Thursday, April 5, 2012

Top 25 songs from R.E.M.

April 5, 1980 marks the day R.E.M. played their first ever concert at a friend's house. Today, marks the 32nd anniversary of this great band. When they announced their breakup after such a long career in music, it was heartbreaking to say the least. All through my life, this band has always been there,maybe not at the forefront, but always there at least in the background. I grew up with them. I first remember hearing them (like most people) from the song Losing My Religion. I thought it was so strange to hear these songs coming from my radio. A mandolin!? I later on went and purchased most of their albums throughout the years, even the difficult post-Up years. I was always a fan. This band put Athens, Georgia on the map musically and made "college rock" mainstream without selling out. A very hard thing to do. They stayed with the independent label I.R.S. records all through the 1980s, basically invented alt-country without trying, and became a huge influence for bands for years to come. They hit big with the albums Out of Time and Automatic for the People selling miilions of albums, winning Grammys and MTV Awards during this time. When Bill Berry left the band in 1995, due to exhaustion and a brain aneurysm, many thought it was the end of the line for them. They later returned with Up, an album which divided many of their fans (much like Smashing Pumpkins' Adore or Radiohead's Kid A). Up was a different sort of album where they experimented with some minimalist beats and harmonies. In 2007, they received the ultimate honor, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They have always stuck to their guns and have never followed trends. Today, I present my personal favorite REM songs from the Chronic Town EP to their latest album, Collapse into Now.

#25 What's The Frequency, Kenneth from Monster (1994)
A hardrocking song from the album Monster. This album was very different from REM, especially coming after the soft, somber Automatic for the people. One of the few songs from REM that truly "rocks". This came out in 1994 when rock was still big. It was the first song ever to debut on #1 on the Billboard rock songs. Michael Stipe has said this about the song. "I wrote that protagonist as a guy who's desperately trying to understand what motivates the younger generation, who has gone to great lengths to try and figure them out, and at the end of the song it's completely fucking bogus. He got nowhere."

#24 Driver 8 from Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
A great Southern Tune about the journey of life. There are references to the Southern Crescent
a passenger train operated by the Southern Railroad until 1979, and continues today (with fewer stops) as the Amtrak Crescent

#23 Talk About the Passion from Murmur (1982)
REM's second single. This song is about hunger and seeing the suffering of others, and wanting so badly for things to change. In the song it talks about empty prayers, and empty mouths. It seems he is questioning religion also at this point, saying we need more than just prayers to help humanity. Powerful stuff.

#22 Bang and Blame from Monster (1994)
The last REM song to hit #1 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks. I love the vibrato on this song. There are many different interpretations of this song. Is it about an abusive relationship? is it about codependency? is it about a secret affair? I don't think even Michael Stipe or the rest of the band knows. I think it's about someone who blames others but won't take blame themselves

#21 E-bow the Letter from New Adventures in Hifi (1996)
A wonderful song/poem featuring Patti Smith. I love the metaphors and lyrics here. An actual E-bow is used in this song. It's believed that this song is based on a letter Michael Stipe wrote to River Phoenix, about his substance abuse, which sadly took his life. A deep, sweet song. It is said that the taste of aluminum in your mouth is adrenaline.

#20 The Great Beyond from the Man on the Moon soundtrack (1999)
The single from the Andy Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey. This is the second REM song about Andy Kaufman (the first being Man on the Moon). A very optimistic song about overcoming obstacles and achieving the impossible, Andy Kaufman being the influence for this song.

#19 Pretty Persuasion from Reckoning (1984)
Michael Stipe is a master at lyrics. This song is often overlooked in REM's catalog, but it is one of the best in their collection. I love the janglepop intro, the lyrics, everything about it. Michael Stipe himself has said the song is about "growing up queer in the 80s" and the lyrics about confusion make it obvious that this song is about sexual confusion. Great song and once again, references to sleeves. I think it's about how Michael was never allowed to talk about sexuality and felt he had to hide who he was, also.

#18 Final Straw from Around The Sun (2005)
A politically charged song against the Bush administration. REM needs more protest songs. Sadly, there aren't many post 2000 albums on my list here of great REM songs. The 2000s were a tough time for REM. This still remains a classic song with a strong message.

#17 Texarkana from Out of Time (1991)
A song sung entirely by Mike Mills. Another overlooked gem from this great band. Texarkana refers to the town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. It mentions the passing of time (20,000 miles, 30,000 thoughts, 40,000 stars, etc...) What an infectious bassline too!

#16 The One I Love from Document (1988)
A hit single for the band which reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is often mistaken as a love song because of the opening lyrics (this one goes out to the one I love...), yet the song is clearly about someone being used, (a simple prop to occupy my time). It is not exactly what I would consider a love song, the chorus talks about fire, this album originally had a label (file under fire) because of the fire references in this and other songs.

