I can feel Everett True’s withering stare from here, but I don’t care. This really is one of the finest songs I’ve ever heard. Everything you need to know is in the title: it’s universal and poignant. Everyone can relate to it, and everyone (except True) feels it – like a sonic meme.
The song first appeared on 1992’s Automatic For The People and was released as a single the following year. It reached number 29 on the Billboard charts and number 7 in the UK charts. Although Bill Berry wrote most of the song, he didn’t actually play the drums on the track (though he did play the drum samples). Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones arranged the strings. When Berry first presented the track to the band, it had no chorus or bridge – just the looping arpeggios. The straightforward lyrics were deliberately aimed at teenagers (no doubt why it resonated with me: I was 16 at the time) and Peter Buck explained that he had “never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.” Appropriately, the song appeared in the soundtrack to the 1992 Buffy movie.
Helpline charity The Samaritans took out a print advertising campaign in 1995 consisting solely of the lyrics to this song and their telephone number.
Even if REM became a byword for mawkish sentimentality and radio-friendly trucker pop, they did have their moments, and this was one of them.