Little America

This is a great little song from Reckoning that is very fast paced making it an awesome tune to play live.  This video gives you a flavor (but was not much help in learning to play it except maybe a couple of places showing PB’s hand position on the neck):

My motivation to learn this song (in addition to it being a great REM song, one that I have loved since my teen years) came from wanting to be able to play the entire set list from the first live R.E.M. show I saw as a young teenager–The Mosque, Richmond, VA, December 5, 1985 (one day I”m going to get my hands on a bootleg of that!).

I’m starting with videos and not tabs–I only resort to tablature if there is something I get stuck on. The videos offer so much more guidance. As I’ve mentioned throughout, the tabs are mostly wrong.

Well, since around that time–1985–I’ve been playing this song the same way you’d play Green Grow or Seven Chinese Brothers–with just the G String and open D. But clearly, that is not right as can be seen perfectly at the beginning here:

As priceless as these videos are–being very rare and giving great insight into the band in the early 80s–not every video will give you every part of the song.  Michael Stipe and Mike Mills feature prominently in these videos, and in the video above, you get no glimpse of how Peter Buck is playing the chorus or the bridge. I’ve never understood the bridge. For the chorus, I always just played chords: G and E–sliding between them to get the effect you hear with the “F” in between on the G string.

So another video. REM played a lot of the older songs in later years, going “retro”. These videos are great because there are often good camera shots or angles of PB and where his hands are. A word of caution: in more recent videos where PB plays the early 80s REM songs, he sometimes plays them differently than he did in the early 80s.

As usual, most of PB’s playing was cut out of this 2003 video (you can see some hand positions):

One of my go-to concerts of the era is this one in Raleigh–Meredith College, 1985 (just months before I saw them). It’s not great, but you can see right here where PB’s hands are on the chorus, and just about what he’s playing (you an also see part of the bridge):

He’s got this way of playing a partial bar chord with the bottom strings open to give that “droning” sound (I hate the term “jangle”, btw. Don’t know why). It’s a G bar chord with bottom two strings open. Then he puts his index finger on the E string, 2nd fret (F), sliding down to a chord I’ve never seen–an E with a finger (pinky or third finger) on the G string 4th fret (bottom strings open) so the bottom 3 strings of this chord are the same as the open G bar chord. Crazy. I guess it’s an E minor something or other. I’m not very good with chord names. But you can see he plays it like a bar chord.

So to see the chorus and bridge, I turned to another concert video I revere–Again from 1985, now October (two months before i saw them live for the first time):

With the wide stage shots in this concert, you get a good idea of where Peter Buck’s hands are, what his fingers are doing on the chorus, and that slide up the neck at the end of the chorus.  PB is all about the fingers being in place for the next chord or note. And that is so evident in this song.

For the bridge, I have not uncovered any definitive early 80s video coverage showing it clearly, but this 2008 video shows what Peter Buck was doing . . . at least in 2008:

So here is how I think you play it (I’ve only had a little practice at it–remember, Peter Buck had been playing it for years in some of these videos–and he wrote it!! Also remember I haven’t played guitar much in 20 years until recently and am not a great player by any stretch). The first part of the video is my attempt to show how I used to play the song–I never knew the bridge. It is followed by how I think PB plays it based on the above:

“I can’t see myself at thirty” . . . oh, boy.  How about 45?!?!! (yikes)


“If Reckoning’s cover did not offer the same shock of Southern recognition as the kudzu cover of Murmur, it did fix the association between the region’s grassroots art and R.E.M.’s music. The album’s closing song, “Little America,” reverberates as an oblique take on their relentless touring through the South’s bourgeoning college-rock circuit and a lament over the homogenization of the region, as Stipe sings of “Another Greenville/Another Magic Mart” on the horizon. The song’s refrain, “Jefferson, I think we’re lost” sums up the band’s dislocation from the overconfidence and entitlements associated with rock stardom (the “Jefferson” in this case most likely being the band’s then-manager/van driver Jefferson Holt, not the Southern-born agrarian third president of the United States—though listeners can hear more than one meaning).”

And for further reading, check out this nice blog:

Bonus Clip on Little America on Reckoning | Left of Reckoning:

On the original pressing of Reckoning, Little America was 3:43 because it contained a clip of an unnamed song. Wikipedia “The original pressing of Reckoning included a clip of an untitled song at the end of the album, making “Little America” 3:43. This was restored on the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs re-release of the album and on the Deluxe Edition.”

Buck’s guitar work also has a few strange twists. What might sound at first like modal banging is really just variations on the usual C-F-G chord progression. But he favors homemade tunings like the mutant  raga-bluegrass sound he gets on the short improvised fragment at the end of Reckoning- D-A-F#-D-G-D in descending order- just something,” he says, ‘that I made up.’

It was in the Film “Left of Reckoning” directed by Michael Stipe:

Also seen here in this early R.E.M. video:


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