"Take what you see on TV, mix in a guy who's turned 30 and still doesn't have a job, throw in some Uncle Remus stories and add a few flies in amber and you have America."
— Michael Stipe
I believe in coyotes and time as an abstractR.E.M. was an Alternative Rock band from Athens, Georgia, the same city from where The B-52s came a few years before. It was formed in 1980 when University of Georgia student Michael Stipe (vocals) met Peter Buck (guitar), who worked at a record store. They discovered that they shared a similar taste for "art-punk" acts such as Television, Patti Smith, and the Velvet Underground. This led them to form a band with two other U of G students, Mike Mills (bass) and Bill Berry (drums). Under the name R.E.M., the band recorded the only single ever released on Hib-Tone Records, "Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still." "Radio Free Europe's" combination of punk attitude and folk-rock guitars influenced by Power Pop (especially Big Star) pretty much invented a specific form of Alternative Rock named Jangle Pop, and led to them being picked up by I.R.S. Records.The band initially played with a "murky" style — their early albums were produced so that no one instrument was more or less prominent than any of the others - but starting with Lifes Rich Pageant, Michael Stipe began enunciating his once-mumbled lyrics more clearly, and Peter Buck's guitar parts became more prominent. Shortly after this, the band, who had previously seen high levels of critical acclaim and a lot of popularity on college radio but never really had a hit, became hugely popular. Document, the band's last studio album with I.R.S., contained the major hits "The One I Love" and the well-tossed word salad "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". As the 1980s closed, the band had abandoned their old home of I.R.S. Records for the new, more mainstream label of Warner Bros. Records, with the first release on the label being 1988's Green. Bolstered by the hit singles "Stand" and "Orange Crush", as well as a massive 1989 world tour, the band was by all accounts and appearances well on its way to rock stardom.As time went by the band was plagued by personal disaster - most prominently, longtime drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm onstage and retired - but the band still continued on. It seems their career came and went in full circle: they began as a cult band, saw massive success, and eventually dwindled to being a cult band again. Their first five (or seven, or eight, depending on where you stand) are still considered among the best albums ever, and their last two are well-regarded as a successful comeback, so it's not as though they've been forgotten.One notable aspect of R.E.M. was their approach to making music. Whereas most bands have a clear leader, this one was a purely democratic entity. They never did anything unless all members agreed on it unanimously, and every member contributed something to the songwriting.The band announced on 21 September 2011 that they had broken up. It should be kept in mind that unlike most band break-ups where the musicians ended things on bad terms, it seems like the members still have a healthy relationship and are instead ending things on good terms, citing the fact that they achieved everything they wanted as the primary reason.
Explain the change, the difference between
What you want and what you need
There's the key
I, I believe
Explain the change, the difference between
What you want and what you need
There's the key
I, I believe
— "I Believe"
- Michael Stipe: Vocals (1980–2011)
- Peter Buck: Guitar, mandolin (1980–2011)
- Mike Mills: Bass, backing vocals, keyboards (1980–2011)
- Bill Berry: Drums, backing vocals (1980–97note )
- Murmur (1983)
- Reckoning (1984)
- Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
- Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
- Document (1987)
- Green (1988)
- Out of Time (1991)
- Automatic for the People (1992)
- Monster (1994)
- New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
- Up (1998)
- Reveal (2001)
- Around the Sun (2004)
- Accelerate (2008)
- Collapse into Now (2011)
- Dead Letter Office rarities compilation (1987)
- Eponymous best-of compilation (1988)
- The Best of R.E.M. best-of compilation (1991)
- Not Bad for No Tour promotional EP (2001)
- In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 best-of compilation (2003)
- And I Feel Fine... The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982–1987 best-of compilation (2006)
- R.E.M. Live (2007)
- Live at the Olympia (2009)
- Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011 retrospective best-of compilation (2011)
- Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions (2014)
R.E.M. is the Trope Namer for:
- The End of the World as We Know It: Not the origin of the phrase, but certainly the most well-known by far.
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: See above.
Oh no, I've troped too much, I haven't troped enough:
- Album Title Drop:
- The title to the EP Chronic Town is found in the song "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)".
- The same happens with "Circus Envy" on Monster.
- Stipe wonders "Have I missed the big reveal?" from Reveal's "I've Been High".
- Also, "Begin the Begin" from Lifes Rich Pageant comes very close to doing so, mentioning "Life's rich demands." No pageants, though.
