In an interview with Far Out Magazine, Michael Stipe revealed his top ten favorite songs of all time. Surprisingly, only two R.E.M. songs made the cut to this list. Despite this, we firmly believe Stipe has excellent taste, and the list is undoubtedly top-tier material.
The Top 10 Michael Stipe’s Favorite Songs
- “I Want To Hold Your Hand” – The Beatles
- “I Enjoy Being a Boy (In Love With You)” – The Banana Splits
- “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” – Tammy Wynette
- “King of the Road” – Roger Miller
- “Birdland” – Patty Smith
- “I Believe” – R.E.M.
- “These Days” – R.E.M.
- “Born Slippy” – Underworld
- “Hung Up” – Madonna
- “Ray of Light” – Madonna
“I Want To Hold Your Hand” – The Beatles
The Beatles released I Want To Hold Your Hand in 1963, the first Beatles record to be made using four-track recording equipment. Michael Stipe remembers this being one of his first experiences with music and the first Beatles song he had ever listened to. He says:
“There was this German woman who cleaned our apartment and babysat us when my mother and father were off working,” he said. “I went to her house one afternoon, and she left me in the living room. She had an old-school radio on a tall shelf, and it was playing this song. I just stood there and stared up and wondered what on Earth I was listening to. The song was ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ by the Beatles, but sung in German. They actually recorded that song in German, and it was a big hit there.”
John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song in the basement of Jane Asher’s parents’ house in Wimpole Street, London. When asked about the song, Lennon reveals:
“We wrote a lot of stuff together, one-on-one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar, playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, ‘Oh you-u-u… got that something…’ And Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, ‘That’s it!’ I said, ‘Do that again!’ In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that – both playing into each other’s nose.”
“I Enjoy Being a Boy (In Love With You)” – The Banana Splits
If you’re unfamiliar with The Banana Splits, you were probably not born in the 1960s. The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was among the most popular children’s shows. Despite this, the show only ran for 31 episodes before finally calling it quits. One of the biggest reasons this show was so popular is that it had some of the most catchy tracks at the time.
This entertainment show for little kids showcased a couple of animals that were a musical group. It featured a dog, a gorilla, a lion, and an elephant. It also featured several comedy skits and action shorts that entertained children of all ages. Although the show last aired in 1970, it regained popularity in 2008 when Liz Phair published a cover that blew up.
While Michael Stipe didn’t get into any details as to why he chose to put this song in his top ten favorites, we can only guess that he enjoyed watching this popular kid’s show growing up like many others who grew up in the ’60s. Listening to songs from childhood can evoke a sense of nostalgia, coupled with a touch of sentimentality, as you reminisce about past joys.
“D-I-V-O-R-C-E” – Tammy Wynette
D-I-V-O-R-C-E was a song that became the number-one country hit track in 1968, and it even gave Tammy Wynette a Grammy nomination for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman wrote it, and it is so special because the track has a secret meaning to it that resonated with the audience at the time.
When parents don’t want their kids to know what they’re talking about in front of them, they spell out certain words instead of saying them all together as usual. The song showcases a story where a couple is conversing about their divorce in front of their child, and they spell out certain words like J-O-E and C-U-S-T-O-D-Y so that their kid doesn’t understand them.
Braddock recalled how Putman liked the song, and they cut a demo, but it lay dormant for a while. “I couldn’t understand it. It had been around for several months,” Braddock recalls in a video interview. When he asked Putman why he thought no one had cut the song, he replied that the “melody is too happy for such a sad song,” recommending they change part of the melody in the last line of the chorus and the verse. After Putman’s chord change and voice injected some “mournfulness into it,” they recorded a new demo that grabbed the ears of Wynette’s producer, Billy Sherrill, who cut it with her “immediately.”
“King of the Road” – Roger Miller
If you want to make a good song that wins awards, you shouldn’t focus on just the lyrics. What makes a good song is its performance and the reaction it gets from the audience. King of the Road is just one of those songs with both factors, which makes it a banger.
King of the Road was released in 1964, and it has quite an interesting story to back it up. The song is about a traveling hobo who believes he is living a life of freedom despite having little money. As someone who lived on the streets, this hobo calls himself The King of the Road. He is content with his life and would have it no other way.
Roger Miller won five Grammy awards in 1966 due to this masterpiece. To break it all down, Miller earned nine nominations associated with this song. This also included the Song of the Year. He also walked away with five trophies, including the Best Country & Western Song award. King of the Road paved the way for all future country songs and expanded the possibility of what country music could be in the future.
