Imitation of Life (song)


"Imitation of Life" is a song recorded by American alternative rock band R.E.M., released as the lead single from the band's 12th studio album, Reveal (2001). The song was serviced to European radio in March 2001 and to American radio in April 2001; physical formats were issued in Australia and Europe that same month. The song peaked at number 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 22 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. It was the lowest Hot 100 peak of a lead single from an R.E.M. album since "Fall on Me" from Lifes Rich Pageant in 1986.

"Imitation of Life"
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Reveal
B-side
  • "The Lifting" (original version)
  • "Beat a Drum" (Dalkey demo)
ReleasedMarch 23, 2001 (2001-03-23)
GenrePop
Length3:57
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
R.E.M. singles chronology
"The Great Beyond"
(2000)
"Imitation of Life"
(2001)
"All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star)"
(2001)
Music video
"Imitation of Life" on YouTube

Internationally, "Imitation of Life" reached number six on the UK Singles Chart, giving R.E.M. their eighth top-ten single in Britain. It was also successful in Italy and Spain, reaching the top three in these counties, as well as in Norway, where it peaked at number four and became the band's third top-five single, after "Losing My Religion" and "Drive". The song was nominated for a 2002 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals but lost to U2's "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of".

Background


In the booklet for R.E.M.'s 2003 "best of" album, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003, the band states that the song's title comes from Douglas Sirk's 1959 film Imitation of Life. The notes also say that after the release of the song, the band realized that the song follows roughly the same chord progression as "Driver 8" from their third studio album, Fables of the Reconstruction (1985).[1] The song was almost excluded from Reveal since it was too much like the rest of the album, but during the mixing process, the band decided to set it apart by turning it into an up-tempo track.[2] R.E.M. chose to release "Imitation of Life" as the first single from Reveal because it was the "poppiest" track on the album and possessed their "classic" sound.[3]

Composition


"Imitation of Life" has been described as R.E.M.'s most pop-sounding song at the time by the band and music critics.[1][2] Critics have compared the song to "Shiny Happy People" from the band's seventh studio album, Out of Time (1991), noting Peter Buck's "jangly" guitar-playing.[2][4][5] On the song, Bucks, Mike Mills, McCaughey, and Ken Stringfellow play acoustic guitars while a drum machine is used for the drums. Producer Pat McCarthy overdubbed the strings into the song, and Stipe sings lead vocals with Mills backing him up. Stringfellow also added in the song's synthesizer solo. The main chorus lyrics—"That's sugarcane that tasted good / That's cinnamon, that's Hollywood / Come on, come on, no one can see you try"—are changed several times throughout that song, with Stipe repeating one variation until the song ends.[2] Set in common time, "Imitation of Life" is composed in the key of G major with a tempo of 126 beats per minute.[6]

Critical reception


Music critics praised "Imitation of Life".[2] Miriam Hubner of Music & Media magazine wrote that the song was an undeniable R.E.M. track, calling Stipe's vocals "strong" and naming it an ideal driving song for the summer. She noted that radio station response was mixed; Sacha Horowitz of Swiss radio station Radio Lac said that although the Swiss people were fond of R.E.M., the band's sound had lost a vital component, obscuring their identity. Conversely, Michael Jørgensen, head of music at Danish station Radio Silkeborg, predicted that the song would be a spring hit, saying that R.E.M.'s sound had remained static and that the station's listeners were responding positively the track. Reviewing the song for Billboard magazine, Troy Carpenter wrote that the absence of ex-R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry was noticeable, citing the "bombastic" instrumentation, and postulated that his departure changed R.E.M. completely, hence the adult pop sound of "Imitation of Life". He called Stipe's vocal performance on the song "uncharacteristically hollow" and noted that the transition to adult pop music which would hurt the chances of the song garnering airplay on alternative radio.[5] In a later Billboard review of the album, Larry Flick wrote that the song has "formidable bounce".[7] AllMusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine called the song as one of the better tracks on Reveal, referring to it as a "windswept and sun-bleached beaut[y]".[8]

Music video


The single's music video, depicting a scene of an elaborate pool party, was shot in Agoura Hills, California. It was directed by Garth Jennings and produced by Nick Goldsmith.[9][10] Stipe, in an interview with MTV UK in 2001, explained how the video was made. "The entire video took 20 seconds to shoot. What you're watching is a loop that goes forwards for 20 seconds, backwards for 20 seconds, forwards for 20 seconds, backwards for 20 seconds, with one camera, static, and then using a technique called pan and scan, which is a technical thing that is used when they go from a widescreen format and reformat to fit your television or DVD, moving in on certain parts of the entire picture. And you'll see that we do that picking up various people within the frame." During that 20 seconds, various people, including Stipe himself, mimed singing different parts of the song; the video zooms in on each of them for their part of the song. The video also zooms in on various bits of action, including a man accidentally catching fire from a barbecue and throwing himself in the pool, a woman throwing a drink in another woman's face, Stipe dancing, and Peter Buck playing a ukulele with a monkey in his lap.[9][11]

In 2011, Rolling Stone included the video in their list of R.E.M.'s 15 greatest music videos.[12]

Track listings


All songs are written by Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe.

Credits and personnel


Credits are adapted from the Australian CD single liner notes.[15]

Charts


Release history


Region Date Format(s) Label(s) Ref.
Europe March 23, 2001 (2001-03-23) Airplay Warner Bros. [3]
United States April 9, 2001 (2001-04-09) Hot adult contemporary radio [46]
April 10, 2001 (2001-04-10) Mainstream rock radio [47]
Active rock radio [48]
Alternative radio [49]
Australia April 16, 2001 (2001-04-16) CD [50]
Europe April 23, 2001 (2001-04-23)
  • CD
  • maxi-CD
  • cassette
[4]

References


  1. In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 (US CD album booklet notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. 2-48550.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  2. Connelly, Jim (February 21, 2020). "Certain Songs #1756: R.E.M. – "Imitation of Life"". Medialoper. Retrieved May 11, 2021.
  3. Stavenes Dove, Siri (June 2, 2001). "REM Recapturing Glory Days?" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 18 no. 23. p. 21. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  4. Hubner, Miriam (April 28, 2001). "Airborne" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 18 no. 18. p. 12. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  5. Carpenter, Troy (April 21, 2001). Taylor, Chuck (ed.). "Reviews & Previews: Singles" (PDF). Billboard. Vol. 113 no. 16. p. 17. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  6. "Imitation of Life by R.E.M. – Digital Sheet Music". Musicnotes. MN0047392. Retrieved May 11, 2021.
  7. Flick, Larry (May 26, 2001). Paoletta, Michael (ed.). "Reviews & Previews: Albums" (PDF). Billboard. Vol. 113 no. 21. p. 24. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  8. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine". AllMusic. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  9. Cosores, Philip (September 8, 2015). "R.E.M.'s "Imitation of Life" video deconstructed". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  10. Imitation of Life (UK DVD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. W559DVD.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  11. Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011 liner notes, 2011
  12. "R.E.M.'s 15 Greatest Music Videos". Rolling Stone. September 22, 2011.
  13. Imitation of Life (US promo CD liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. PRO-CD-100567.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  14. Imitation of Life (Canadian CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. CD 42363.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  15. Imitation of Life (Australian CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. 9362449942.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  16. Imitation of Life (European CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. 5439 16754 2.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  17. Imitation of Life (European cassette single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. W559C, 5439 16754 4.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  18. Imitation of Life (UK CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2001. W559CD, 9362 44999 2.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
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