Man on the Moon (song)

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"Man on the Moon"
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Automatic for the People
B-side "New Orleans Instrumental No. 2"
Released November 21, 1992 (1992-11-21)
Format CD single, 7" single, 12" single, Cassette
Recorded 1992
Genre Country rock[1]
Length 5:15 (Album Version)
4:39 (Edit)
Label Warner Bros.
Producer(s) Scott Litt & R.E.M.
R.E.M. singles chronology
"Man on the Moon"
"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite"

"Man on the Moon" is a song by the American alternative rock band R.E.M., released as the second single from their 1992 album Automatic for the People. The lyrics were written by lead singer Michael Stipe, and the music by drummer Bill Berry and guitarist Peter Buck, and credited to the whole band as usual. The song was well received by critics and peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 18 on the UK Singles Chart. It remains one of R.E.M.'s most popular songs[2][3] and was included on the compilations In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 and Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011.

Lyrically, the song is a tribute to the comedian and performer Andy Kaufman with numerous references to his career including his Elvis impersonation, wrestling, and the film My Breakfast with Blassie. The song's title and chorus refer to the moon landing conspiracy theories as an oblique allusion to rumors that Kaufman's death in 1984 was faked. The song gave its name to Miloš Forman's film based on Kaufman's life, and was featured prominently in the film's official soundtrack.

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"Man on the Moon" is a mid-tempo country-rock song following a verse-chorus structure with an added pre-chorus and an instrumental bridge following the second and third choruses. The song is somewhat unusual in that the verses are unequal in length, with six lines in the first verse but only four in the second and third verses.[4]

Guitarist Peter Buck explained how the music came together: "'Man on the Moon' was something that Bill [Berry] had, this one chord change that he came in with, which was C to D like the verse of the song, and he said: 'I don't know what to do with that.' I used to finish some of Bill's things... he would come up with the riffs, but I would be the finish guy for that. I sat down and came up with the chorus, the bridges, and so forth. I remember we showed it to Mike and Michael when they came in later; definitely we had the song finished. I think Bill played bass and I played guitar; we kept going around with it. I think we might have played some mandolin on it in the rehearsal studio."

The song's lyrics are an homage to the performer Andy Kaufman, including references to his Elvis impersonation and work with wrestlers Fred Blassie and Jerry Lawler. Some critics find the song also invokes the conspiracy theories surrounding the moon landing and Elvis Presley as an indirect nod to the persistent rumors that Kaufman faked his own death.[2][5] Other lyrical references include boardgames, notable people, and Mott the Hoople (both the title of a novel and a rock group which took its name from the novel). Regarding the cryptic lyrics, critic Greg Kot wrote that the song "presents a surreal vision of heaven."[6] According to Ann Powers, "Mentioning Kaufman in the same breath as Moses and Sir Isaac Newton, Stipe makes a game of human endeavor, insisting that it all ends in dust. 'Let's play Twister, let's play Risk,' Stipe jokes to the notables he's invoked. 'I'll see you in heaven if you make the list.'"[7]

Michael Stipe explained in an interview with Charlie Rose how the lyrics were written independently of the music, which had no prior association with the song's eventual lyrical content regarding Andy Kaufman. Stipe recounted that the rest of the members of R.E.M. had written and performed the music of the song and recorded it along with the rest of the Automatic for the People album during studio sessions in Seattle. As of the final day of the recording sessions, Stipe had not yet written lyrics to the song and the other band members continued to plead with him to try to complete the song, despite his writer's block. Stipe listened to the track on a walk around Seattle and was inspired to write a song about the performances of Andy Kaufman. After Stipe went back to the studio to complete the vocal track, the master was mixed that night and sent out the following day to be mastered.[8]

Release and reception[edit]

"Man on the Moon" was released as the second single from Automatic for the People on November 21, 1992, reaching number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100[9] and number 18 on the UK Singles Chart.[10] The song was enthusiastically received by critics. Writing for the New York Times, Ann Powers said it "shines with a wit that balances R.E.M.'s somber tendencies."[7] Stewart Mason went even further in his review for Allmusic, calling the song "near-perfect", "almost inarguably Stipe's pinnacle as a singer", and "one of R.E.M.'s most enduring achievements".[2] The song was listed at number 19 on the Village Voice "Pazz & Jop" year-end critics' poll in 1993.[11]

Music video[edit]

The song's video, directed by Peter Care, was shot over three days in the desert, at Lancaster in the Antelope Valley area of California, in October 1992. Care kept a journal of the unusually long planning, filming, and editing process, which was published by Raygun magazine and reprinted in the R.E.M. fan club newsletter. It gave a clear idea of the amount of work, money, and attention-to-detail involved.[12]

In the video, Michael Stipe, attired in a cowboy hat, walks along a desert road. He leaps onto a passing truck, driven by Bill Berry, and hitches a ride to a truck stop where Peter Buck is tending bar and Mike Mills is shooting pool. Berry trades his truck seat for a bar stool, and along with a few of the other customers (in the shooting, they used actors and non-actors), sings along during the choruses. After finishing his order of fries, Stipe leaves and walks off into the dusk. In the background on a small television set in the truck stop, various footage of Andy Kaufman can be seen showing.

This video was ranked #41 on Rolling Stone magazine's The 100 Top Music Videos.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe except as noted.

US 7", cassette and CD single[edit]

  1. "Man on the Moon" – 5:12
  2. "New Orleans Instrumental #2" – 3:48

UK "collector's edition" CD single[edit]

  1. "Man on the Moon" – 5:12
  2. "Fruity Organ" – 3:26
  3. "New Orleans Instrumental #2" – 3:48
  4. "Arms of Love" (Robyn Hitchcock) – 3:35

DE 12" and CD maxi-single[edit]

  1. "Man on the Moon" (edit) – 4:39
  2. "Turn You Inside-Out" – 4:15
  3. "Arms of Love" (Hitchcock) – 3:35

UK and DE 7" and cassette single[edit]

  1. "Man on the Moon" (edit) – 4:39
  2. "Turn You Inside-Out" – 4:15


Chart (1992) Peak
Australian Singles Chart[13] 39
Canadian Hot 100 4
Irish Singles Chart 17
UK Singles Chart[10] 18
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[9] 30
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[9] 2
U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks[9] 4

Cover versions[edit]

  • Tears For Fears during their period without Curt Smith (mid-90s) covered the song live a few times.
  • American indie artist Ferraby Lionheart recorded an acoustic cover of the song in 2007, which was part of a tribute album to Drive that was organized by Stereogum. The album also contains a version by The Shout Out Louds. It is available for free download over the Internet.[14]
  • Commemorating the one year anniversary of the death of Eric the Midget (real name Eric Shaun Lynch), the song was redone with references to him.


  1. ^ In Time: The Best Of REM 1988-2003 Review
    Retrieved 9 August 2016
  2. ^ a b c Mason, Stewart. "Song review: Man on the Moon". Allmusic. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Kelly, Casey; Hodge, David (2011). The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Art of Songwriting. New York: Alpha Books. ISBN 978-1-101-54337-5. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Kot, Greg (October 4, 1992). "Killing 'Em Softly". Chicago Tribune. 
  7. ^ a b Powers, Ann (October 11, 1992). "A Weary R.E.M. Seems Stuck in Midtempo". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c d "R.E.M.: Billboard singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Man on the Moon". Chart Stats. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  11. ^ "The 1993 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  12. ^ Gray, Marcus (1997). It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. Companion. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80751-3. 
  13. ^ "Discography R.E.M.". Hung Medien. Retrieved 22 September 2015. 
  14. ^

External links[edit]