment.
The video was filmed upside down in a rock quarry, and snippets of the environmentally concerned words flash on-screen throughout: "Buy" the sky, "Sell" the sky, etc.
Suggestion credit: Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England, for above 2
Before it ended up on the Lifes Rich Pageant album, R.E.M. performed a variation of this song on tour promoting their previous album, Fables of the Reconstruction. Peter Buck remembered in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011: "And pretty much every day Michael had different lyrics or a different melody; we changed the bridge a hundred times. On the Lifes Rich Pageant anniversary box set, there is a version that is kind of what we used to do on stage. Michael wrote new words and melodies during the making of the record, which all took a bit of getting used to since we were so used to the previous versions. But no question, the one on the record is so superior."
We didn't forget to add that possessive apostrophe to the album title. The band intentionally left it out, or so the story goes. "We all hate apostrophes," Peter Buck proclaimed. "There's never been a good rock album that had an apostrophe in the title." Beatles fans may disagree - A Hard Day's Night and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band both employ the punctuation mark. Maybe Buck's oft-quoted comment is meant to be taken with a dose of irony, or maybe he's just a Stones fan (that band shunned the apostrophe for Their Satanic Majesties Request).
Mike from Berkeley, CaThis song is beautifully lyrical, but it also seems to be about unintended consequences. Stipe said in an interview in '92 (see comment by Andrei below) that it started out to be about acid rain, then came to include Galileo's experiment of dropping objects from the Tower of Pisa. Since that's the case, I think the problem is "feathers, iron" (not iron feathers, but iron and feathers). So one idea is to watch out for what polluters, experimenters, and real estate agents (who would sell you a piece of sky) might drop on you. There's also a an ironic concern of avoiding the cause of your fears. What's going on inside a person's head when they tell rain, dropped objects, or the sky not to fall on him?
Richard from Manchester, United KingdomThe line which starts 'Buy the sky and sell the sky..' could be a reference to the line: 'How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?' which was purportedly taken from a speech in which Chief Si'ahl (anglicised to Seattle) leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes pleaded that his name should die with the ceding of the Washington State territories in 1854. This line itself comes from a re-written version of the speech which, according to Wikiquotes, was produced in the 1970's for a film called 'Home'. It is this version of the speech which has become widely known, including through its inclusion in Al Gore's book 'Earth in Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit' The text of this version is often associated with ecological themes. The 'original' version of the speech known as 'Seattle's Reply' - as it was a reply to Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens - was reported by a Dr. Henry A. Smith in the Seattle Sunday Star in 1887. Even the accuracy and content of this reported speech is disputed. William S Abruzzi's paper 'The Myth of Chief Seattle' published in the Human Ecology Review is a good treatise on the history of the speech and the inaccuracies in both the modern and Smith's versions of the speech. It is available to read on the web.
Nick from Arlington Heights, IlBest thing about this song, at the beginning its "TELL the sky don't fall on me", as if we can tell nature or life what to do...by the end, it's "ASK the sky don't fall on me"...when its clear what is beyond our control and what we are at the mercy of
Seth from Freehold,According to VH1's Behind The Music and other sources, R.E.M. initially honed their musical skills practicing in an abandoned church. Fall On Me has a religious tone to it, with lyrical images of the sky falling, talking to the sky, etc..
Mark from Austin, TxThis is such a great and soaring melody, which really reflects and echos the lyrical theme of sky and falling. I just love it.
Lee from Euclid, OhThis song alone would have been enough for me to have REM be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which happened for them this year. (2007) Naturally they were honored accordingly for so much more than one single record.
Paul from Redditch, EnglandThis is my favourite REM song. Only country feedback even comes close.
Andrei from Chicago, IlAccording to Stipe, the song "is still believed to be about acid rain. Initially it was. But then I rewrote the song. If you listen to the second verse, there is a countermelody underneath it. That's the original melody to the song; that was the part about acid rain. In fact, the 'Fall On Me' that we all know and love is not about acid rain. It's a general opression song about the fact that there are a lot of causes out there that need a song that says, 'Don't smash us.' And specifically, there are references to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the guy dropping weights and feathers."
Harllee from Sacramento, CaBrian, Bill Berry experienced a non-fatal brain aneurysm during a concert in Europe and later decided to retire. He didn't have a brain tumor. He wanted to spend his time on a farm he bought in Georgia.
Bsd987 from Long Island, Nyum, the album title is NOT "Life's Rich Pageant" but rather "Lifes Rich Pageant". This was intentional and should be corrected.
Steve from Sacramento, CaThe video for the song had the title, "FALL ON ME" and others appear in big letters on the screen because the music press had always complained that REM's lyrics were not packaged with their albums.
Oskar from Bilbao, SpainExtraordinary song! My R.E.M.´s favourite.
Brian from Hanover, PaThe backing vocals are by Mike Mills and Billy Berry. Bill's line is just "It's going to fall" repeated once for each line in the chorus.
Brian from Meriden, CtThis is one of the best songs by a band that had so many medium to uptempo college rock/country and folk-tinged great ones. The songs were at once beautiful and vibrant with energy. They had a great sound, led by Peter Buck's minimalist guitar style and the band's high harmonies backing Stipe's urgent, strained lead vocals through which he painted his own odd lyrical images of often unclear and even dark, bizarre subject matters, along with the more directed, cause-oriented efforts. Stipe remains one of the more interesting and inventive lyricists in rock. Buck's occasional piano work and bassist Mike Mills's backup vocals were sometimes incorporated, along with the powerful, even explosive drumming of Bill Berry, who later had to quit due to a serious brain tumor. In the 90s and while they still had the help of Berry, they turned to a harder-edged sound but had too much talent to be dismissed as bombastic. This proved vaild as the band enjoyed new heights of success. Definately the best band in the USA for a time, they could probably still be considered a contender.
Roger from Los Angeles, CaEarly on in their career, Michael Stipe commented this was his favorite REM song. Mike Mills contributes to singing the lyrics in several of the lines in the middle of the song.