- Collapse into Now gets its title drop amidst all of Stipe's mumblings in the closing track, "Blue".
- Around the Sun and Accelerate both have an actual title track.
- Up: Numerous occasions.
- Alliterative Name: Apart from Mike Mills and Bill Berry, this mainly applies to song titles:
- "Sitting Still" and "We Walk" from Murmur.
- "Pretty Persuasion" from Reckoning.
- "Begin the Begin" from Lifes Rich Pageant.
- "Bang and Blame" from Monster.
- "Supernatural Superserious" from Accelerate.
- "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter" from Collapse into Now.
- Alternative Rock: One of the Trope Makers.
- An Aesop: The message of "Everybody Hurts" is "Don't kill yourself."
- Anti-Love Song: "The One I Love". Many people take it as a straightforward love song, despite the aggressive music and such decidedly non-romantic sentiments as "A simple prop to occupy my time."note
- Not to mention "I'll Take the Rain".
- Arc Words: Water, rain, and ocean recur on Reckoning (marked "file under water") and fire and lightning recur on Document (marked "file under fire"). Parodied with Eponymous, which is marked "file under grain," seemingly for no reason other than to reference the cover photograph (depicting a field of... grain).
- Fans have noted that Monster features a lot of use of the words 'Clown' and 'Cartoon'.
- Artifact Title:
- "Texarkana" from Out of Time. The name was in the original set of lyrics Stipe wrote for the song before he tossed them and let Mike Mills write his own (Mills ended up singing lead vocals on the song as a result), also rendering the title a non-appearing one.
- Similarly, "The Lifting" from Reveal had the lyric "You said you'd found the lifting" replaced by "You said the air was singing" in the transition from demo to album.
- Audience Participation Song: "The One I Love", "Man on the Moon", "Everybody Hurts", "Drive", and "Losing My Religion" all qualify.
- The audience supplies the shouts of "Get up! Get up!" during live performances of "Get Up."
- A Wild Rapper Appears:
- KRS-One on "Radio Song".
- Q-Tip on "The Outsiders".
- Big Applesauce: "Leaving New York", kind of. Michael Stipe considers New York his "adopted hometown".
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: Bill Berry sports an impressive pair; they made the cover of Lifes Rich Pageant, all by themselves.
- Book Ends: "Monty Got A Raw Deal" begins and ends with the line "Monty, this seems strange to me".
- Collapse into Now ends with a reprise of its opening song, "Discoverer".
- Call to Agriculture: Bill Berry quit the band to become a farmer.
- Call-Back: In "Houston", Stipe sings "If the storm doesn't kill me, the government will." One album later, in the sequel song "Oh My Heart", Stipe sings, "The storm didn't kill me. The government changed."
- Canon Discontinuity: While they still play material from the two albums live, Peter Buck has allegedly disowned both Fables of the Reconstruction and Around the Sun. Well, maybe not disowned Fables, just admitted to being disappointed in it. The band have reevaluated it in recent years, most notably for its deluxe edition. It's more of a case of "good songs but we killed them in the studio".
- Also, it's probably a good idea not to bring up "Shiny Happy People" around Michael Stipe.
- Censor Box: The video for "Pop Song 89" has Michael Stipe and a few female dancers. All are topless... and all have bars covering their nipples.
- Censored Title: "Star Me Kitten". The song actually says "Fuck Me Kitten", which was in fact its second titlenote , before Meg Ryan (who was filming Sleepless in Seattle in... well, Seattle, where the band recorded part of Automatic for the People) convinced Stipe to change it, saying that where she'd grown up, if such a Precision F-Strike appeared on any album, it wouldn't have been put on shelves (or at least would've gotten a "Parental Advisory" label).
- Christmas Episode: Taking after The Beatles, the band released exclusive singles to members of their fan club around Christmastime every year from 1988 to 2011.
- Michael Stipe. His shyness and odd sense of humor are quite clear to anyone who watches an early interview.
- Bill Berry was implied to be this in the early years, mainly because of his monobrow.
- Color Motif: The band was quite associated with the color yellow. Dead Letter Office, Eponymous, Green, Out of Time, Reveal and Collapse into Now used it dominantly on the cover, and Automatic for the People had a yellow CD tray on early pressings. Murmur was even reissued with a yellow logo instead of a blue one (which was the one widely available in the UK for years). Also, the videos This Film Is On, Tourfilm, Parallel, Road Movie used yellow dominantly often for the logo, as did the live album Live at the Olympia.
