R.E.M. is sorry

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, our favorite songs with (parenthetical) titles.

R.E.M.’s ridiculously fertile early years hit their stride with “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” from 1984’s Reckoning. The band’s second album brushed aside some of the shadowy kudzu of Murmur, revealing a serious pop jones in “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.” But it was “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”—one of three songs on Reckoning to feature parentheses in the title—that perfectly bridged the gap, and it’s certainly one of the best songs the band ever wrote. Michael Stipe’s lyrics were beginning to move from impressionist brambles to something slightly more coherent, which is most apparent in the part of the song left between those little curvy lines: “I’m sorry,” exclaims Stipe, in the most exclamatory way he’d ever exclaimed anything. (The rest of the band sounds like vintage R.E.M., with Peter Buck’s complex little guitar line complemented by Mike Mills’ always-welcome backing vocals.) The title itself has always been elusive—the parenthetical seems like it was tacked on by forces that wanted the popular song to be more easily found in record stores. On Reckoning’s sketched-out front cover, it appears as “S. Central Rain,” and in other places it’s “So. Central Rain.” (Early inner sleeves had it as “Southern Central Rain,” even.) Before it had a name, the song found its way onto Late Night With David Letterman. The clip (below) is the stuff of R.E.M. legend, with Stipe ducking out of the charming interview—youngsters Buck and Mills handle it well—but stepping up to deliver a gorgeous version of the song.


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