Allegedly at some point in the last 25 years, Peter Buck said that he though he and his band had what it took to make one of the top ten albums in rock n’ roll history. He also allegedly said that he is R.E.M. Okay a cheap joke, but what can I say? I was listening to an interview of Peter Buck this morning. He’s quite a fascinating guy. The interviewer asked him about the quote and asked him how he thought R.E.M. had done on his declaration. It was interesting to hear him say that naturally there are gods, citing the Beach Boys, Beatles, Dylan, James Brown, Miles Davis, but that they’ve walked with gods and can hold their own in their era. Then he goes on to say that he’d never claim it, even if he thought it was true. Smart man. So if we cancel out the Beatles and Stones, Dylan and Van; then look at the last 30 years or so of music, you have to throw a few R.E.M. songs onto the greatest hits of that time period. Not only have they crafted some brilliant songs, but built incredible albums around those songs. You can’t make it through the 80’s without Green, the 90’s without Out of Time or Automatic for the People. What I find interesting is that you could put 10 people in a room together and just about everyone in there would have a different favorite R.E.M. album. I even met a guy once whose favorite R.E.M. album was New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which upon looking at my collection in iTunes, I only had one song from the album despite having most every other song they’ve put out. I know some people that love Monster and think that R.E.M. were at their best with pop rock songs like “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?”. Of course the interview I listened to made me think of how to come up with a list of the greatest albums of the last 30 or so years, but I’ll hold off on that and limit it to a couple from R.E.M. that are guaranteed to make the list.
Of course, I love the first 5 albums from these guys. Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Lifes Rich Pageant and even Dead Letter Office show what it was like to be perhaps the first Southern Alternative Rock band in the 80s. There are very rich portraits of the South mixed with politics and their own struggle to break out of the South. In 1987, they teamed up with producer Scott Litt for the first time and put together Document. Suddenly songs like “One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World…” were on the radio all across America. And though I don’t discredit their career up until this point, in 1987 R.E.M. had arrived. Soon after Document, they released Eponymous which was a sort of greatest hits album and also the last album they did for IRS records. It was almost as if the combination of meeting Scott Litt, switching labels and providing closure with Eponymous was setting the table for what was to come next.
In late 1988, R.E.M. released Green. Then 1991 saw them release Out of Time, followed by 1992’s Automatic for the People and 1994’s Monster. A string of 4 albums that any musician would envy in 6 years. Critics and fans have knocks on each of these albums for different reasons: too commercial, too rock-n-roll, too folksy, too this, too that. I happen to hold these 4 albums among some of the best albums to come out in that 6 year period. Still to this day, I’ll type R.E.M. into the search box in iTunes and click (with CTRL) these four albums, shuffle and let go for a couple hours, and actually as I wrote that, I built a playlist so I don’t have to take those steps. Both musically and lyrically these albums stand both the test of time and the test of MKinMotion music snobbery. For iTunes Music Store or for Amazon, click the appropriate links below.
R.E.M. – Green – 1988
Hit Songs: Stand, Orange Crush
Highly recommended tracks: Turn You Inside-Out, You Are the Everything, Pop Song 89
R.E.M. – Out of Time – 1991
Hit Songs: Losing My Religion, Shiny Happy People, Radio Song
Highly recommended tracks: Low, Country Feedback, Belong, Near Wild Heaven
R.E.M. – Automatic for the People – 1992
Hit Songs: Man on the Moon, Drive, Everybody Hurts
Highly recommended tracks: Try Not To Breathe, Nightswimming, Star Me Kitten
R.E.M. – Monster – 1994
Hit Songs: What’s the Frequency Kenneth?, Star 69, Bang and Blame
Highly recommended tracks: Crush with Eyeliner, Strange Currencies, Tongue
And to show tribute to the early years, here’s a couple of mp3’s of early stuff.