Jan 042020

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Michael Stipe

Today Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M., reaches a decade milestone, as he turns 60 years old. Stipe was born in Decatur, GA, but raised all over, as his father was in the military. He met Peter Buck, soon to be the lead guitarist in R.E.M., in 1980 at a record store near the University of Georgia in Athens while he was attending school. Not long after, they both dropped out of school to start R.E.M., along with Bill Berry and Mike Mills, and the rest is history.

Some of our readers wanted more covers by R.E.M. upon reading our list of covers of R.E.M. We have a couple points of reference, but celebrating Michael Stipe’s birthday gave us an opportunity to give you even more covers. Moral of the story: ask and you shall receive! This post provides covers by Michael Stipe and friends, paying tribute to his tributes and providing a history of his historical moments.

Michael Stipe – L’Hôtel (Serge Gainsbourg cover)

Serge Gainsbourg was a major player in France’s music scene. Fifteen years after his death a tribute album was created, gifting the world with English cover versions of his songs. This song came off of Gainsbourg’s concept album Histoire de Melody Nelson outlining an affairIn Stipe’s version those of us who don’t speak French get to hear the gossip. Stipe maintains the level of drama in the original, sticking to the original’s emphasis on spoken word.

Michael Stipe – Everything’s Coming Undone (Mark Mulcahy cover)

Mark Mulcahy is a musician best known for leading the band Miracle Legion, popular in New England in the ’80s and early ’90s. When Mulcahy’s wife died, leaving him to raise twin three-year-old daughters, other artists rallied to create a tribute album of sorts to help support him through this trying time. These lyrics are especially heartbreaking given the circumstances: “You know that I will never be / The way that I used to be /Now everything is coming undone.” Stipe’s version has heavier instrumentation (the original’s main accompaniment is a solemn cello) including what sounds like an electronic/heavy-metal organ contrasted with the occasional child-like xylophone interludes.

R.E.M. (featuring U2) – One (U2 cover)

Stipe and U2 helped MTV celebrate Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Stipe reminds us that “we’ve got to carry each other,” there is “one love,” and we “get to share it.” His distinctive tone replaces Bono’s, and a festive bongo drum marks the occasion, accompanying the vocals in an otherwise fairly stripped version of the original.

Michael Stipe (featuring Radiohead) – Lucky (Radiohead cover)

Radiohead and Stipe teamed up at the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert. This concert promoting Tibetan independence was originally organized by the Beastie Boys and the Milarepa Fund, a US non-profit, in 1996. Seven concerts of this type have occurred over the years, including the most recent in 2012. The crowd for this particular performance is stoked. Stipe leads the vocals, delivering the lyrics that are certainly appropriate for the venue with lines like “the head of state has called for me by name,” “we are standing on the edge,” and “I feel my luck could change.”

Michael Stipe (featuring Chris Martin) – In the Sun (Joseph Arthur cover)

This duet was recorded for a Hurricane Katrina relief benefit. Stipe and Chris Martin came together for a Hurricane Sandy relief effort as well, singing “Losing My Religion.” The melancholy lyrics make the song popular for doctor’s shows; the original featured on Scrubs, and another cover appeared in Grey’s Anatomy. In an effort to raise some spirits, there is apparently a remix with Justin Timberlake and will.i.am (calling themselves JAWBreakers) out there in the ether, but I couldn’t find a link. Drop it in the comments if you find it, and I will be eternally grateful.

Michael Stipe (featuring Dashboard Confessional) – Hands Down (Dashboard Confessional cover)

When Dashboard Confessional isn’t too busy screaming infidelities, they are jamming with Michael Stipe. When MTV started moving away from music videos and towards reality television, MTV2 was launched to fill the void. This duet was recorded as part of MTV2’s Album Covers series where one band covers another’s songs. Only two of these occurred, Dashboard Confessional meets R.E.M. and Guster meets Violent Femmes. Stipe takes on the raw lyrics with ease, but lets Dashboard Confessional take the lead on the iconic chorus. His range is evident, going from deep and throaty without being too gruff, to reaching higher towards the end. You know that he “meant it,” every word.

Michael Stipe (featuring Bruce Springsteen) – Because the Night (Patti Smith Group)

We’ll close out this birthday bonanza with Stipe and the Boss. This duet took place during the 2004 Vote for Change tour held in swing states, encouraging people to register to vote and turn out at the polls. The event was non-partisan, but many of the musicians shouted out John Kerry over George W. Bush. Springsteen originally wrote and recorded this song with the E Street Band, but it was still in fledgling form. Springsteen worked with engineer Jimmy Iovine, who eventually asked if he could give it to Patti Smith. Iovine was also working with her and wanted to see her have a hit. Stipe takes the lead with the opening vocals in his distinctive tone and gives us some intense dance moves as Springsteen takes over. Throughout we hear two powerhouses come together on “because the night,” guitar solos from Springsteen, and saxophone solos from the E Street Band.

Check out more birthday tributes from the archives.

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