- Comically Missing the Point: Many listeners mistakenly perceived "The One I Love" to be a silly love song when it first came out, which most likely contributed to it being such a big hit (Epic Riff aside).
- Concept Album: Loosely; several of the songs on Automatic for the People are about death in some way or another.
- Continuity Nod: "Sing for the Submarine", off Accelerate, name-checks "Feeling Gravitys Pull", "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," and Around the Sun's "Electron Blue" and "High-Speed Train".
- Corpsing: In "Voice of Harold", Stipe stifles his laughter after reading the line "J. Elmo Fagg", for obvious reasons.
- Cover Version: Several.
- Only two covers ever made it into their official studio discography: A cover of "Superman" by sixties garage rock band The Clique, which barely survived becoming a B-side to end up as the last song on Lifes Rich Pageant, and Wire's "Strange" on Document. Both are (arguably) examples of Covered Up.
- Covers were more frequent in live performances and on their B Sides, the latter being collected on their 1987 album Dead Letter Office: "Crazy" by Pylon, "Toys in the Attic" by Aerosmith, "Pale Blue Eyes", "Femme Fatale" and "There She Goes Again" by Velvet Underground, and a drunkenly-recorded version of "King of the Road" by Roger Miller.
- B-side covers released after Dead Letter Office included "First We Take Manhattan" by Leonard Cohen (used for both the I'm Your Fan tribute album and as a B-side to "Drive"), "Dark Globe" by Syd Barrett, and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". The band also recorded a cover of "Number 9 Dream" for a John Lennon tribute album with Bill Berry temporarily back in the fold. The Troggs' "Love Is All Around" was a B-side on 1991's "Radio Song" single, and they also played it during their appearance at MTV's Unplugged series that same year; that version thus appeared on the album taken from that session in 2014.
- Crawl: Used in the video for "Bad Day".
- Darker and Edgier: Fables of the Reconstruction, Automatic for the People, Monster, Accelerate.
- Deadpan Snarker: The other three have/had their moments (especially Bill Berry), but Peter Buck takes the cake.
- The Deep South: They avoided the stereotypes associated with this, in that they were and are a bunch of urbane, well-educated liberals, but it was nevertheless foisted on them in their early career, especially by the UK music press, which threw around phrases like "the glory and mystery of the Deep South" in articles about the band. They were, however, quietly proud of being from where they're from.note
- Driven to Suicide: "Try Not To Breathe" may or may not be about this.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: While it's often averted, subverted, inverted, or downright ignored, Murmur could've hardly been a more apt title given Stipe's infamous vocal performances.
- Accelerate is a much faster and aggressive album than its predecessor Around the Sun.
- Collapse into Now hints at their impending breakup.
- Accelerate is a much faster and aggressive album than its predecessor Around the Sun.
- Expy: Subverted with "Photograph". It sounds to most listeners like Natalie Merchant is an expy for Kate Pierson due to her similar vocal style, but she actually co-wrote the song.
- "Photograph" was started in the Automatic For The People sessions but they could never come up with a way to finish it. Stipe got bored of the song. They pulled it out of the vaults for a rape prevention charity album, and asked Natalie to finish off the lyrics. She ended up co-singing it as well, and it became a little known classic that could have been a hit.
- Everyone Went to School Together: The band members met as students of the University of Georgia in Athens.
- Falling Bass: "Gardening At Night", diatonic version in the intro and coda and a Mixolydian variant of it in the verse.
- Foreshadowing: Collapse into Now, their last album, depicts the band on its cover waving. They also refused to tour for it.
- Fun with Acronyms: R.E.M. is the acronym for "Rapid Eye Movement", a phase of sleep; the band sometimes refers to it being "Rapid Ear Movement". The band have also mentioned that it's not intended to stand for anything and just pulled it out of a dictionary at random.
- News anchor Dan Rather dubbed them "Rather's Emotional Minstrels" upon the release of Monster. That album features the song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" which was taken from an incident when Rather was attacked by a man who kept asking "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Right before the last chorus of "Ignoreland", Michael is singing "I'm just profoundly frustrated by all this, so fuck you, man!" and in the instrumental transition towards the chorus is also heard mumbling "fuck 'em!". It's nowhere near as indecipherable as some of their more famous examples, but the processed vocals still can make it easy to go through the song and miss it.
