The One I Love

Album: Document (1987)
Charted: 51 9
  • songfacts ®
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    James - Dartmouth, Canada
  • 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."
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Comments: 26

  • Ross from San Jose, CaPerhaps it's a stretch to imagine straightforward meaning in R.E.M. lyrics, but in this particular case it's hard to avoid the conclusion "Fire" is literal, and "this one" is intended to mean a bullet.
  • William from Twilight ZoneBecause of it's violent nature, there was great controversy, should this song be rated along with the Gangster Rap, the Tipper Gore rating system. Maybe, based on the video, lightning could mean fallen angel, the sparklers represent Phosphorus, that's Lucifer. "the one I love, Fire". The lyrics are timed to the video. So it's a love song and an apology song, because he refers to his girlfriend as "a simple prop". A Earthly stand in. Later in video, "another prop, to occupy my time", it's a different women 1/4 sec. A love song to Lucifer.
  • Andrea from South AfricaMichael Stipe said it is a brutal, violent song. Most people think violence is just physical act. That is not always the case, "Fire" could be the burning rage, shame and hurt that one feels, when you are used. " A simple prop to occupy my time" being used as a prop is like saying you are insignificant and all that you did and shared together was just because this person was bored and had nothing better to do. It is a cruel song. But I never did think it was a love song, the music and the way he screams "fire" is a raw emotion. Not love but that burning rage of hurt, it is painful to listen to. Even though it feels good to listen to it.
  • Demetrios "meter" Pappas from Atlanta , GaThis is about a beloved pizza parlor in Athens, Ga. that caught fire and burned to the ground.
  • Ken from Orlando, FloridaI know this is not what this song is about...but maybe it should have been. Pyromania. The music is dark and the vocals disturbing enough to evoke some of the feelings a pyromaniac may have, at any rate I have loved this song since the first time I heard it and I perform it from time to time, and always in the context of being about a pyromaniac.
    This one goes out to the one I Love... (FIRE)
    This one goes out to the one I left behind... (FIRE)
  • Bob from UsaMany consider this is a love song. It's not really a love song at
    all. Perhaps the most misunderstood song ever. The clue is in the
    fact that there are so few words in it.

    That's kind of out of character for Michael Stipe. He's a guy
    who can string a whole bunch of words together, for example,
    "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine). So, if you
    want to understand this song with so few words, you have to read
    it in the context of the album "Document"

    There's no song on the album called "Document", he's telling
    you what the album is, it's a documentation, a moment in time, a
    snapshot.

    You can look at a lot of the song titles, and they kind of
    give you a sense of what the albums about: "Finest Worksong",
    "Exhuming McCarthy", "Welcome to the Occupation". He's describing
    America at the time this record (Document) was made. You have the
    collapse of the middle class, McCartheyism's return in the
    Rambo/Reagan eighties), military adventurism (occupation). Where's
    this all leading? The answer is given in "Document"'s other big hit:
    "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).

    So you have to listen to "The One I Love" in that context. When
    a normally verbose guy like Michael Stipe writes a song with so few
    lyrics, as in "the one I love" you should assume every line, every
    word matters.

    So you listen to "the one I love" in this context, and what have
    you got?
    "This one goes out to the one I love, This one goes out to the
    one I left behind"

    Okay, so he's thinking about his girlfriend, and something
    that's going to happen, he's dedicating it to her.
    What's he gonna do? we don't know yet. And why did he have to
    leave her behind?

    Next Line: "A simple prop, to occupy my time. This one goes
    out to the one I love" So he's referring again to her, and the thing
    he's about to do, but he's kind of telling you it's bs. he's using
    the thought of her as a prop, a shield, because he doesn't want to
    deal emotionally with the thing he's about to do.

    And what does he do? It's one word, but he doesn't sing it
    softly, like the rest of the song, (because that's internal
    monologue) He yells it, because it's spoken aloud. He barks it, it's
    a command, one word: "FIRE!"

