Pretty Persuasion (song)

"Pretty Persuasion" is a song by R.E.M. that was first released on the band's 1984 album Reckoning. It was released as a promotional single and reached number 44 on Billboard's Rock Tracks chart.[1] According to R.E.M. biographer Tony Fletcher, it is often regarded as "the 'archetypal' R.E.M. anthem".[2]

"Pretty Persuasion"
Label to 12" promotional single,
backed by "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville"
Promotional single by R.E.M.
from the album Reckoning
ReleasedApril 9, 1984
RecordedDecember 1983 – January 1984
GenreAlternative rock


Although not released commercially until 1984, R.E.M. performed "Pretty Persuasion" live in concert as early as 1980 and 1981.[2][3] A live version of the song was recorded for the band's 1983 debut album Murmur but was not released on that album, although the recording was eventually included as a bonus track on a 1992 release of Reckoning.[4] Producer Mitch Easter wanted to record the song again for Reckoning but the band, particularly lead singer Michael Stipe who no longer liked the song, was initially reluctant.[3] They eventually agreed to a multi-track studio recording for Reckoning due to the popularity of the song live with fans.[4][5]


Lyrical themes

Allmusic critic Bill Janovitz describes the lyrics as "an anti-consumerism take on advertising."[6] The song makes the point right away with the lines:

It's what I want
Hurry and buy
All has been tried
Follow reason and buy.[6]

Style and composition

As with many R.E.M. songs, the refrain, "He's got pretty persuasion/She's got pretty persuasion/God damn your confusion" is, as described by Fletcher, concise and repetitive.[2] R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck has stated that the song was originally inspired by a dream Stipe had.[2][5] In the dream, Stipe was photographing the Rolling Stones for the cover of their last single, which in the dream was entitled "Pretty Persuasion".[2][5]

The song begins with a guitar riff based on descending arpeggios.[2] Easter has noted a musical similarity to Todd Rundgren's 1972 song "Couldn't I Just Tell You" and thinks the earlier song provided some inspiration for "Pretty Persuasion".[3][4] Janovitz notes similarities with songs by The Byrds.[6] These include the guitar riffs, which although played on two six-string guitars, produce an "electric-guitar jangle" similar to that achieved by The Byrds' Roger McGuinn on his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.[6] They also include the multi-track vocals by Stipe and bassist Mike Mills, which evoke The Byrds' vocal harmonies.[6] However, the vocals on "Pretty Persuasion" are not precisely enunciated, making the lyrics difficult to decipher at times.[2][6] Spin critics Eric Weisbard and Craig Marks described "Pretty Persuasion" as "a great rocker."[7]


In addition to being played live in the early portion of R.E.M.'s career, "Pretty Persuasion" was included in the live set as late as 2007 and 2008.[2] Fletcher regards it as one of the songs that influenced R.E.M.'s 2008 album Accelerate.[2] A live version from this tour was released on the 2009 live album Live at the Olympia.[6] "Pretty Persuasion" has also been included on several of R.E.M.'s compilation albums, including The Best of R.E.M. in 1991 and And I Feel Fine... The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982–1987 in 2006.[6]

Music video

This song, and others from the album, is part of a short film called "Left of Reckoning", directed by James Herbert. The four-minute clip has the band wandering around folk artist R.A. Miller's Whirligig Farm in Rabbittown, Georgia.


  1. Whitburn, J., ed. (2008). Joel Whitburn Presents Rock Tracks 1981-2008. Hal Leonard. p. 210. ISBN 9780898201741.
  2. Fletchger, T. (2013). Perfect Circle: The Story of REM. Omnibus Press. ISBN 9781780386980.
  3. Buckley, D. (2012). R.E.M.: Fiction: An Alternative Biography. Random House. pp. 111, 162. ISBN 9781448132461.
  4. Rosen, C. (1997). R.E.M Inside Out: The Story Behind Every Song. Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9781560251774.
  5. Black, J. (2004). Reveal: The Story of R.E.M.. Backbeat Books. p. 92. ISBN 0879307765.
  6. Janovitz, B. "Pretty Persuasion". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-06-17.
  7. Wiesberd, E. & Marks, C. (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. ISBN 9780679755746.