- A similar example occurs in "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?", where the album's combination of heavy guitar distortion and Michael's vocals being somewhat buried in the mix and difficult to decipher has resulted in people not noticing the final line is "I never understood, don't fuck with me, aaah-haaaa".
- In a different vein, "Daysleeper"'s line, "The bull and the bear are marking their territories."
- Gratuitous Panning: The main guitar line of "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" is panned entirely to one side. There's also a weird, mechanical, tribal percussion part in "Monty Got a Raw Deal" panned entirely to one side. It's only really audible if you're listening carefully, though.
- Hidden Track: "Eleventh Untitled Song" from Green. It's only ever even referred to on the CD, as the unnamed "11.", which it is officially copyrighted under.
- To a lesser extent, Murmur, Reckoning and Monster each have a small instrumental tune play in between certain songs (after "Shaking Through" on Murmur, just before "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" and after "Little America" on Reckoning, and after "Bang and Blame" on Monster).
- The CD version of New Adventures in Hi-Fi includes a short instrumental in the pre-gap before "Leave" - it's just a minute of the verse riff for "Leave" itself played at a slower tempo and re-arranged for acoustic guitar and keyboard though, so it's really an introduction to "Leave" rather than it's own song. Digital versions of the album don't separate the intro from the rest of the song.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: Good luck understanding a word Michael's saying on Murmur!
Callmewhenytrytawake her up!
- Or anything pre-Fables, for that matter.
- The chorus to "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" since Stipe manages to compress the entire sentence into one second.
- "Star 69." "...something something... I know you called, Star 69!"
- "Underneath the Bunker" and the chorus of "Orange Crush", as they are both sung through a megaphone.
- Incoming Ham: After a series of increasingly bland (though occasionally brilliant) albums after Bill Berry left, the band let everyone know they were back by opening Accelerate with "Living Well is the Best Revenge", one of the most epically hammy rockers of their career.It's only when your poison spins into the life you'd hoped to liveThat suddenly you wake up in a shaking panic... WOOOOOOOOWWWW!
- Intercourse with You: "Strange Currencies," "Tongue," "Crush with Eyeliner..." Yeah, a lot of Monster is like this.
FuckStar Me Kitten" from Automatic For The People.
- The Invisible Band: Many early video examples, such as "Fall On Me", "Pretty Persuasion", "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" and "Orange Crush".
- Also right at the end: The video for "Blue" has Lindsey Lohan, but not the band members.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: "Drive."
- Irony: With Bill. The band were understandably burnt out by the long Green tour, and didn't perform for almost three years. Bill told the others that he wanted to be in a rock band that toured, and threatened to quit if their next record didn't have a tour. Then when they were touring for Monster, he collapsed onstage from a ruptured brain aneurysm. As luck would have it, the city where they were performing was home to a prominent Swedish neurosurgeon who saved Berry's life.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: The opening lines from "New Test Leper" would seem to fit: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?
- Voice Of Harold's lyrics are the liner notes from a gospel LP called "The Joy Of Knowing Jesus", so naturally they fit this as well.
- "Just Joking" Justification: From "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite": "tell her she can kiss my ass, then laugh and say that you were only kidding, that way she'll know that it's really really really really me, me."
- Lampshade Hanging: The final verse of the anti-Reagan Protest Song "Ignoreland" includes the lines "I know that this is vitriol, no solution, spleen-venting/But I feel better having screamed, don't you?"
- Lead Bassist: Mike Mills' bass playing is very melodic and especially prominent on the band's early recordings. As R.E.M was heavily democratic, he also contributed a lot of songwriting.
- Lighter and Softer: "Shiny Happy People" — it's worth noting the instrumental backing was originally written with a darker theme in mind. Around the Sun album-wise, if not necessarily the subject matter.
- Even Reckoning is this, it is much more jangly and upbeat than its predecessor Murmur, with only a couple of tracks that break from that format ("Time After Time" and "Camera").
- Lyrics-wise Out of Time can be an example of this, as it showed the band's lyrics moving away from the occasional sociopolitical protests ("The Flowers of Guatemala", "Orange Crush", "World Leader Pretend") and Green Aesops ("Cuyahoga", "Fall on Me") that had become more prominent in the late eighties towards more introspective, personal material.
- List Song: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". "Imitation of Life" to a degree.
- "Country Feedback", as well. "Self hurt, plastics, collections. Self help, self pain, EST, psychics, fuck all."
