R.E.M. in 1987, photo via band
The coronavirus pandemic has led to renewed interest in R.E.M.’s 1987 anthem “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”.
As of Sunday afternoon, the song sits at No. 64 on the iTunes singles charts, and it’s climbing higher by the hour. In comparison, at its peak in 1987, “It’s the End of the World” reached No. 69 on the Billboard Top 100.
Though it appeared on R.E.M.’s 1987 album Document, the origins of “It’s the End of the World” actually date back several years earlier, when the band’s members ran into legendary rock critic Lester Bangs at an industry party. Later, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe would dream about attending Bangs’ birthday party and being the only person there whose initials weren’t L.B. “So there was Lenny Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Leonard Bernstein,” Stipe recalled. “So that ended up in the song along with a lot of stuff I’d seen when I was flipping TV channels. It’s a collection of streams of consciousness.”
In particular, Stipe’s lyrics reference environmental concerns, the Cold War, Iran Contra, and TV evangelists. “I wrote the words to ‘End of the World’ as I sung it,” Stipe explained in a past interview. “When they showed me that song in the studio I just said, ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.’ I wanted it to be the most bombastic vocal that I could possibly muster. Something that would completely overwhelm you and drip off your shoulders and stick in your hair like bubblegum.”