‘We Both Go Down Together’: Did the Decemberists Rip Off R.E.M.?

The Decemberists
The Decemberists
They’re quirky!

After listening to the Decemberists’ song “We Both Go Down Together,” I am left with one lingering question: Why didn’t R.E.M. sue the band for plagiarism?

The third cut from the album Picaresque, “We Both Go Down Together,” bears more than just a passing resemblance to “Losing My Religion.” It’s in the same minor key, has almost the same tempo, and features the same rhythm. Even the chord progression and melody during the verses are similar.  Not convinced? Check it out (R.E.M. first, followed by the Decemberists):

Uncanny, ain’t it? Chalk one up to R.E.M. for letting it slide. Maybe it’s because they ripped off “Losing My Religion” themselves when they wrote “Bang and Blame” off 1994’s Monster. It’s the same song only with loud electric guitars instead of mandolins.

R.E.M. seems to be patient. I have already shown the similarities between U2’s “Levitate” and R.E.M.’s “Hope.

Once again, the Decemberists are long on prose and short on melody and voice. The lyrics read like poetry:

I found you, a tattooed tramp
A dirty daughter from the labor camps
I laid you down on the grass of a clearing
You wept, but your soul was willing

The album from which “We Both Go Down Together” comes is Picaresque, and it’s about what you’d expect from the Decemberists: some bizarre cuts (“Infanta” begins with what sounds like an elephant trumpeting), a lot of minor key songs that plod along aimlessly, and two upbeat songs that are actually fun to listen to. Unfortunately, the least listenable cut on the album is eight minutes long.

Lead singer Colin Meloy has an annoying voice. And for someone from Montana, why does he sound British? I know — They’re quirky!

The Moviegoer Blog summed up reasons why the band members probably got beat up in high school:

This is a band that named their first EP 5 Songs and then, perversely, went ahead and put six songs on it; a band that has written rambling, showoffily erudite story-songs about 19th-century sailors, Shakespearean plays, rogue Irish paramilitary killers, Tom Courtenay movie characters, Spanish royalty, and Victorian “chimbley sweeps”; a band that has aggressively tasted the patience of listeners by recording numerous epic song suites, including the 18-minute mini-opera “The Tain,” based on a story from Celtic mythology; a band that couldn’t stick to a single normal time signature for more than two minutes if you held a gun to their heads; a band whose unabashed anglophilia can’t help but seem a little affected in a band from Portland, Oregon.

That about says it all.

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  1. Newelectricmuse

    Agreed! I succumbed to the hype about The Crane Wife and bought it: my first thought was REM. They’re OK, maybe more interesting than many groups of their type, perhaps because of the subject matter of their songs, but if you’ve heard a bit of folk music they’re not as special as they’re made out to be. So – overrated, yes, good – also yes!

  2. anonymous

    “You don’t have to have a perfect voice, but just sing the damn notes. Deep lyrics are okay, but don’t try to impress me; stupid lyrics are fine, but don’t make me censor it for my kids, and don’t use bad grammar. And most importantly, play music that has a melody.”

    This really discounts a lot of fantastic, ground-breaking, critically acclaimed music. I’m surprised since you seem to like music enough to write about it and that you have a whole blog dedicated to doing just that. Sounds more like you just want to complain about music.

  3. peter

    Sounds more like you just want to complain about music.

    Um, yeah, that’s part of what this blog is about – complaining about the state of today’s music. I think we’ve gotten away from what really counts in music – chords, melody, harmony – and breaking new ground does not always necessarily advance the art form. Lyrics are only part of a song, and if you can’t write or sing a melody, you’re lacking in my book.

  4. peter


  5. Alex

    Even if the songs are in the same minor key and have the same tempo, the chord progressions are different enough that it would be more of an “homage” than a rip-off.

  6. Stephen

    Thanks for the nod and the “excellent” comment. As for overrated music, more people should complain about the crap that’s out there and conversely praise the good. I don’t tend to write about what I dislike, but very much enjoy when and how you do so, it’s just as valid as praise of noteworthy groups. Maybe I just enjoy a good rant. Keep up the excellent work.

  7. Harry

    Actually this song clearly rips off “Livin’ Thing” by ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) Listen to the intro of Livin Thing and you’ll see for yourself. The chord that the Decemberists rip off comes again at 1:25

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