#15 Cuyahoga from Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
A great song which doesn't hit you over the head with it's message. The Cuyahoga river is located around Cleveland, Ohio. There were many tribes of Native Americans who used to live around the region, Cuyahoga is the Native American word for "crooked". In 1969, it famously caught fire due to pollution, because of this the EPA and Clean Water Act were enacted. The song addressed the enviornment and our treatment of Native Americans.

#14 Ignoreland from Automatic For The People (1992)
Remember when I was talking about protest songs before? This is one. Clearly an attack on the Reagan and Bush presidencies during the 80s and early 90s. This song is also against propaganda and mentions the Iran-Contra controversy of 1979, which led to the Reagan revolution. An explicit political song and a classic song in it's own right.

#13 Radio Free Europe from Murmur (1983)
This is where it all began. REM's debut single. The song does feature Stipe mumbling most of it. In 2010, it was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry for setting "the pattern for later indie rock releases by breaking through on college radio in the face of mainstream radio's general indifference."

#12 At My Most Beautiful from Up (1998)
An obvious Beach Boys melody. Great lyrics from Stipe as usual. A classic pop song and a song I am surprised didn't do better on the charts. The highlight from Up.

#11 Leave from New Adventures In Hi fi (1996)
I love the version from A Life Less Ordinary. Shorter than the album version. A very easy to desipher song. It's about leaving..something, whether a place, a relationship. It's about moving on, becoming a better person because of it. It's about letting go of bad memories. This song really grew on me. and it's become one of my favorites.

#10 These Days from Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
I could honestly write about every single song on Lifes Rich Pageant. One of the best of the 80s. This song has some great lyrics. "I had a hat and it sunk Reached down, yanked it up, slapped it on my head" This song basically talks about young people realizing their dreams and making a difference. A very political song from REM, and one of the best on this album

#09 Walk Unafraid from Up (1998)
A song I instantly fell in love with and it's always one of my favorites. It's a personal anthem which brought me to tears when I first heard it. I felt Michael was singing directly to me. It's about stumbling, falling, failing, yet getting back up and fighting back and being a stronger person. An optimistic song if there ever was one. A song about being true to yourself. This is why Up was a great album.

#08 Fall On Me from Life's Rich Pageant (1986)
A song originally about acid rain. Michael has said later on, it's about oppresion and there are some references to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Another REM song that is a bit hard to decipher, which was a constant theme in their early days. A bit of a duet between Stipe and Mills, which also factors in many songs from REM.

#07 Gardening At Night from Chronic Town EP (1982)
The first song REM called their proper song. This was famously performed on their Rock and Roll hall of fame performance. This song seems to be about a person doing a meaningless chore.

#06 Nightswimming from Automatic For The People (1992)
A little ditty about skinnydipping. A simple song with just vocals from Stipe, Mills playing piano and an oboe and string section. A very relaxing tune and one of the top songs on Automatic for the People

#05 So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry) from Reckoning (1984)
This song was performed on Late Night With David Letterman in 1983 in what would be the band's debut on national television. The song is basically about a rainstorm where a person is waiting for a phonecall and worries about the fate of the relationship because of it. It's a simple song but I think it says so much. I love this band.

#04 Losing My Religion from Out of Time (1991)
I almost didn't put this song on the list because it's been overplayed to death. This doesn't change how amazing this song is. What other song on mainstream radio had a mandolin in 1991? Losing My Religion is a Southern term which means losing your temper. The video is full of religious imagery and features some of the best dancing from Michael Stipe I have ever seen. Directed by Tarsem, who later directed films such as Mirror Mirror, Immortals and The Cell. Losing my relgion stands as REM's masterpiece. This made REM a household name and even reached #4 on the Billboard HOt 100 list and won REM 6 MTV VMA awards and 2 Grammy Awards.

#03 World Leader Pretend from Green (1988)
A shining moment on the green album, and one of the first songs REM sung very clearly. It describes a person suffering an inner conflict. This is also the first REM song to have it's lyrics included on one of their albums booklet. It uses military terms to talk about the inner battle, which Michael Stipe says was inspired by Leonard Cohen. This is one of my personal favorites and one of the songs I keep going back to.

#02 Orange Crush from Green (1988)
One of REM's most popular songs and a great introduction to the band. The lyrics seems to be about Agent Orange. Michael Stipe has said it's about being taken from your normal enviornment and taken to a foreign land, such as in war. This song has an very infection bassline.
#01 Country Feedback from Out of Time (1991)
Michael Stipe has said this is his favorite song and I would have to agree. This entire song was improvised in the studio with little more than a guitar and Stipe's vocals. Lyrically, it signifies the end of a relationship and some of the the lyrics are pretty damn powerful. "These clothes don't fit us right" could possibly refer to getting older and nothing feeling as it was. "you come to me with a bone in your hand, ...with your hair curled tight" could mean the other person is uptight, perhaps? it could be referring to drugs and the debilitating nature of it also. Either way, the most emotional song REM has released and this is why it's #1 to me.

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