Driver 8

There may be R.E.M. songs that I am into at a particular moment–and I love pretty much all of the old stuff (1987 – Document and before), but if I had to name a favorite R.E.M. song of all time, Driver 8 is it. This haunting tune of trains and the South is the first R.E.M. song I ever heard and hooked me for life in 1985.

This was the first R.E.M. song I ever learned to play, and I learned it with pretty much the traditional chords and with an intro that was done by ear and not by how PB actually played it.

How I first learned it:

Verse: Em, Am7, G, Gm7

Chorus: D, Cadd9

Bridge: Dm, F, G, D

So how about this! First live performance of the song on the Passaic/Capital Theatre concert video:

They cut it out in the above video (which has good video quality), but below Michael Stipe is saying “This is a new song”–I think that’s incredible.  This was only 18 months before I saw them in Richmond. [Unfortunately, the video is no longer available]

Now I never saw this video until now–but it clearly shows PB playing that D in the chorus up on the neck like this.(incidentally, this is the same chord from the verse to Maps and Legends minus one finger–I read or saw an interview somewhere that PB was experimenting with Em and D chords during that period).

Another thing you can also see in the Passaic video is the way he plays the end of the Chorus (still aways away): it is with the top 3 strings, but he does not keep a finger on the 2nd string (A string) second fret. He does that the fist go around, then plays the bottom two strings open with the F# and G notes on the E (E) string. I don’t do tabs, but I just found a neat Tab creator, and it looks like this:

Driver 8 Tab

So without this great footage from Passaic, and before the internet and YouTube, I learned the way Peter Buck played the D chord from this video of it being played acoustically whenever it was released on VHS (1980’s sometime, I think):

In that video, you can clearly see how he plays the intro as well as this neat part about the bridge (which never sounded quite right to me just playing the G chord–and you can’t see that in Passaic, but you can hear it!). In the Bridge, PB plays a partial bar chord for the G:

So you put it all together for a great rendition of Driver 8 that I think is close to the way PB played it:



Further reading:

Ask Michael Stipe, Question:

In the final verse of Driver 8, I have always believed that Michael was singing: “We finally did this song in a plane like that one…” And 23 years later, boy howdy I sure would like to know what he meant by that.

And that’s it. That’s all I’m gonna ask. For a few years there, I used to sing “Driver 8″ at least once a day with my college roommate/world-travel-and-busking partner (who has actually gone on to become a semi-famous musician in her own right), and every time we sang it, we’d sorta be thinking of whatever “plane” we were in or on or experiencing that day. I sure would love to be able to call her up and tell her that I finally figured out precisely which plane we were supposed to be in!

Michael Stipe:

he piloted this song in a plane like that one,
she is selling faith on the ‘go tell’ crusade

Possible Lyrics


9 thoughts on “Driver 8”

  1. You are doing great work. I’ve always played all these songs for years but never cared to learn them exactly the way PB plays them. You are shedding some light on a lot details that i had missed. Thanks mate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. THanks! It has been eye-opening for sure learning more abut how Peter Buck played these songs–impossible to do before the internet. It is a lot of fun, and I am glad to provide a forum where we can all share information and collaborate.


  2. Hi David. I noticed something I’d never seen before while watching the Rockpalast video, and I’m curious what you think about it. At 24:52 of the Ken James upload, it looks to me like he slides up the neck, possibly to end the “still a ways away” part by playing an A note on the 5th string of the low E along with the open A. I’ve never seen that before, but I’m also not positive I’ve seen good footage of him transitioning back to the verse. Do you think that’s “real” or am I reading too much into it? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! I was ready to dismiss it as just moving his hand to mute the strings or something. I just looked at a lot of live videos. None showed Peter’s left hand except this one:

      [R.E.M. – Driver 8 Live at The Olympia Dublin Ireland , 3rd July 2007 (Night #3) – uploaded by EyesOfRust]

      This is 22-23 years later, but he is still moving his hand up to the A. I will have to play with that–great catch! That would be the only place in that part of the chorus he could do that since the second time they go into the bridge and the third time they end. I can’t wait to get home to fool around on the guitar to see what it is he could be doing.

      There is a little descending melody there that I am not sure who is playing–Mike or Peter. Da da, da da da.

      In other videos, Mike does not appear to be playing it. But it does not look like that is what Peter is doing, so I’m stumped.

      [though they may have not been actually playing it – Live at Musik Convoy, 1985. This german TV program was mostly playback, but here Michael Stipe is signing live. – uploaded by kigonjiro]

      Again, what a great find! Thanks!


  3. It’s amazing to me that after 30+ years of listening to the song, new wrinkles can still reveal themselves. I’m guessing the cool melody you described is bass. That’s after listening to the bass cover from YouTube user kylebrauch. I’m pretty sure he plays it. [As an aside, that cover gave me new appreciation for the awesomeness of MM.] Plus, I just spent a couple minutes playing with it, and that melody isn’t convenient to the guitar slide up because I think it only has one A note, and I don’t think that coincides with the slide. Anyway, thanks for following me down this rabbit hole. I’m curious to hear what you think after you get a chance to play with it. One way or another, it’s been fun to share a PB geek out across the internet.


    1. On the guitar track, it does not sound like he is doing anything particularly different there. That is a cool track. Really shows how they used the acoustic on the album, I have tried to get to some answer, but other than the A and open A with the other strings open too, I don’t have an answer! Wish we could get PB to chime in!


  4. Yeah, that’s about where I am with it after playing for a few minutes yesterday. I love listening to the isolated tracks that guy puts up. I wish I knew how to do that myself. Anyway, thanks again for the responses!


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