As a thank you to my Occasionally Irish Friend for making me a ‘How to Love Radiohead’ compilation I have returned the favour with an R.E.M. one. I’d be happy if it’s half as successful as hers was. I am still grieving over what I had to leave off the cd (like Country Feedback and These Days) but still the ones that made it are all R.EM. classics.
- Begin the begin (Lifes Rich Pageant – 1986)
Answer me a question I can’t itemize
I can’t think clear, you look to me for reason
It’s not there, I can’t even rhyme here in the begin
An obvious place to start perhaps. This is the opening track on what is probably my favourite R.E.M. album. Frantically sung and no doubt a breath of fresh air in the mid 80’s.
- So fast, so numb (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)
I’ve played this round, I’ve played your lover.
I’ve played it out and to the hilt.
You’re coming onto something so fast, so numb
That you can’t even feel.
A fairly straight forward rock song R.E.M. style. There is something about this track that has always appealed to me. It’s got an endearing frantic calm to it.
3. Walk unafraid (Up – 1998)
I’m prepared to look you in the eye
Look me in the eye
And if you see familiarity
Then celebrate the contradiction
Help me when I fall to
Another rocky song in a similar style to So fast, so numb but this time with a slight dance beat at it’s edges bringing it a more serious feel.
4. Man-sized wreath (Accelerate – 2008)
Turning on the TV and what do I see?
A pageantry of empty gestures all lined up for me – wow!
The best melody on Accelerate in my opinion. This is a classic rock song with a sweet pop core. An irrisistable combination. I loved this on first listen and still do after having heard it hundreds of times.
5. Electron Blue (Around the Sun – 2004)
adventure has laid its claim on you
it’s all you want to do
One of the most straight forwardly (it’s a word!) beautiful songs on ATS. A typical R.E.M. melody line which is the very reason why I love them so much.
6. E-Bow the letter (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)
cuts and dents, they catch the light
This has probably become my all time favourite R.E.M. track (along with Country Feedback and These Days). The female vocal is by Patti Smith. It’s apparently a stream of consciousness letter written while travelling on a bus.
7. The Ascent of Man (Around the Sun – 2004)
I’m a cactus trying to be a canoe
The drawn out ‘yeahs’ in this song are its golden hook. This song is adorable for many reasons not least of which is the Popeye reference (I yam what I yam).
8. The Great Beyond (Man on the Moon OST – 1999)
Why can’t we pantomime, just close our eyes and sleep sweet dreams
Me and you with wings on our feet
The second song about Andy Kaufman by the group, the first being Man on the Moon. Strangely enough this was their highest charting hit ever in the UK (no.3).
9. World Leader Pretend (Green -1988)
This is my mistake, let me make it good
Straight forward and easy to understand World Leader packs a serious punch in the midst of the jollier tunes on Green. Reminds me slightly of The Smiths.
10. Untitled (hidden track) (Green -1988)
I made a list of things to say
But all I want to say, All I really want to say is Hold Her
This (badly) hidden track off Green is about Stipe being away from home and missing his parents. It’s an extremely touching song in its honesty.
11. Fall on Me (Lifes Rich Pageant – 1986)
There’s a problem, feathers, iron
Bargain buildings, weights and pulleys
Feathers hit the ground
Before the weight can leave the air
Another Conorland favourite and fan staple and one which Stipe often amusingly forgets the words of. Raise your arms up when he sings ‘Lift your arms up to the sky’ go on, you know you want to. Basically it’s a fun, sweet pop song possibly about environmental concerns.
12. I believe (Lifes Rich Pageant – 1986)
I believe my shirt is wearing thin and change is what I believe in
A list of beliefs which leave the listener satisfied but rather puzzled. Yet another gem from LRP.
13. Electrolite (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)
Hollywood is under me
I’m Martin Sheen
I’m Steve McQueen
I’m Jimmy Dean
Stipe described this as a farewell song to the 20th century. The strenght is allowing its simplicity. Wonderfully sung it was a gorgeous closing track for NAIHF.
14. Let me in (live) (Fan Club Single – 2001)
all those stars drip down like butter
And promises are sweet
We hold out our pans with our hands to catch them
We eat them up, drink them up, up, up, up
This is a much more touching version than the original which appeared on Monster. The current live version tops even this but it’s not available as a listenable mp3 yet. The song was written for Kurt Cobain who was a good friend of Stipe’s before his death.
15. Me in Honey (Out of Time – 1991)
Knocked silly, knocked flat, sideways down
These things they pick you up and they turn you around
A flashy, happy, colourful pop song with Kate Pierson (from the B-52’s on backing vocals). Michael says about this song: ‘It’s a male perspective on pregnancy, which I don’t think has been dealt with. There’s a real push-me-pull-me issue, saying, “I had nothing to do with it,” yet on the other hand saying, “Wait, I have feelings about this.”
16. So. Central Rain (Reckoning – 1984)
These rivers of suggestion are driving me away
Here Stipe sings about an extremely bad flood resulting in the band being stranded and uneven able to call and say they were okay. The closing bars of this track are probably the best ending of any R.E.M. track.
17. At my most beautiful (Up – 1998)
I save your messages
just to hear your voice
The very obvious Beach Boys sound is deliberate. ‘I found a way to make you Smile’ being a direct reference to Brian Wilson’s album Smile. It is surely the band’s greatest love song.
18. Why not smile (Up – 1998)
I feel like a cartoon brick wall
I have a big soft spot in my heart for this track. If you have ever had a friend who was very down you can surely identify with the lyrics. The easily understood text is strenghtened by the compassionate and sincere vocals.
19. Perfect Circle (Murmur – 1983)
Pull your dress on and stay real close
Who might leave you where I left off
A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends
Drink another, coin a phrase
Taken from their wonderful debut album Stipe’s lower than normal vocals anchor the melody to the glorious piano notes that drift in and around it making it one of the sweetest in their catalogue.
20. Leave (New Adventures in Hi-Fi – 1996)
I suffer the dreams of a world gone mad
I like it like that and I know it
I know it well, ugly and sweet,
I temper madness with an even extreme
I am amazed the band never released this as a single and it’s still waiting for a great remix. This is the closest that R.E.M. have ever come to techno music. The relentless alarm siren and beat bring an exciting drama to a gloriously mournful melody.