“Birdland” – Patty Smith
Patty Smith was one of the most influential artists in the punk rock genre back in the day. Her songs were known for having extra rawness and profound commentary. This just made the world want to know more about every lyric. This song has stood the test of time as it has been covered by several artists over the years, which allowed the track to live on throughout history.
In the interview where Michael Stipe revealed his top ten favorite songs of all time, it was revealed, “As for the song that made Stipe realize that he wanted to be a singer, it is, without doubt, ‘Birdland’ by Patti Smith, taken from her Horses album. Stipes notes that it was the song that “just completely lifted” him. He said, “I had this epiphany and realized that this is what I wanted to do with my life: learn how to sing and start a band. All the punk rockers were saying, ‘We’re not special people,’ and ‘Anyone can do this,’ and I took that very literally as a 15-year-old. Of everything on this list, this is the most significant moment for me.”
Birdland was based on A Book of Dreams, a 1973 childhood memoir of radical Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich by his son Peter. When asked about this song, Patty Smith reveals, “There’s a section where Peter describes a birthday party not long after his father died. He wandered outside and became convinced his father was coming down to get him and take him off in a spaceship.’ But what he thought was a squadron of U.F.O.s revealed itself to be a flock of blackbirds. This story haunted me, and when we recorded ‘Birdland,’ which was totally improvised, that’s where the track went to.”
“I Believe” – R.E.M.
A list that contains Michael Stipe’s top favorite songs of all time would no doubt be incomplete without mentioning some songs from his band, R.E.M. “Concerning his own songs, Stipe admires the R.E.M. tracks, ‘I Believe’ and ‘These Days.’ He tells of a particularly horrifying story in which he “lacerated” his eyeballs from using “dirty contact lenses,” accidentally blinding himself. “I had to wear bandages over my eyes for ten days,” he said.
Michael Stipe explained that “I Believe” was influenced by various personal experiences and observations. The song reflects his disillusionment with politics and society at the time and his desire for change. Throughout the song, the band touches upon the notion of faith, both spiritually and politically. It suggests that no person is entirely good or bad. The labels we place on others are often oversimplified and lacking nuance.
“These Days” – R.E.M.
Stipe reveals more about his favorite songs of all time: “I’m an extremely visual person, and during that time, I had these crazy dreams. ‘I Believe’ and ‘These Days’ were basically written as a way for me to remember what those dreams were.” After Stipe could take the bandages off his eyes, he experienced something “deeply profound and important.” He said, “I took those bandages off my eyes and came out of the depression. I felt emboldened and strong enough to carry on. I was a different person from that day forward.”
R.E.M. has always been known for its meaningful lyrics, and These Days is undoubtedly no exception. Throughout the song, R.E.M. masterfully conveys a sense of confusion and vulnerability. The lyrics touch upon the human condition, capturing the feelings of isolation and searching for meaning in a complex world. One can interpret the lines as an expression of longing for connection and understanding in an ever-changing society.
“Born Slippy” – Underworld
Did you know that Born Slippy was initially created as a soundtrack for the movie Trainspotting?
Only after the movie was released did the song gain a ton of popularity and success. This caused Underworld to release it as a single to please fans worldwide.
The interview with Michael Stipe revealed, “The R.E.M. singer also claimed that he nearly provides the vocals for the iconic ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld. “Underworld called me at my hotel and said, ‘Let’s do something together. Come on in, and you can sing.’ I thought it would be fun,” he said. However, the group at that point didn’t have anything to work off, “so that particular moment passed by.” However, Stipe is still in great admiration of the song.”
“Hung Up” – Madonna
Madonna released Hung Up in 2005, immediately becoming an international success. Its upbeat melody and catchy lyrics helped the track to top the charts in over forty countries.
While “Hung Up” sounds like a happy and energetic track, the story behind it will tear you up to bits. Her relationship inspired the song with her father, Silvio Ciccone. Madonna has spoken in interviews about her rocky relationship with him. This song reflects her attempts to escape her past and her family’s influence.
The most famous line in the song is, “Time goes by so slowly for those who wait.” This line directly references Madonna’s impatience with her father, who she felt was holding her back. She thought she was waiting for him to let go of his influence on her.
“Ray of Light” – Madonna
Although Ray of Light is last on this list, it is certainly not last in Michael Stipe’s heart. Seeing that he added two Madonna songs to his top ten favorite songs of all time, we do not doubt that Michael Stipe is guaranteed to be a hardcore fan of this famous superstar.
For Ray of Light, Madonna decided to go in a different direction. She teamed up with a relatively unknown British electronic producer called William Orbit. “He comes from a very experimental, cutting-edge sort of place,” Madonna said in an interview. “He’s not a trained musician, and I’m used to working with classically trained musicians, but I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”