Sep 11

R.E.M./Pylon: “Crazy”


Arguably the last of R.E.M.'s "folk art" album designs…

I hadn’t really intended to turn R.E.M.’s breakup on Wednesday into a 3-day thing here, but it’s just sort of worked out that way. Yesterday I posted about Television, one of their big influences, and today, since it’s Cover Friday, I’m kind of tying it all together by going with R.E.M.’s cover of the song “Crazy,” by fellow Athens, Georgia, underground cult faves, Pylon. (And if Television influenced R.E.M., they influenced Pylon to an even greater extent, making the last 3 days quite a neat little package, if I do say so myself.) Preceding R.E.M. by a couple of years, Pylon helped to put Athens on the national music map with the release of their debut album, Gyrate, in 1980, following just a year after the B-52s set things in motion with their debut. That album was a major influence on the guys soon to become R.E.M. In 1982, Pylon released a single, “Crazy,” that became their most well-known song (in a very relative sense), and which ended up on their second album, Chomp, a year later. Around the same time as the album’s release, they broke up, having become disheartened about how things were going for them during a stint opening for U2 (on their first American tour).

In 1985, R.E.M. paid tribute to Pylon’s influence on them by releasing a cover of “Crazy” on the B-side (remember those?) of their “Driver 8” single. They capture the atmospherics of the original beautifully, and tighten the song up into an even poppier, more streamlined version, without ever straying far from the original. Where Pylon’s singer, Vanessa Briscoe, punctuates the song with slightly crazed shrieks, Michael Stipe’s vocals were smoother and more haunting, which is probably what ends up making their version go down a bit easier. The cover version gained even more exposure when R.E.M. placed it as the leadoff track on their 1987 compilation album, Dead Letter Office, which featured an assortment of B-sides and outtakes.

I figured it also might be of interest to hear the original Pylon version here in addition to R.E.M.’s cover — in fact, I think I might make that standard practice for the Friday cover songs. In any case, I hope you enjoy the comparison — they’re really quite similar, and although familiarity often wins out, try to hear Pylon’s original with fresh ears, and you may come away with an appreciation for what made Pylon unique, and so inspiring to R.E.M.


  1. SteveL says:

    Another great post, Dave. I saw Pylon warm up for U2 in Norfolk, VA in 1982-3ish! But I thought U2 had been in the area on at least one previous occasion – will have to do some Internet research. I was also a Pylon fan at that time so what a fantastic double bill! But people booed and threw pennies at Pylon – it was a disgrace. And how sad to hear that that might have contributed to their demise. I like this cover but the original will always be definitive for me.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      Great story, Steve — would have been a great show if not for how the audience behaved! I saw U2 on the War tour, but I think that must have been the next tour, and not the one Pylon was on (definitely not the show I saw, anyway). I agree that it’s a shame if that was what spurred Pylon to pack it in.

  2. I’ve been an R.E.M. fan since my son introduced me to them in the 80s. Actually, I’m the one who taught Michael Stipe how to dance. My favorite is “Losing My Religion”. Sorry they’ve broken up, but at least we have lots of music to remember them by.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      I’d really like to hear more about the dancing… ?

  3. Rob Martin says:

    I think it’s cool as hell that you listed this song. I prefer ‘old’ R.E.M to the later years and their cover of “Crazy” is/was so very tasty. I prompted me to get the “Pylon: Hits” cd and it’s amazing to hear how Stipe and company made the song their own and still kept the local-cool-band-out-of-Athens sound and soul of the Pylon original. imo.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      Thanks for the comment…always cool to hear from fellow fans of early R.E.M.! I completely agree with you — they always were great at making covers their own.

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