Prologue: Hi. I’m still here. Apologies for the lack of regular posting of late. Life, family, et. al. take priority. I may post more regularly now, or it might be another two months. Read as you please, I’m not here to judge.
I dig music. I’m always listening to something and routinely seeking out new bands, artists and genres. But since at least early high school – meaning, for more than half my life – I’ve had a very particular fondness for the alt-rock band R.E.M.
I’m no music expert. I’m not here to claim R.E.M. is somehow uniquely talented among all musicians. (Although, their debut album Murmur was Rolling Stone magazine’s Best Album of 1983, beating U2, The Police, and Michael Jackson’s megahit album Thriller. Guitarist Peter Buck was said to be “mind-boggled.”)
I’m also not a “fanatic” fan; I don’t buy their memorabilia, seek their autographs, or attend their concerts. (Though the latter is primarily because as a music consumer, I’m not a concert-goer; the songs always sound worse live than the studio recordings, concerts are expensive, and frankly, I’m no fan of huge crowds.)
All that said, I haven’t come across anyone who enjoys R.E.M. to the degree I do. Most people know a few of their songs. “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “The One I Love” are the usual suspects. Sometimes a Gen-Xer remembers “Losing My Religion.”
For me, I can put on In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 and listen on repeat, front-to-back, essentially forever. Coming in second would be …And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987. But it’s not just the radio airplay hits that are great, you can find unknown gems on virtually any album. Everyone bought Document in 1987 for “End of the World” but did you check out “Oddfellows Local 151” at the end of the B-side? Same with 1994’s album Monster. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” became a #1 hit, but I like “Crush With Eyeliner” and “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” even better.
Digression: “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” isn’t just another dreamy-nonsense title. On October 4, 1986, journalist Dan Rather was attacked and beaten in New York City by an unknown assailant who kept screaming “Kenneth, what is the frequency?!” over and over. Eleven years later, the assailant was identified as William Tager, who was then serving 25 years for murdering an NBC stagehand. Tager claimed he thought television networks were beaming signals into his brain. When he murdered the stagehand, Tager was trying to force his way into an NBC studio with a weapon, in order to find out the frequency the networks were using to attack him, so that he could block it.
The beginning of the end for R.E.M. was when drummer Bill Berry left the group in 1997. Although the remaining members — Michael Stipe (vocals), Peter Buck (guitar) and Mike Mills (bass) — continued as a trio for over a decade, the band’s influence waned in the early 2000s. In 2011, they “retired” as a band, never able to recapture their heyday success of the early years (1983-1996).
If you haven’t heard R.E.M., or aren’t sure if you like them, I would start with the songs “Losing My Religion,” “Nightswimming,” “I Believe,” or “The Great Beyond.” These are among the “catchiest” songs (IMHO) and also illustrate a bit of R.E.M.’s range, from dreamy piano in “Nightswimming” to the upbeat drums and banjo of “I Believe.” (There’s even more varied stuff in the catalogue, but the uptempo rock of “Orange Crush” or the melancholy “Everybody Hurts” aren’t representative of the band, I don’t think.)
I’ve spent some time listening through the band’s catalogue, all of which is available on Spotify (God Bless Spotify), and tried to piece together my own “Favorite Hits” list. That’s different than Greatest Hits – I make no claim these are the greatest songs in the jukebox. They’re simply my favorites from one of my favorite bands. If it leads you to find something you enjoy too, so much the better.
(Note: I’d recommend you listen to these songs without watching the music videos. Just minimize the tab. The songs are incredible, but as is usually the case, music videos are a peculiar mix of avant-garde art, pop culture that ages poorly, and surrealist message. The songs stand just fine on their own.)
25. “Everybody Hurts” – Automatic for the People, 1992
24. “At My Most Beautiful” – Up, 1998
23. “Imitation of Life” – Reveal, 2001
22. “Finest Worksong” – Document, 1987
21. “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” – Reckoning, 1984
20. “Driver 8” – Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985
19. “Welcome to the Occupation” – Document, 1987
18. “Bad Day” – In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 (originally a demo track cut from Lifes Rich Pageant in 1986)
17. “Orange Crush” – Green, 1988
16. “Daysleeper” – Up, 1998
15. “Talk About The Passion” – Murmur, 1983
14. “How The West Was Won and Where It Got Us” – New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996
13. Crush With Eyeliner – Monster, 1994
12. “Man on the Moon” – Automatic for the People, 1992
11. “I Believe” – Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986
10. “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” – Monster, 1994
9. “Oddfellows Local 151” – Document, 1987
8. “Fall On Me” – Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986
7. “Cuyahoga” – Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986
6. “The One I Love” – Document, 1987
5. “The Great Beyond” – Man on the Moon: The Soundtrack, 1999
4. “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – Document, 1987
3. “Losing My Religion” – Out of Time, 1991
2. “Nightswimming” – Automatic for the People, 1992
1. “Electrolite” – New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996
Epilogue: If you’re wondering why the relatively unknown “Electrolite” takes the top spot on my Favorites list … I don’t have a good answer for you, other than I’ve always felt a tremendous connection to the song. It conjures vivid and specific memories for me of driving at night, with purple and orange lights flashing along the highway, of solitude and peacefulness in times of upheaval or uncertainty. It’s cathartic for me, it always has been. That’s the best answer I can give.