Man on the Moon

Composed by Bill Berry / Michael Stipe / Mike Mills / Peter Buck

Song Review by

The only R.E.M. song to inspire a major motion picture (Milos Forman's biography of Andy Kaufman, starring Jim Carrey), "Man on the Moon" is one of the group's most popular and enduring songs. A tender tribute to the often misunderstood conceptual comedian, the chorus obliquely addresses the ongoing belief in some fans' minds that Kaufman did not die of cancer in 1984, but merely went into hiding in preparation for his biggest prank, reappearing unexpectedly at some unknown future date. (The references to Elvis Presley, one of Kaufman's idols, tie the conspiracy theories about his own supposed "disappearance" into Kaufman's, and also give Michael Stipe the opportunity to demonstrate one of the very worst Elvis impersonations ever, not once but three times.) It seems like a deeply odd subject for a Top 30 pop hit, but the lyrics, particularly in the yearning and incredibly effective two-part chorus, are so evocative and beautifully sung -- this is almost inarguably Stipe's pinnacle as a singer -- that the specifics matter less. The lyrics are set to a genuinely beautiful tune on which all the members of the band are at their instrumental peaks, with Peter Buck's poignant slide guitar fills a particularly masterful addition. This is a truly lovely, near-perfect song, one of R.E.M.'s most enduring achievements. The movie, unfortunately, wasn't that great.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Automatic for the People 1992 Concord / Universal 5:14
What's the Frequency, Kenneth? 1994 Warner Bros. 5:24
Parallel [Video] 1995 Warner Reprise Video
Road Movie 1996 Warner Reprise Video
Man on the Moon 1999
Original Soundtrack
Warner Bros. 5:13
No Image 1999
The Great Beyond 2000 Warner Bros. 5:24
Platin: The Very Best of [CD 2] 2000
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 5:10
Ö3 Greatest Hits, Vol. 13 2001
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:42
In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 2003 Concord 5:13
Simply the Best Songs 2007
Various Artists
Rhino 3:46
R.E.M. Live 2007 Concord / Universal 6:46
No Image 2008 Warner Bros. 4:52
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Sbm Records / Sony BMG 5:13
Songs for Japan 2011
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage: 1982-2011 2011 Universal
Complete Warner Bros. Studios Albums, Vol. 1 2014 Rhino / Warner Bros. 5:14
Magic: The Collection 2015
Various Artists
Sony Music 5:13
Complete Studio Albums:1988-1996 2016 Concord / Universal 5:14
No Image
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Trouble with Michael [bootleg] Pluto Records
blue highlight denotes editor's pick