Adding more meat to his riffs, Peter Buck did not completely abandon his style on Fables of the Reconstruction (1985), but the guitars on the record clearly became more of a focus and, with legendary folk-rock producer Joe Boyd behind the board, taking prominence in the mix. Guitar lines still alternate between picking arpeggios and full-force strums, but now the balance tilts a bit away from the folk end of the folk-rock spectrum and much closer to the rock end. In fact, the lick that forms the backbone of "Driver 8" is much more reminiscent of Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" than the Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
While there was always something vaguely "Southern" about the Athens, GA, band R.E.M., such elements were usually limited mostly to the adoptive Southerner Michael Stipe's lyrics, which displayed an outsider's fascination for the parlance, color, and mores of the region. His words usually offered an updated Southern gothic approach, filtered through surrealism and juxtaposed alongside such very contemporary concerns as politics and human rights. But the band's music was generally a blend of art rock, folk-rock, with even a little punk rock to their approach. There had been hints of country music influence, especially on their second LP, Reckoning (1984). But these traits, and even some Southern rock influence, were accented on Fables of the Reconstruction. Sure, there's a little bit of the Long Island-formed Blue Öyster Cult, but "Driver 8" is not far musically from some Outlaws or Marshall Tucker songs, with a hard riff framing acoustic-centered, strumming verses. The irony is that R.E.M. waited until they recorded for the first time outside the South -- setting up shop in England, of all places -- to bring such elements to the fore.
And though Stipe does not sing about ramblin' men, or hard-drinkin' wild boys and gals, he does stir up some distinctly Southern lyrical themes: "He piloted this song in a plane like that one/She is selling faith on the Go Tell crusade/Locomotive 8, Southern Crescent, hear the bells ring again/Field to weed is stricken thin/And the train conductor says/'Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break/We've been on this shift too long'/And the train conductor says/'Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break/We can reach our destination, but we're still a ways away.'" Stipe mentioned in an interview with Melody Maker in 1985 that he had been listening to a lot of field-recorded Appalachian folk songs around the time of the recording, and wanted the album to have a storytelling feel: "I was fascinated by the whole idea of the old men sitting around the fire, passing on these legends and fables to the grandchildren," he explained. Certainly "Driver 8" has the melodic and lyrical feel of such a campfire song, a tale that could be taken literally or allegorically: for life in general, or anything else that can be likened to a nonstop journey.
Though the band was stepping out a bit with Fables of the Reconstruction, ambitiously widening their scope, the song "Driver 8" is quintessentially R.E.M., accenting traits that were already there, like ringing guitar riffs, infectious melody and countermelody, and evocative lyrics. Peter Buck, in response to a Guitar World interviewer's observation that the guitarist seems to really enjoy utilizing the E minor and A minor chords in many his songs, said "You're exactly right. And the funny thing was, we kept trying to rearrange it. We did one version with a really heavy guitar that we felt didn't cut it. Then we actually tried it with acoustic guitar and banjo, with Bill playing bass. Finally we hit on what you hear on the record. About those chords, I do come back to them on songs like 'The One I Love,' 'Losing My Religion' and 'Bang and Blame, among others. I can't think of any band I like that hasn't used them: The Beatles, Elvis Costello -- Neil Young pretty much uses them on every song. Part of why they feel right, especially the Em, is that you're only fretting two strings. So you have all those open strings resonating, making a real nice harmonic overlay that you don't get with a barre chord." The song has become a rock radio staple and one of the band's most recognizable tunes.