- Lonely Piano Piece: "Perfect Circle".
- Long-Runner Line-up: 17 years with Bill Berry (Type 1) and 13 years without (Type 2).
- Long Title: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" is the most well-known example.
- Collapse into Now gives us "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando, and I", and one sure to cause awkward line-breaking situations on computer screens, "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter".
- Plus Reveal had "All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star)," and then of course there's "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
- "Living Well is the Best Revenge," from Accelerate.
- Loudness War: Monster, In Time, Accelerate, and Collapse into Now seem to be the worst offenders. Monster's distorted mastering was rare in its time, but has sadly become much more common nowadays.
- Lyrical Cold Open: Several examples.
- "Bandwagon", an outtake from Fables that eventually became the B-side to the "Cant Get There from Here" single. Later found on Dead Letter Office.
- "King of Comedy" from Monster.
- "The Wake-Up Bomb" and "New Test Leper" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
- "Parakeet" and the hidden track "I'm Not Over You" from Up.
- "Supernatural Superserious" from Accelerate.
- "We All Go Back to Where We Belong."
- Lyrical Dissonance: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite." It seems like a fun song, but it's actually about dying in your sleep. Or suicide, depending on who you ask.
- "Hollow Man", at least in the chorus and bridge.
- "7 Chinese Bros" sounds like quite a jolly song. Then you find out it is about an affair Michael had, in which he split up a man and a woman and he went out with both of them behind each other's back. It's wrapped in the guise of a Chinese folk tale called the "Five Chinese Brothers" which is also pretty dark and is basically a metaphor for selfishness. So the song essentially is about Michael's guilt at having being part of said affair, despite having a jolly tune.
- "Fretless" (an Out of Time out-take that was featured on the Until the End of the World soundtrack in 1991 and later the In Time rarities disk) is about this as well. "He has got his work and she comes easy, they each come around when the other is gone. Me, I think I got stuck somewhere inbetween..." Not jolly, though.
- For that matter, its demo version Voice Of Harold which parlays the most redundant information from the liner notes to a Gospel LP.
- "Bad Day" is a very happy song, but has quite gritty lyrics. It was probably meant to hearten up people who had bad days.
- Military Brat: Michael Stipe.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Up to around a 4.
- Has been known to go up to 6 on tracks like the stuff from Monster and Revolution from its session. Also, "Departure" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi and several tracks from Accelerate.
- And then there's "Burning Hell" which is quite a riff driven, downtuned rock song that is as close to metal as the band got at the time without being sufficiently distorted.
- Humorously the band describe the early version of "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" as being 'Punk thrash'. If it ever gets released it might be one of their heaviest songs.
- They also recorded an instrumental called "Speed Metal" during the Out of Time sessions, which is decidedly not speed metal.
- "Leaving New York" is a hard 1-borderline 2.
- Mood Whiplash: New Adventures in Hi-Fi opens with the jazz-inspired "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us", a super-mellow, super-somber track with Mike Mills playing a meandering piano solo in the middle. Immediately following this is "The Wake-Up Bomb", a high-octane, fast-paced glam rock track. Immediately following this is the largely-acoustic laid-back Jesus Was Way Cool track "New Test Leper"... let's just say that New Adventures in Hi-Fi is an album rife with these.
- Out Of Time is also full of them, as evidenced by the singles released. The somber mandolin led folk song "Losing My Religion" was the first single, followed up by the upbeat pop-rock song with string interludes and guest vocals from Kate Pierson "Shiny Happy People", then "Radio Song", a funk influenced song which featured a rap. In Europe, "Shiny Happy People" was followed by "Near Wild Heaven", which is also a happy song, but features Mike Mills (their bassist) on lead vocals.
- Never Heard That One Before: They quickly had their fill of people renaming Murmur to Mumble because of Stipe's early vocal stylings.
- New Sound Album: Actually, most of their catalog, but the most drastic departure was the techno-flavored Up, largely as a result of Berry's departure.
- No Title: The final track on Green is untitled (Its registered title with the Library of Congress is "11", from its track number, and some of the lyrics were sent out in a fan club mailing under the title "So Awake Volunteer").
- Non-Appearing Title: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", though it comes close twice.
- "New Test Leper" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, "Texarkana" and "Country Feedback" from Out of Time, "The Lifting" from Reveal and "Good Advices" from Fables also count. "Feeling Gravitys Pull" from the latter album comes close in the chorus.