    The order is given, the nukes fly, and it's the end of the
    world as we know it. What will you think of when you know the end's
    coming? You'll think about the one you love.
  • Bill from RestonThis song is a very, very dark song, probably about a killing rampage or a murder/suicide. People assume that the phrase "This one goes out to the one I love" is about the song, but I think it's about bullets. The phrase "Fire, Fire" is talking about pulling the trigger. The actual video for the song shows what looks like firecrackers going off, people running, people being startled, as if someone's shooting a gun. In the video we see a woman with a man with his head resting on her lap. She looks like she may be holding a gun in her right hand. There are many images of men with their faces down and for all practical purposes, looking like they're dead. The killer in this case is a woman, who I suspect takes her own life in the end as described by the phrase "She's coming down on her own now/Coming down on her own."

    Stipe has called the song "violent" and "brutal." Comments like that don't come from simple exploitation, which happens every day. This is exploitation and degradation brought to it's highest degree - the elimination of other lives because of their apparent insignificance. A love song it certainly is not!
  • Karol from Pori, FinlandChorus part, where Stipe howls "fire" together with wowing of Mills and overdubbed Stipe is the one of the best moments of REM songs ever.
  • Sheena from Jonesboro, ArI also thought the phrase was "I am," until recently. Glad to know I'm not the only one who misheard it.
  • Adam from York, PaI originally thought the song said the phrase I am, not fire, thanks for clearing that up guys!
  • Emilio from Mansfield, AlDoes anyone think the songs dynamics and rhythm sound like 'Come as you are' by Nirvana?
  • Firemirage from Lima, OhActually this song was dedicated and loosely about a real girl Stipes was friends with in Toledo Ohio named Lisa, she was originally from Lima, Oh
  • Jackie from Virginia Beach, VaA suicide note from a person committing suicide via a gun ("fire"), after being tired of marking their time of this world (the bored tone, and seeing life as occupying time) to his soon to be ex- (the prop that occupied his time)
  • Bryan Watson from Washington, MiThe video for this song was directed by Alton Brown, best known as the host of the cooking show "Good Eats" on the Food Network.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoI'm not a huge REM fan. I like about 20 of their songs. I always felt like REM kind of slightly changed the Neil Young song "My My Hey Hey (into the black)" from Rust Never Sleeps to create this song. What do you think? This no doubt marks me as an "old geezer" but I'm shocked that the Butthole Surfers have enough material to fill a double cd. No offense to Butthole Surfer fans.
  • Rick from Humboldt, IaThis is kind of an odd song. REM's lead singer has a funny but cool voice like the guy from the cars.
  • Jak from New York, NyAnother aspect of its beautiful minimalism - the entire song contains only 4 lines of lyrics, repeated over and over. But Stipe does such an incredible job varying the stresses each time he sings them, that the listener never notices how sparse the lyrics actually are.
  • Jak from New York, NyI used to tell people it was a song about - masturbation. I was joking, but if you listen to the lyrics, every single line fits with that interpretion... ;)

    Regardless of the meaning, a brilliant song, a lovely video too. One of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar - here's some trivia - the entire song including the solo is strictly in the standard blues 5-note Key of E, EXCEPT for the next-to-last chord at the very end - which is why that one chord stands out so wonderfully and has that 'punch' for the ending/closing of the song. Its absolutely beautifully crafted.
  • Ryan from Poway, Cayou know, i always try to be optimistic and say, "oh, it's a love song...the song he's writing is the prop...' Haha, but I know it's not really a love song...Good song still
  • Tristan from Red Hill, PaThe Butthole Surfers did a coarse cover version on their "Double Live" album in the 80's.
  • Rip from Daytona Bch, Fli love the video,,,,,
  • Craig from Madison, Wi"You skipped the part about love." That's from "Low" off of "Out of Time." It might be the first REM song to say the L-word.
  • Bones from New Plymouth, New ZealandI think it refers to several one night stands, and about how it becomes a fetish. It goes from "A simple prop to occupy my time" to "Another prop has occupied my time"
  • Epp from Pittsburgh, PaIt's the song that put REM on the map back in '86. Too many people think its a love song, but obviously don't look at they lyrics. It's about being used and abused. It proably refers to a 1 night stand.
  • Dude from Urbana, IlIt is not the only song to have the word "love", At My Most Beautiful also has the word "love" in it.
  • Dimitris from Athens, Greeceit is the only song of rem containing the word "love"
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