More than any other medium I feel that music and my perception of it is governed by the ebb and flow of life. R.E.M. is in my top three favorite artists of all time, likely the top. They have been there for me through some tough transitions and their catalog is diverse enough that can reflect my mood no matter how happy or dour.
I have been listening to a lot of R.E.M. lately. They have crept back into my conscious thought and my life’s soundtrack more since the release of their latest, “Collapse Into Now”. I love the album, especially as it has many call backs to my favorite period for the band: the early 90′s.
I have been digging into the R.E.M. archives, both via my own collection as well as YouTube.
Right now(subject to change at a moment’s notice) my top ten favorite R.E.M. tunes are:
First, a cheap tactic of list making: Here is a list of songs that just missed the cut (thereby undercutting inevitable criticism, “I mentioned it”.): “Radio Free Europe” (Murmur), “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” (Reckoning), “Begin the Begin” (Lifes Rich Pageant), “Finest Worksong” and “Exhuming McCarthy” (Document), “Pop Song 89″, “You are Everything” and “Turn You Inside Out” (Green), Every song from Out of Time and Automatic for the People not listed below, “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” and “Strange Currencies” (Monster). I love most of their catalog, throw in there if the song you like and want to defend is not listed.
10. – “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” – This song kicks off Monster and announces that it is no continuation of Automatic For the People. Automatic is my favorite album by the band, but if they had tried to ape it, as they did with some of the albums of the late 90s and early aughts I would have been disappointed!
The song plain rocks and I love the genesis of the title, it was what attackers shouted at Dan Rather in 1986 between beatdowns.
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth. You said that irony was the shackles of youth.
9. “Half a World Away” from Out of Time – I love the feeling of longing in this song. It takes me back to a time where I was not sure that I would ever find the person I was meant to be with. I think that if you revisit that feeling, which is quite scary when you are younger, it makes it almost impossible to take your significant other for granted.
Stipe’s tone in this song is perfect.
My mind is racing, As it always will, My hands tired, my heart aches, I’m half a world away.
8. “Electrolite” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi – I love the piano and the mellow vibe of the tune. Despite my general feelings on the album I think this song is perfect. The lyrics are fully of signature quirky Stipe beats.
Twentieth century go to sleep
That is obscene
7. “Everyday is Yours To Win” from Collapse Into Now – I just love the softness of the song, very Automatic For the People, but less melancholy.
While I’m nothing but confused, with nothing left to lose, and if you buy that,I’ve got a bridge for you
6. “New Test Leper” from New Adventures in HiFi – I wanted to love this album more than I do. My old friend Brett nailed the issues with it – the songs go on about a minute too long. That being said I love this song and what it says about our society at the time it was written and even moreso now.
I can’t say that I love Jesus
That would be a hollow claim
He did make some observations
And I’m quoting them today
“Judge not lest ye be judged”
What a beautiful refrain
The studio audience disagrees
Have his lambs all gone astray?
5. Texarkana from Out of Time – For whatever reason this song got my old roommate Danny pumped up to drink, so we listened to it a lot. But my love for the song goes far beyond that. At the time I was confused, not sure where I should go with my life…not entirely unlike now in some ways. And the lyrics just hit me the right way.
20,000 miles to an oasis
20,000 years will I burn
20,000 chances I wasted
Waiting for the moment to turn
I would give my life to find it
I would give it all
Catch me if I fall
4. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” from Automatic For the People – When I first heard the album this was on the lower end of the spectrum of songs I loved on it. That has since changed as some songs were overplayed and I burned out on them. While this song will never be confused as upbeat on its own, but in the context of Automatic For the People it is positively buoyant.
I love the funky lyrics, again.
Baby, instant soup doesn’t really grab me.
Today I need something more sub-sub-sub-substantial.
A can of beans or blackeyed peas, some Nescafe and ice,
A candy bar, a falling star, or a reading of Doctor Seuss
3. “Oh My Heart” from Collapse Into Now – A heartbreaking song about people returning to New Orleans. This is not another band capitalizing on a tragedy. R.E.M. has a history with the Big Easy having recorded many tracks there. The connection shows in this song with heartbreaking vocals by Stipe. This is simply a sublime song.
The kids have a new take
A new take on faith
Pick up the pieces
Get carried away
I came home to city half erased
I came home to face what we faced
2. (Tie, another cop out from lists everywhere) “Nightswimming” and “Find the River” from Automatic For the People. I have been through a lot with these two songs. They are both a big reason why Automatic For the People is one of my favorite albums of all time. They both make me feel the perfect blend of melancholy blended with hope.
You, I thought I knew you
You, I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me,
This one laughing quietly underneath my breath
“Find the River”
The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of Ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rose of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way
1. “Uberlin” from Collapse Into Me – New song bias, to be sure. What I love about this song is that I get the vibe from Automatic For The People, which revolved around loss and change but it feels older, more mature. There is more of an acceptance of that fact of life and in that way it fits my life better than the two songs at number 2. The first time I heard this song I fell in love with it. I only expect that affection to grow as I hear it more.
I am flying on a star into a meteor tonight
I am flying on a star, a star, a star
I will make it through the day
And then the day becomes the night
I will make it through the night