- "Time After Time (Anneliese)" is a subversion; "Annelise" is never heard in the song, but "Time After Time" is.
- "Binky The Doormat", though the chorus comes slightly close with the lyric "I wore my doormat face". The rest of the title is a Shakes the Clown Shout-Out.
- The Not Remix: The "Mutual Drum Horn Mix" of "Finest Worksong", which differs from the Document version in that the drums are given more prominence in the mix, and a horn section (by the Uptown Horns) has been added. Similarly, there's the "Different Vocal Mix" of "Gardening At Night", featuring an alternate take of Stipe singing the lead vocals. Coincidentally, both appear on Eponymous.
- Nothing Left to Do but Die: "Try Not to Breathe" appears to be written from the perspective of someone in this frame of mind.
- Obsession Song: Word of God says "Losing My Religion" is this.
- Obligatory Bondage Song: "Supernatural Superserious" is an unusually happy and romantic variation on this theme.
- One Steve Limit: Possibly the reason why Michael Mills goes by "Mike". Ironically, Michael Stipe's real first name is John.
- Precision F-Strike: Their lyrics very seldom include profanity, but there are a few cases - aside from the aforementioned "Star Me Kitten", "What's The Frequency, Kenneth", "Ignoreland", and "Horse to Water" all drop the f bomb. "Kenneth" used to slip by on the radio uncensored, presumably due to Indecipherable Lyrics.
- "Bad Day" features the line "save my own ass, screw these guys," which predictably is censored on radio — and video — playings.
- "Bad Day" also features the line "Shit so thick you could stir it with a stick" which is one of the few lines to remain identical in both versions of the song (the first was recorded in 1986 as a demo, the second was recorded in 2003 and released as a single). Naturally the first word is censored on radio.
- The 'fuck all' in "Country Feedback" and it fits the melancholy stream of consciousness perfectly...
- "Departure"'s excited Word Salad Lyrics include "What a fuck-up, what a fighter."
- "Horse to Water" has "Friday night, fuck or fight, a pub crawl."
- "Binky the Doormat" has "Fuck with me and traumatize."
- Protest Song: Lots of these — "Fall on Me", "The Flowers of Guatemala", "Welcome to the Occupation", "Exhuming McCarthy", "Disturbance at the Heron House" (at least according to Word of God), "Orange Crush", "Cuyahoga", most of the albums Around the Sun and Accelerate (particularly "Final Straw" and "Mr. Richards").
- "Ignoreland" was a gigantic Take That! aimed at the Reagan administration.
- The Quiet One: Michael Stipe was painfully shy in the band's early days, so much so that when the band appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, Stipe actually hid behind Peter Buck so Letterman wouldn't talk to him. He's outgrown it almost completely, though.
- Bill Berry as well, though to a considerably lesser extent, at least before his aneurysm.
- Rearrange the Song: The live version of "Try Not to Breathe" is somewhat faster and heavier, sounding more desperate and pained than the already-haunting studio version.
- Another Automatic For The People song that sounded notably different live was "Drive" - the studio version is again haunting and acoustic-based, whereas the live version they played at the time was faster, set to a funk rhythm, and featured distorted guitar. In later performances, they went back to approximating the studio arrangement though.
- Refrain from Assuming:
- Those hearing "Oddfellows Local 151" without knowing its title would think it was called "Firehouse" due to that being the entire chorus — in fact, that was its Working Title.
- Many people thought that "The Great Beyond" was called "I'm Pushing An Elephant Up The Stairs" when released.
- "Mine Smell Like Honey" from Collapse into Now was designed to sound like an 80s REM song, and is quite reminiscent of "These Days" in structure. However, it's pretty obvious that it was recorded later due to the Loudness War mastering.
- On tracks such as "Circus Envy", Stipe's vocals are purposefully mixed low in the mix, like he was on R.E.M.'s early work. Unlike that early work, they are mostly drowned out by extremely loud distorted guitar. This raw sound was later done on "Horse To Water" from Accelerate as well.
- Running Gag: Since the band recorded the song 'Voice Of Harold', the phrase 'A must!' has been used constantly in reference to their work, both by the band and by fans.
- Sequel Song: "Rotary 11" is the sequel to "Rotary 10". There were never Rotarys 1-9, it's just the band's sense of humor.
- "New Orleans Instrumental No. 2" is the sequel to "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1".
