Beatles: Why Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Called Their Songs ‘Elevator Music’
The Beatles’ music has been influential since the early days of the band. The Fab Four’s catalog had a renewed prominence in the 1990s. Part of that was due to the release of the Beatles Anthology. Another reason for their renaissance was a new generation of rock bands who took influence from the Beatles.
This generation included beloved bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Marilyn Manson. R.E.M. was one of the more prominent bands of that era. However, the Fab Four didn’t mean too much to them. In fact, the band’s frontman, Michael Stipe, infamously called the Beatles’ work “elevator music.”
Michael Stipes’ controversial comments about the Fab Four
In a 1992 Rolling Stone interview, David Fricke asked Stipe if he was in any way influenced by 1960s bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Stipe replied “The Beatles were elevator music in my lifetime. ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love in My Tummy)’ had more impact on me.” The fact that Stipe cared more about a widely hated song by Ohio Express than the Fab Four’s catalog upset many fans.
Stipe did recall some of the details of his exposure to the Beatles. He remembered how, when he was a child, a man named Mr. Pemberton who owned a record store would give him and his sister singles which did not sell. Pemberton gave Stipe singles by the Beatles, Tammy Wynette, and Elvis Presley. If Stipe still has those singles, they might be collectors items.
Stipe did care about one of the bands inspired by Beatlemania: the Monkees. According to Why The Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Pop Culture, Stipe said the Monkees mattered much more to him than the Fab Four. He said the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” was his favorite song as a child and remained a guilty pleasure. Stipe even cited the Monkees as a musical influence. Given that the Fab Four inspired the Monkees, Stipe did take some influence from the Beatles, just not directly.
How Beatles fans and Yoko Ono reacted to Michael Stipe’s words
Stipe eventually elaborated on his comments. In Stipe’s 2011 interview with The New York Times, he told Andrew Sullivan how he wasn’t trying to degrade the Beatles. “I still get death threats about it from Beatles fans. The point that I was trying to make was that I was three years too young for them. I grew up in an era where the Banana Splits, the Archies and the Monkees were the music that I listened to.”
He said the Beatles felt more like “background” music in his life, given the time in which he grew up. Stipe recalled meeting Yoko Ono and her son, Sean Ono Lennon. He said the two of them joked about elevator music, making him uncomfortable. Then, Ono and her son made it clear they weren’t upset at him in any way. Since John Lennon’s own son wasn’t offended by Stipe’s comments, many Fab Four fans felt they shouldn’t be offended either.