Hello again! It seems that I am continuing My Unhealthy Tour 2019 with a bout of sinusitis and environmental allergies thanks to the effects of a so-called nonexistent bout of climate change. I’d prefer to get back to my healthier ways, but it’s not looking too promising at this point. I guess that’s the perils of being an old fart with a chronic health condition, but I’m not about to get into a bitch session. It’s during these times that I turn to my music collection for solace, though Game of Thrones has been an obsession lately as my wife and I are going back through the past seasons to see if we can figure out just who that damned Night King is.
Well, if you didn’t know, this past Saturday was Record Store Day, and I hope everyone went out to support their local independent store to do a little bin diving for some treasures or to pick up the latest RSD special vinyl release, as my grownup boys and I did. Although I failed to complete my RSD release collection of Cheap Trick’s Rarities & Oddities series with Volume 3 (damn you Cheap Trick Records!!!), I did pick up a long sought version of a bootleg of Bingo Hand Job’s Sanitized for Your Protection: Live at the Borderline 1991, which was actually R.E.M. performing an acoustic set before they became worldwide superstars upon the release of their huge Out of Time album.
You see, I fell in love with R.E.M. back in the late Spring of 1983, when I bought a 7-inch single of their first IRS Records release called “Radio Free Europe,” which I still have today and is worth a pretty penny. That single influenced me to purchase their debut album Murmur later that summer, and my musical tastes entered my college rock/alternative rock phase from which I have never recovered, nor want to. Besides Prince, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Cheap Trick, they were the first artist to speak to me and further influenced my tastes in music. And, with Prince, they were the artists who spoke to my generation, which was neither truly Boomer nor Gen X. I would argue that, like my father’s generation who bridged the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, that those of us born between 1958 and 1964 are a transitional generation.
Anyway, R.E.M. may not have caught on explicitly with many of my peers, but Gen X did latch onto them. They brought the whole independent artist streak to the masses here in the States, and I personally was so thankful when they began to garner airplay on classic rock radio in the late-Eighties because I was so damn tired of the hair metal bands dominating airplay at the time. But, I was so disappointed that other artist such as The Replacements, Pixies, The Smiths, The Cure, among others, were blocked from joining them in the mainstream at the time. That line that Boomer radio programmers drew in the sand killed radio, though I find it hilarious today to hear those very bands getting airplay today on those very same classic rock radio stations who wouldn’t touch the “alternative” bands because they were pushing the boundaries of rock, much like The Doors, Hendrix, Zeppelin and all the others did when the Boomers were younger. It is my belief that the Boomers killed the radio star here in the States in the late-Eighties and early-Nineties with their arrogance. But, that’s another story altogether for another time.
Today, I want to celebrate R.E.M.’s brilliance that truly continued even after drummer Bill Berry decided to take an early retirement. This band, which also included lead singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills, had the foresight to split any royalties four-ways, because Buck said that’s what caused bands to break up. These four men were the perfect foils for each other, with Stipe manning the artistic side, Buck countering with the walking jukebox knowledge, Berry laying down the rock steady beat and Mills, whom Eddie Vedder described as “the band’s secret weapon,” delivering a fluid bass with counterpoint vocals of an angel. Together, they were able to meld disparate influences, with obvious early reference points being The Byrds, The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, with the subtle starting points of Johnny Cash, Aerosmith and fellow Athens, Georgia, post-punk rockers Pylon, to create something of a Southern Gothic country, borderline folk, totally rocking, proto-grunge sound that had never been heard before. Much like Prince was doing at the same moment in time, R.E.M. was changing rock from the college nerd side of life. Additionally, R.E.M. predated, paved the way for, and in many ways, predicted artists from Camper Van Beethoven, the Meat Puppets and Gin Blossoms to Hootie & the Blowfish, the Decemberists and even Nirvana (just give a listen to Document and then tell me I’m wrong!).
Yes, I do live in the past in many ways. I have tired of the Adele/Sam Smith over-emoting over non-melodic music sound and much of the non-Kendrick Lamar hip hop music that’s being released now. I have never been so disappointed with a season of Saturday Night Live‘s set of musical guests as I have been this year. Maybe, this is just a transition period to what the next form of music will be, I don’t know. But, at some point something has to give. And, hopefully, the kids making the music of the future will look back to some of the artists of our past, much as the Boomers did in the UK as they dug into the Blues only to create the rock music of the mid-Sixties that kept paying dividends through the early part of the twenty-first century. And, when my grandchildren discover my music collection in their fathers’ collections, maybe their friends will dive into my records and CDs to discover a little band from Athens, Georgia, who rocked their grandfather’s world and start their own bands. And, then maybe those kids will tell two friends, and they will tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on, until their is a new rock revolution.
Then again, this could be all for not. But, at least, those grandchildren would inherit a great musical library that they could dust off for some musical snobs in the future. So, after combing through my extensive R.E.M. collection, here are my choices for the 50 R.E.M. songs that I think are their best. By no means am I a R.E.M. expert, but I do have a pretty good grasp of the band. Sorry, there are no B-sides or oddities listed, even though I do have them. When it comes to everyone but Prince, there’s a pretty good reason that the song was not on an official album. I have listed them in alphabetical order, mainly because at one time or another, each one of these songs were my favorite R.E.M. song – EVER!
- “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” (Reckoning)
- “7 Chinese Bros.” (Reckoning)
- “At My Most Beautiful” (Up)
- “Begin the Begin” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
- “Belong” (Out of Time)
- “Can’t Get There from Here” (Fables of the Reconstruction)
- “Country Feedback” (Out of Time)
- “Crush with Eyeliner” (Monster)
- “Cuyahoga” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
- “Daysleeper” (Up)
- “Disturbance at the Heron House” (Document)
- “Drive” (Automatic for the People)
- “Driver 8” (Fables of the Reconstruction)
- “E-Bow the Letter” (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
- “Electrolite” (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
- “Everybody Hurts” (Automatic for the People)
- “Exhuming McCarthy” (Document)
- “Fall on Me” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
- “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” (Fables of the Reconstruction)
- “Finest Worksong” (Document)
- “Gardening at Night” (Chronic Town)
- “Harborcoat” (Reckoning)
- “I Believe” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
- “Imitation of Life” (Reveal)
- “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (Document)
- “Losing My Religion” (Out of Time)
- “Low” (Out of Time)
- “Man on the Moon” (Automatic for the People)
- “Near Wild Heaven” (Out of Time)
- “Nightswimming” (Automatic for the People)
- “Oddfellows Local 151” (Document)
- “Orange Crush” (Green)
- “Perfect Circle” (Murmur)
- “Pop Song 89” (Green)
- “Radio Free Europe” (Murmur)
- “Shiny Happy People” (Out of Time)
- “So. Central Rain” (Reckoning)
- “Stand” (Green)
- “Standing Still” (Murmur)
- “Star 69” (Monster)
- “Superman” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
- “Supernatural Superserious” (Accelerate)
- “Swan Swan H” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
- “Talk About the Passion” (Murmur)
- “The One I Love” (Document)
- “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” (Automatic for the People)
- “These Days” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
- “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (Monster)
- “World Leader Pretend” (Green)
- “You Are Everything” (Green)