Second Guessing

For the first time, let me set out to figure out a song while I am typing a blog post. I have always enjoyed this fast-paced tune from Reckoning–R.E.M.’s second album.

Lets find a video. Passaic:


[Using this footage of the entire concert seems overkill when others have posted just the particular song on YouTube, but the clarity of this video allows me to see individual finger positions (it is not blurry).]

I just happened to pick the right video to start with! Right off the bat, you see the opening chords perfectly. I don’t know what that second one is, but they are E played like this followed by a Db like this (only moving index finger/using the second finger). That is simple enough.

Then as the verse begins, there is another chord. Watching a little further, he did not move his hand on the neck for it. While I cannot see the chord, it appears to be a A bar chord, bottom strings open.*

So now in just a few minutes, I’ve got a good deal figured out (probably).

For the lead-up to the chorus, or the bridge to the chorus, I see he moves his hand back a fret or two. I can’t make out the finger positions. Sounds like A and G–probably bar with bottom strings open again.  Then another A, but sounding different from the first A (maybe down at the second fret?)**. I’ll keep watching.

OK, first chorus. I can see hand positions. Probably a D–maybe bottom string open (later I think it is not). Then G bar chord (maybe bottom strings open).

Now I am watching further, and the bridge to the chorus comes into view. It is longer this time–and he is barring the A and G (says it’s an Em7) chords with bottom strings open–just alternating between them.

*This is now confirmed as I continue to watch the entire song on the video.

**This is now only partly confirmed. While it looks as if his first finger is down, I cannot tell where. This sounds right, but it could be this or this. It’s some variation on the open B bar chord. After listening a bunch, I think the B and high E strings sound open to me, so I’m playing the first of these.

Nothing in the 1985 West Germany show:

Checking Meredith College:

I can’t see much that helps.

Thant’s about all the live versions I can find–there are some recent ones that don’t help.

So I think I have this 80-95% down for sure. There may be a few errors. I invite comment and collaboration!


Further Reading:

“‘Second Guessing’ was Stipe’s retort to the critics who had been trying to work him out . . ..” Michael Stipe The Biography, Rob Jovanovic, Piatkus Books Ltd. 2006, P. 79.

Every lyric service online I could find lists the last line of the third verse as  “Be in my club, write a book this season” when, I now know that it is “Peter, Mike and Bill, write a book this season.” Unless Stipe is revising history. Which has happened before. Either way, it’s pretty cool.

Possible Lyrics






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