Man on the Moon

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 Warner Bros. 5:12
No Image 1994 Warner Bros.
What's the Frequency, Kenneth? 1994 Warner Bros. 5:24
Parallel [Video] 1995 Warner Bros.
Man on the Moon 1999
Original Soundtrack
Warner Bros. 5:13
The Great Beyond 2000 Warner Bros. / WEA International
In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 2003 Warner Bros. 5:14
Songs for Japan 2011
Various Artists
Sony Music 6:01
Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982-2011 2011 Warner Bros. 5:12
Best of the Best [Universal] 2011
Various Artists
Universal Music Group 5:18
Complete Rarities Warner Bros. 1988-2011 2014 Concord / Universal 5:24
Complete Warner Bros. Studios Albums, Vol. 1 2014 Rhino / Warner Bros. 5:14
Complete Studio Albums:1988-1996 2016 Concord / Universal 5:14
All the Way To the End 2018 Golden Rain 5:42
Best of R.E.M. at the BBC 2018 BBC / Craft Recordings / Craft Records / Universal 5:34