A lot of songs that implore the listener to “do something” with their lives can seem awfully smug and self-satisfied, but R.E.M.’s “Get Up” side-steps that trap by making it clear from the start that the singer is addressing himself as much as the audience. The lyrics are intentionally vague about what Michael Stipe wants us all to do, but the basic point is abundantly clear: No matter who we are or what we do, we need to resist the empty comforts of apathy and become active members of society. The song is meant to apply to everyone, whether they are a teenager who needs some kind of permission to pursue a life in the arts or sciences, an office worker who needs the extra push to get involved with local politics, or a member of a pop band who needs to do more than just indulge in hedonism.
As noted by Marcus Gray in his book It Crawled From The South, “Get Up” is essentially a “lullaby in reverse.” The song hops in place like an impatient and excited little kid, and its peppy bubblegum hooks place it among the most joyous and immediately ingratiating songs in the band’s repertoire. It also boasts a rather clever arrangement full of interesting details that aren’t exactly subtle, but fit together without distracting the listener from the tune. The chorus features one of the best examples of the band’s contrary approach to writing lyrics for background vocals — as Michael sings “dreams they complicate my life,” Bill Berry counters him with “dreams they complement my life.” It’s not really an argument, though. Even if the song is an exhortation to action, it acknowledges that our dreams supply us with an essential motivation as long as we don’t get lost within them.