#72: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It by R.E.M.

City: Hamilton, ON
Radio Station: CKOC
Peak Month: March 1988
Peak Position in Hamilton ~ #10
Peak position in Vancouver ~ did not chart
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #69
YouTube: “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Lyrics: “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

R.E.M. is a band from Athens, Georgia, formed in 1980. Drummer William “Bill” Berry was born in Duluth (MN) in 1958. His family spent some years variously in Wisconsin and then Ohio, before moving to Macon (GA) in 1972. In high school he met guitar player Mike Mills. Born in Orange County (CA), Mills moved with his family to Georgia when he was six months old. Mills and Berry formed a band called Shadowfax, which later became The Back Door Band. Lead vocalist, Michael Stipe, was born in Decatur (GA) in 1960. Like Mike Mills, he was raised in a military family. When Stipe was in university, he met store clerk and guitar player Peter Buck. The pair formed a band and were later joined by Berry and Mills. Peter Buck was born in 1956 in Berkeley (CA). His family moved to Georgia where he attended public school.

In 1982, the band released an EP titled Chronic Town. It included their debut single “Radio Free Europe”. In 1983, R.E.M. released their debut album titled Murmur. In the following years, R.E.M. developed a strong following on college radio. In 1985 their single “Cant Get There from Here” climbed to #110 on the Billboard Hot 100, and cracked the Top 100 RPM singles chart in Canada. But it was on their fifth studio album release in 1987 titled Document, that the band had a Top 40 hit. “The One I Love” made the Top Ten in Ireland, New Zealand, and the USA, and the Top 20 in Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and the UK.

The next track issued as a single from Document was “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”.

It's The End Of The World As We Know It by R.E.M.

“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is a song written by the bandmates. The song is a stream-of-consciousness rant, as Michael Stipe once described it to a reporter in 1992. The opening lyrics, “That’s great; it starts with an earthquake,” could be a biblical reference, as earthquakes are depicted a sign of the end times. It could also be REM’s interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Revelation 11:19 states, “And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; And the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.”

The first major usage of the phrase used for the song title appears in the 1972 film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. A human says in preparation for battle with apes: “If we lose this battle, that’s the end of the world as we know it.”

In the song there are “the furies breathing down your neck.” The Furies are an English translation of the The Erinyes, from Greek mythology. The Furies are goddesses of vengeance who live beneath the earth. They take vengeance on “men who hath sworn a false oath.” In Orphic literature, The Furies are the daughters of Hades and Persephone.

Besides the earthquake, and The Furies, is a list of things set upon the human race at “the end of the world, as we know it.” These include 1) birds, 2) snakes, 3) airplanes (maybe like the ones Boeing flies today), 4) eye of a hurricane, 5) overflow population, 6) book burning, 7) Six O’clock TV hour (news), 8) cars incinerating, 9) a tournament of lies.

There are people “feeling pretty psyched” about the “rapture,” especially “the reverent.”

In the midst of it all “Lenny Bruce is not afraid.” Bruce was a counter-cultural comedian in the 1960s who did LSD. A WWII U.S. Navy veteran, who also was in uniform for the Korean War with the United States Merchant Marine. Bruce appeared at Carnegie Hall in February 1961. But was arrested on obscenity charges in October 1961, which began four years of legal troubles. Lenny Bruce’s comedic performances were a stream-of-consciousness, much like the flow of the lyrics in this R.E.M. song. Bruce died in August 1966 at the age of 40, officially of a morphine overdose.

Michael Stipe sings about more people with L.B. as their initials. As well as Lenny Bruce, he lists famous conductor Leonard Bernstein. For his left-wing causes (nuclear disarmament, civil rights, protesting the Vietnam War and more) Bernstein was blacklisted by the U.S. Department of State, and over several decades earned over 800 pages of files from being monitored by the FBI.

Lester Bangs, a music critic, died at the age of 33 in 1982 from self-medicating on an opioid, an anti-depressant drug and  cold/flu medication NyQuil.

A fourth person with L.B. listed in the song is Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982. It was his government that rolled back the liberalization of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968. From 1969 to 1974 he engaged in détente with the United States to ease strained diplomatic relations. An Anti-Ballistic Missile System treaty was signed in 1972 between the USA and USSR to dial back the prospect of Mutually Assured Destruction and the devastation of a nuclear war.

Songfacts.com reports “Interest in the song skyrocketed in March 2020 amid growing global concern over the coronavirus outbreak. In the tracking week ending March 12, on-demand US streams increased from the previous week by 48% to 746,000, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.”

