Once upon a time, there was a band from Athens, Georgia called Oh-OK. Of course, once upon a time, there were so many bands from Athens they made a documentary about it, largely because of the popularity of two bands you might have heard of, R.E.M. and The B-52’s.
Oh-OK had already broken up by that time, so none of their members were in the documentary, and they would have been a footnote if not for who was actually in the band at the time of their Mitch Easter-produced Furthermore What EP, which got decent traction on KFSR in 1983 because of the catchiness of a future Certain Song called “Such ‘n’ Such,” which happened to be written — but not sung! — by their bassist, Lynda Stipe.
Of course, these days, Oh-OK is remembered mostly because it featured some of the earliest recordings of Matthew Sweet and the woman who actually sang on “Such ‘n’ Such,” Linda Hopper.
Fast-forward to 1990. R.E.M. is on the verge of becoming huge, Matthew Sweet has long since abandoned Athens and is working with Lloyd Cole, and Hopper calls Lynda Stipe’s brother Michael to produce some songs for the self-titled debut album of her new band, Magnapop, the highlight of which is a jangly guitar gem called “Favorite Writer.”
In Corsica the engines blew
Your favorite writer died
In a car, in a crash
Died in a fire, imagine that
At first, “Favorite Writer” is halting, with drummer (and fellow Oh-OK refugee) David McNair laying back as guitarist Ruthie Morris creates a lot of space, but then, McNair kicks into a straight beat, and Morris stridently strums an acoustic guitar as they roll into the chorus.
In a car, in a crash
Die in a fire, imagine that
“Favorite Writer” doesn’t ever achieve full takeoff — even the uptempo parts are practically introspective — but it gets by on an absolutely gorgeous melody and a subject matter that you don’t normally get in even an indie-pop song.
So by the time Hopper gets around to singing the first verse again, you’re fully on board with the whole song, especially she switches up from “Engine, engineer” to “Angel engineer” as Morris supplies some “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhs” on the very last iteration of the chorus.
“Favorite Writer” was easily the standout of Magnapop’s debut album (2nd place went to a version of Big Star’s “13” that featured loud, crunchy guitars), and Michael Stipe liked it so much that a decade later, R.E.M. covered and even played it on tour for awhile.
“Favorite Writer” performed live in 2017
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