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Great B-Sides: Wall of Death by R.E.M.

R.E.M. New Adventures in Hi Fi

Last week’s great b-side was a 1980s college rock band with folk-rock inclinations covering a folkie from the previous generation – 10,000 Maniacs covering John Prine’s ‘Hello in There’. This week’s pick is very similar – R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs toured together, and lead singers Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant dated for a couple of years in the 1980s. And R.E.M. covered a song from the vast catalogue of folk-rock colossus Richard Thompson, who’d been around since the late 1960s as a member of Fairport Convention.

The original version of ‘Wall of Death’ dates from the 1980s, from Richard and Linda Thompson‘s final album as a duo, 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights. Despite the title, it’s one of Thompson’s perkiest songs, about the fairground ride of the same name.

R.E.M.’s version originally appeared on the 1994 Thompson tribute album Beat The Retreat, but it was later re-used as a b-side for the ‘E-Bow the Letter’ single. Like last week’s 10,000 Maniacs cover of Prine, R.E.M.’s take on Thompson is less a drastic reinvention and more of a loving retrenchment – R.E.M.’s version is slightly faster and punchier, but it’s the same great Thompson-penned song.

Let me ride on the wall of death one more time
Let me ride on the wall of death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
But this is the nearest to being alive
Let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

You can go with the crazy people in the crooked house
You can fly away on the rocket or spin in the mouse
The tunnel of love might amuse you
And Noah’s Ark might confuse you but
Let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

On the Wall of Death
All the World is far from me
On the Wall of Death
It’s the nearest to being free

Well you’re going nowhere when you ride on the carousel
And maybe you’re strong, but what’s the use of ringing a bell
The switchback will make you crazy
Beware of the bearded lady
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall of Death

You are going nowhere when you ride on the carousel
And maybe you’re strong, but what’s the use of ringing a bell
The switchback will make you crazy
Beware of the bearded lady
Let me take my chances
Let me take my chances
Let me take my chances

18 thoughts on “Great B-Sides: Wall of Death by R.E.M. Leave a comment

      • Where to start – Dead Letter Office has several (Pylon “Crazy”, Velvet Underground “Femme Leonard Fatale, Pale Blue Eyes, There She Goes Again”, Aerosmith, yes Aerosmith “Toys in the Attic”, Roger Miller “King of the Road”) Iggy Pop “Funtime”, Leonard Cohen “First We Take Manhattan”… They do a lot of covers. I saw them on the tour with 10,000 Maniacs and they did Lou Gramm’s “Midnight Blue”. Michael Stipe apologized that he didn’t know all the words and sang with the lyrics on a music stand in front of him/

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Love the original ! Wasn’t aware of this cover version. I agree that song has multiple layers of meaning besides just a carnival ride? Found the video amusing as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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