“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” peaked at #10 in Hamilton, #15 in Ypsilanti (MI), and #20 and San Jose (CA). Internationally, the single peaked at #12 in France, #16 in Italy, and #22 in Ireland.

In 1988, R.E.M. released the album Green. From the album came “Orange Crush”, reaching #5 in New Zealand, #15 in Australia, #21 in Ireland, and number-one on both the Billboard Alternative Airplay (8 weeks) and Mainstream Rock (2 weeks) charts. In early 1989, R.E.M. followed up with “Stand”. The single shot to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on both the Alternative Airplay and Mainstream Rock charts in the USA. “Stand” also climbed to #8 in Canada, and #17 in Ireland.

In 1991, R.E.M. had a #4 hit on the Hot 100 with “Losing My Religion”. The single from the Out of Time album repeated the feat of topping the Billboard Alternative Airplay and Mainstream Rock charts. Internationally, the single peaked at #1 in Belgium and the Netherlands, #3 in France and Sweden, #4 in Norway, #5 in Ireland, #6 in Austria and Canada, #8 in Italy, #9 in Denmark, and #11 in Australia and Switzerland. It also won two Grammy Awards in 1992.

A second track from Out of Time, was “Shiny Happy People”. It included guest vocals from the B-52s Kate Pierson. The song was a Top Ten hit in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK. It also climbed to #14 in Austria and Sweden, and #12 in Finland.

Through the 1990s R.E.M. remained popular selling albums that all went platinum multiple times, depending on the country. Automatic For the People included the single “Drive”, which topped the Alternative Airplay charts in the USA. It also was a Top Ten hit in Canada, Greece, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, and Switzerland. “Drive” stalled at #11 in Austria, Finland and the UK, and #13 in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

A second track from Automatic For the People was “Man on the Moon”. The single topped the pop charts in Iceland, and was a Top Ten hit in Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. While a third single from the album, “Everybody Hurts” was a Top Ten hit in Australia, Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK, and a #12 hit in New Zealand.

In 1994, the band released Monster. From the album came “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” The single topped the pop chart in Iceland, and reached the Top Ten in Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and the UK. Subsequent releases from the album, “Bang and Blame” and “Strange Currencies” were both Top Ten hits in multiple countries internationally.

In 1996, New Adventures in Hi-Fi was another international best-selling album. “E-Bow the Letter” and “Bittersweet Me” were both international hit singles. And in 1997, Up featured the single “Daysleeper” which was a number-one hit in Iceland and a Top Ten hit in four other countries. However, in the USA more and more of the band’s single releases were hits on the Alternative Airplay chart. In the 2000s, “Imitation of Life”, “Bad Day”, “Leaving New York” and “Supernatural Superserious” topped the Alternative Airplay charts, while only two of these cracking the Billboard Hot 100 – with the first of these stalling at #83, and the last stalling at #85 (but #1 in Norway). “Leaving New York” reached #2 in Italy, #3 in Hungary, #4 in Spain, and #5 in Croatia and the UK. While “Bad Day” was a Top Ten hit in Belgium, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, and the UK, and a #11 hit in Ireland and Norway. While “Imitation of Life” was a Top Ten hit internationally in eight countries.

R.E.M.s last hit single was “We All Go Back to Where We Belong”. While it didn’t chart in the USA in 2011, it climbed that year to #8 in Venezuela. That year the band decided to split up.

May 20, 2024
Ray McGinnis

Michael Hann, “Old Music: REM – feeling gravity’s pull,” Guardian, November 15, 2012.
Michael Hann, “‘I’m a pretty good pop star’: Michael Stipe on his favourite REM songs,” Guardian, January 19, 2018.
Mike Mills, “Exclusive: Mike Mills on why REM are calling it quits,” Rolling Stone, September 26, 2011.
John F. Burns, “Brezhnev Is Dead In Soviet At Age 75; No Immediate Word On A Successor; U.S. Foresees No Early Policy Shifts,” New York Times, November 11, 1982.
Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems,” U.S. Department of State, October 1972.
Barry Seldes, Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician, (University of California Press, 2009).
Lenny Bruce, Uninhibited Comic, Found Dead in Hollywood Home,” New York Times, August 4, 1966.
Robert Christgau, “Lester Bangs, 1948-1982,” Village Voice, may 11, 1982.
Avi Kapach, “Erinyes (Furies),” Mythopedia, March 9, 2023.
Trailer, “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” 20th Century Fox, 1972.

It's The End Of The World As We Know It by R.E.M.

CKOC 1150-AM Hamilton (ON) Top Ten | March 23, 1988

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Our Newsletter