- "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" was written as a sequel to "Bad Day" (which was started in the Lifes Rich Pageant sessions in 1986), but "Bad Day" was never released until it was re-recorded for In Time in 2003. This means people often see it the other way round.
- "Ages Of You" is the sequel to "Burning Down". The band had gotten bored of playing "Burning Down", and wrote "Ages Of You" around the parts of "Burning Down" that they liked. However, they ended up liking both songs after all, so decided to record both when it came to the Reckoning sessions. (They wouldn't see the light of day until the UK "Wendell Gee" single and the Dead Letter Office compilation album, however.)
- "Sesame Street" Cred: "Furry Happy Monsters", possibly the band's only usage of "Shiny Happy People" since it was disowned.
- Shout-Out: James Dean, Martin Sheen, and Steve McQueen get name-checked on "Electrolite," and "Man on the Moon" was written in memory of Andy Kaufman (and became so associated with him that... well, see Titled After the Song below).
- The title of Lifes Rich Pageant came from a line of dialogue in Peter Sellers' Pink Panther movie A Shot in the Dark.
- "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" namechecks a whole bunch of people with the initials LB: Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhev, Lester Bangs and Lenny Bruce. This line was inspired by a dream Michael Stipe had where he was attending a party whose guests' names all started with those initials.
- David Essex's "Rock On" is quoted in "Drive".
- "The Wake Up Bomb" off of New Adventures in Hi-Fi tosses out two, one right after the other:
- "Feeling Gravitys Pull" references surrealist photographer Man Ray.
- "Life and How to Live It" references Life: How to Live, a book written by Brivs Mekis, an eccentric author from the band's hometown of Athens, GA. Mekis had many copies of the book printed, but hardly sold any, and when he died, people clearing out his house found a whole closet full of them. Copies of Life: How to Live are a top collectible, not just for R.E.M. fans but for fans of the culture of Athens, GA.
- "Little America" includes the line "Jefferson, I think we're lost" in reference to Jefferson Holt, who at the time was their manager (and bus driver, hence the phrase). Later post-Holt performances of the song changed the line to "Washington, I think we're lost", referencing the band's disillusionment with the government.
- "Exhuming McCarthy" references the late U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, who infamously accused people left and right of being Communist sympathizers, or Communists themselves, during the "Red Scare" of the early 1950s. Included in the studio version of the song is the quote "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?", delivered to McCarthy by then-Army chief counsel Joseph Welch at hearings where McCarthy accused the Army itself of being infiltrated by Communists.
- "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" quotes Richard Linklater. "Richard said, 'Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.'"
- "Pop Song 89" features lyrics inspired by The Doors' "Hello, I Love You".
- "Departure" includes the lyric "Win a eulogy from William Greider", referencing an author and journalist known for writing about economics. Michael Stipe was asked about the line in a Rolling Stone interview note , and admitted he just mentioned the writer because he needed a rhyme with "hang-glider" and "spider".
- "Disturbance at the Heron House" is one to Animal Farm, at least according to Word of God.
- The Something Song: "Radio Song" and "Pop Song 89". Almost qualifying: "Finest Worksong".
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: The Trope Namer is "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".
- It's not unique in their discography. Stipe's slurred vocals were one of the band's trademarks in the early years. "Sitting Still" from Murmur is one case in point.
- Spoken Word in Music: Several examples.
- "Voice of Harold" has Stipe listing the address of the United Music World Recording Studios, Inc., among other items.
- "Belong" from Out of Time, "Chance" from the Automatic for the People sessions and Departure from "New Adventures In Hi Fi" consist of Stipe reading song lyrics to the music track.
- "Blue" from Collapse into Now features a distorted Stipe reading a poem while Patti Smith sings sporadically.
- In his only vocal appearance on an R.E.M. recording, Peter Buck spoke a verse of Roky Erickson's "I Walked With A Zombie" for a tribute album.
- Stealth Pun: Lifes Rich Pageant has a collage of Bill Berry and some bison as the cover, as a Visual Pun on Buffalo Bill.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Mike Mills sings lead on their cover of the Clique's "Superman" from Lifes Rich Pageant (because Stipe disliked the cover too much and only did backing vocals), as well as "Near Wild Heaven" and "Texarkana" from Out of Time. In concert, Mills also performed lead vocals on more recent performances of "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville".
