Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 13

No 13. REM – Automatic For The People. (1992)


Football analogy #327: in the first weekend of the 1987-88 season, Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool, arguably the greatest team ever to play in the English Football League, eviscerated Newcastle United 4-1 at Anfield. One of the Liverpool players scored a hat-trick, but it was not John Aldridge, John Barnes or Peter Beardsley, their immensely prolific three way strike force, but Steve Nicol, the right back. An example of when the collective is so strong, amazing feats come from the most unlikely of sources, like when Bill Berry, REM’s drummer, sat down and wrote Everybody Hurts, one of the world’s finest ever lullabies.

Sad without being morose, tuneful without being twee, Automatic is the musical equivalent of a reassuring hug from a loved one at a funeral. Eleven string-drenched folk-rock songs and one instrumental. Along with Oasis’s Morning Glory, it is the most ubiquitous album of my generation. Everybody had it. The songs are so sweet and gentle, and the musical palette so rich and resonant, it’s not hard to see why this album appealed to so many millions of people.

Michael Stipe, REM’s singer and to this day the best frontman I’ve ever seen live, was disturbingly thin and pallid during the promos of this album and it was heavily rumoured at the time that he had AIDS, and songs about death, suicide and uncertainty did little to dispel the talk. He didn’t have AIDS, obviously, but the subject matter of the songs, for example Try Not To Breathe’s story of an old man preparing to die with his favourite memories in his mind, is clearly a rumination on mortality. Everybody Hurts, surely now a song that everybody under the age of sixty knows off by heart, is a lyric of hope written after a sharp rise in suicide levels in the U.S, and they also manage to sneak a little political diatribe in with Ignoreland (1980, 84, 88, 92 were election years in America.)

Elsewhere, in a High Fidelity-style survey, pretty much everyone is naming Drive as one of their “Top 5 Side One, Track Ones,” and Sweetness Follows and Nightswimming emit the kind of comforting melancholy as the last scene from Lost In Translation. I’ve had conversations about this album with complete strangers in chip shops and round at my closest friends houses. It is language, it is currency; everyone has find a favourite here, whether it’s The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight with its strange, twangy vocal in the chorus (he’s singing “Call me when you try to wake her up,” in case you didn’t know) or their glorious homage to Tim Buckley, Find The River. If you’re one of the fifteen people on the planet who doesn’t own this album, do yourself a favour…

Best Tracks: Drive, Sweetness Follows, Find The River

Best Moment: 3:50 into Everybody Hurts, after the pause, the impossibly sad “soooometimes…”

Like this? Try: Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev, 1998

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here.


2 thoughts on “Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 13

  1. stephen1001 says:

    YES. I was just saying to a friend this evening that Automatic may not make my top 10 but would definitely be top 15. Never knew what he said in Sidewinder, would not have guessed those were the lyrics!

  2. Joseph says:

    Great info. Lucky me I recently found your site by accident (stumbleupon).

    I have saved it for later!

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