Tuesday, September 12, 2006


These will be no-brainers for the long time fans out there, but for the uninitiated, here's some of my favorite R.E.M. tracks that you may not have heard on the radio.

R.E.M.- Perfect Circle from 1983's Murmur

A gem from the band's classic debut, "Perfect Circle" is a bastion of the great things the band had in store in its future. As a gentle waltz led by Mike Mills' bittersweet piano line, it sticks out amidst some of the other post-punky tracks on the album, but goes to show the same gift with melody and arrangement that would show up in later albums.

R.E.M.- Cuyahoga from 1986's Lifes Rich Pageant

As you probably know from that Vote For Change Tour and seeing Stipe's face all over those silly "make hunger/poverty/bad things stop" ads, the band (or Stipe, anyways) has never had any qualms about their political views. The 1980's were no exception, with this beautiful protest song about the Cuyahoga River, an Ohio river that was a prime example of the need for the federal government's involvement in environmental issues in the 1970s.

R.E.M.- Country Feedback from 1991's Out of Time

One of the best songs written on the topic of suicide and one of the darkest pieces of Americana you're likely to ever hear. If Stipe didn't have to go and drop an F-bomb, this would probably be a weekly standard on my sad bastard radio show. The mark of a good lyricist is the ability to convey a lot of feeling with a few words - and Stipe's refrain of "It's crazy what you could have had" and lines like "these clothes don't fit us right" somehow speak more about the tragedy of teenage suicide and the depression that leads to it than anything I can think of.

R.E.M.- Find The River from 1992's Automatic For The People

Though I intend to one day take a road trip across it, I've never been to the rural South. But, along with the stunning "Nightswimming", this is what I imagine the twilight in summer to feel like down there. A beautiful affirmation of modern man's need for his natural roots. Check out Mills' three-part background harmonies in the chorus - just stunningly good music. This is how you end a nearly perfect album.

R.E.M.- Tongue from 1994's Monster

Mining the outdoor symphony sound they perfected on "Find The River," "Tongue" is a beautiful mood piece in between a lot of overt and often contrived grunge influence on 1994's much-maligned Monster. (I'm not afraid to admit that I throw it on as a guilty pleasure every once in a while.) Stipe, who was on the verge of coming out of the closet (Lance Bass style) at the time, embraces his feminine side, delivering the song in a womanly falsetto. Not quite like anything else the band (or any other band, for that matter) has done.

R.E.M.- How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us from 1996's New Adventures In Hi Fi

What a way to lead off an album. A gentle jazzy drum beat, funky bass, staccato piano chords and a dreamy guitar lick mark one of the band's most unique tracks. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the band would have pursued an entire album written just like this song.

R.E.M.- Falls To Climb from 1998's Up.

Up saw the band begin experimenting with electronica, computers, synthesiser, etc. It's a mixed bag. Though they had experimented with their sound with much success in the past, for the first time it sounded like the guys had really expanded past their capabilities, losing their roots in the process. While the sound embraced on Up has morphed into the monstrosity of the band's last couple efforts, the highs on this record are incredibly high - "Daysleeper," one of the band's best radio singles ever, and "Falls To Climb," the exuberant album closer that finds a perfect balance between the mechanical electronics and band's pop roots. There's a reason Thom Yorke has been quoted as saying that Kid A never would have happened with out R.E.M.'s Up.


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