- Peter Buck never sang at all on an R.E.M. record, except for their cover version of "I Walked With A Zombie" on the Roky Erickson tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, in which every member took the lead vocal for a verse. (The song is just the same verse over and over again.) Even then, Buck didn't sing: he spoke the lyrics.
- Straight Gay / Bi the Way - Michael Stipe, who's referred to himself as an "equal opportunity lech" — he's slept with both men and women. He manages to fit in the occasional hint- "7 Chinese Bros." features the line "This mellow, sweet short haired boy, woman offers 'pull up a seat'"
- Take That!:
- Many of their songs are this against the government, with the Reagan and Bush (Jr.) administrations the biggest targets. "Mr. Richards" is a particular one to then-vice president Dick Cheney.
- One of the possible alternative titles for Document was Last Train to Disneyland, suggested by Peter Buck, who had claimed in an interview that during Ronald Reagan's presidency, America for him was beginning to feel a lot like said amusement park.
- As Stipe noted in the liner notes for Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage, an unnamed person whom Stipe had long admired ended up firing one of these at R.E.M. themselves, and an incensed Stipe wrote "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" as his response.
- Talk About the Weather: The chorus of "Pop Song 89" asks "Should we talk about the weather?/Should we talk about the government?". The song itself is a mockery of pop music's banality, and its verses similarly throw jabs at pop music clichés (Love at First Sight, Silly Love Songs) in the band's typical Word Salad Lyrics manner.
- "So. Central Rain" mentions rain and "Fall On Me" is supposedly about acid rain.
- "Find The River" is most hardcore fans' favorite REM song for this reason. The song seems to be the last words of a dying person who is at peace with their life and is telling their relatives not to worry. The music fits this, not being sad but being wistful and bittersweet. Essentially then the song is relaxing with a hint of melancholy, but is a tearjerker because it's so beautiful.
- The music video for "Bad Day" features a news cast covering severe weather, not only outside, but in a senator's office and an apartment or two.
- Titled After the Song: "Man on the Moon" not only became the title of, and was used in, an Andy Kaufman Biopic, but R.E.M. provided the movie's instrumental underscore and a new song, "The Great Beyond".
- Title-Only Chorus: "Catapult", "Low", "Talk About The Passion", "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Shaking Through" from Murmur and "Stand" from Green. The latter features two.
- "Exhuming McCarthy" from Document does this regularly, having different keys for the verses, choruses, and bridge.
- Uncommon Time: The chorus of "Wanderlust" alternates between 7/4 and 4/4. "Sad Professor" also has an unconventional time signature.
- The Unintelligible: Michael Stipe was this in the band's early years; from 1981 to 1983 it was frequently impossible to tell what he was singing and, even when it was possible to tell what the words were, it was usually impossible to tell what he was singing about. (In 1985, a UK pop magazine reviewing the year's releases commented "Michael Stipe's nonsense lyrics continue to puzzle the gullible.") Amusingly lampshaded by Eddie Vedder when he inducted the band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Star Me Kitten"
- But NOT "Star 69".
- Vocal Tag Team: Mostly between Michael Stipe and Mike Mills. Some of the more straight examples include instances between Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Kate Pierson in the chorus of "Shiny Happy People", Stipe and Mills in one brief instance on "Mine Smell Like Honey," and Stipe and Peaches on "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter." Stipe's "duet" with Patti Smith on "Blue" could also possibly qualify.
- Word Puree Title: The band's name doesn't stand for "Rapid Eye Movement", which is usually pronounced "REM" rather than "R-E-M". It wasn't meant to actually stand for anything - they stayed up late writing names on a blackboard and eventually started running through a dictionary, picking out words at random.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Chronic Town and Murmur especially, but just about every album has an example of this.Peter Buck: (on the song "Orange Crush") I must have played this song like 3000 times in concert and after all this time I still have no idea what the fuck it's about.note
- Perhaps the band's most notable aversion of this trope is "Everybody Hurts," as Stipe had aimed its lyrical content at teenagers. "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville", which (because it?) wasn't written by Stipe, also serves: it's Mike Mills asking his then-girlfriend to not return to her parents' house in Maryland.
- You Are Not Alone: "Everybody Hurts."So if you feel like you're alone... No. No. No. You are not alone.
- You Make Me Sic: The band have often stated being against using apostrophes in their titles. Most notable are "Feeling Gravitys Pull" and "Cant Get There from Here" from Fables, and the album title Lifes Rich Pageant.
So hold on. Hold on...