"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 of R.E.M.
I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract
Explain the change, the difference between
What you want and what you need
There's the key
I, I believe
— "I Believe"
R.E.M. were an Alternative Rock band from Athens, Georgia, the same city from where The B-52s came a few years before. They were 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 drew to a close, 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.1991's Out of Time and 1992's Automatic for the People turned the group into one of the most popular bands of the early '90s, featuring no less than seven hit singles ("Shiny Happy People," the megahit/Signature Song "Losing My Religion," "Man on the Moon," "Everybody Hurts," "Nightswimming," "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite," and "Drive") between them. However, many older fans detested the band's movement towards a more mainstream sound. The two albums are dominated by keyboards and strings, which very rarely appeared on their earlier albums. Perhaps as a result of this, they released the grunge-glam hybrid Monster. It was touted as the band's "Return to rock," but despite the success and acclaim of first single "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", and album sales almost rivaling Automatic, many felt that R.E.M. were just past their peak at that moment.Subsequent releases never had anywhere near the same staying power as the first five albums, and the band were 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 albums - Murmur,Reckoning,Fables of the Reconstruction,Lifes Rich Pageant, and Document, as well as Automatic for the People, are still considered among the best albums ever, though, 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, the band was a purely democratic entity. They never did anything unless all members agreed on it unanimously, and every member contributed something to the songwriting.Just when they had begun to return to form, 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.The band:
Michael Stipe: Vocals (1980-2011)
Peter Buck: Guitar, mandolin (1980-2011)
Mike Mills: Bass, backing vocals, keyboards (1980-2011)
Bill Berry: Drums (1980-1997)
Chronic Town EP (1982)
Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
Out of Time (1991)
Automatic for the People (1992)
New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
Around the Sun (2004)
Collapse Into Now (2011)
Dead Letter Office rarities compilation (1987)
Eponymous best-of compilation (1988)
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)
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."
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).
The audience supplies the shouts of "Get up! Get up!" during live performances of, well, "Get Up."
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: The song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" was named after the phrase that an attacker of news anchor Dan Rather repeatedly screamed while attacking him. However, what the attacker (later identified to be William Tager, who thought that the media were beaming signals into his mind and that if he could find the right frequency he could block the signals) actually said was "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" according to Dan Rather himself.
Big Apple Sauce: "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 Life's Rich Pageant, all by themselves.
Black Sheep Hit: See the note on Creator Backlash and "Shiny Happy People" below.
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".
Canon Discontinuity: While they still play material from the two albums live, Peter Buck has disowned both Fables of the Reconstruction and Around the Sun. Also, it's probably a good idea not to bring up "Shiny Happy People" around Michael Stipe.
He hasn't disowned Fables, he was just disappointed in it. He's reevaluated it in recent years, most notably for its deluxe edition. However the whole band disowns Around the Sun.
They haven't as they've spoken kindly of it in later interviews and enjoy playing songs from it live. It's more of a case of "good songs but we killed them in the studio".
Censor Bar: 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".
"(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" almost qualifies, were it not for "and waste another year".
"The One I Love" is an inversion: more people know the verses ("This one goes out to the one I love...") instead of the chorus (Michael Stipe holding the word "fire" for an entire bar while Mike Mills sings "She's comin' down on her own" repeatedly in the background).
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.
Cover Version: Only two covers that ever made it onto an R.E.M. studio album, namely a cover of "Superman" by sixties garage rock band The Clique, which became the last song on Lifes Rich Pageant, and Wire's "Strange" on Document. Covers were more frequent on their B Sides and on the compilation Dead Letter Office, and these included: "Toys in the Attic" by Aerosmith, "Pale Blue Eyes", "Femme Fatale" and "There She Goes" by Velvet Underground, "King of the Road" by Roger Miller, "First We Take Manhattan" by Leonard Cohen (used for both the I'm Your Fan tribute album and as a B-side to "Drive") and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
Creator Backlash: The band hates "Shiny Happy People" (especially Stipe) and refuses to play it in concerts. They originally refused to add it to compilation albums. Though the song was announced to be apart of the tracklist of their career-spanning greatest hits release, Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011, most likely being the "Part Garbage" mentioned in the title.
Though in the booklet that accompanied Part Lies..., Peter Buck mentions that, despite how much the other members regret the song, as well as how dumb and silly he thinks the song is, he has come to appreciate it. Just below Buck's comment, Stipe mentions that despite his feelings about the song, he does realize that the fans do enjoy it which ultimately led to him finally including it in a compilation album.
They also have a similar opinion of their album Around the Sun.
Creator Breakdown: Fables of the Reconstruction and Up were recorded on two separate occasions that the band was on the verge of breaking up — the former because of intolerable conditions in Britain general in 1985; the latter because of the fallout from Bill Berry's retirement.
Around The Sun was this also, the band were depressed about 9/11, the Iraq War, and exhausted from touring, and almost broke up then. Their utter boredom is evident in most of the songs. However, they were so disappointed in Around The Sun that they did not want it to be their last album, so wanted to return to their rock roots.
Darker and Edgier: Fables of the Reconstruction, Automatic for the People, Accelerate.
Development Hell: "Just A Touch", the first song the band ever wrote, turned up on their fourth album.
"Romance" was written and performed before the band's first album and recorded for it but would not be released until the Made In Heaven soundtrack in 1987.
"All The Right Friends" was one of the band's earliest songs and was performed as early as 1980 and recorded in 1983 for their first album, but would not be released until 1993 when it appeared as a bonus track on the CD version of Dead Letter Office. However, the band rerecorded it in 2001 due to the producer of Vanilla Sky wanting an old style R.E.M. track and the band having revisited it live around that time. So the old version was remastered a few years later.
"Pretty Persuasion" and "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" both originate from 1980 but would not appear on an album until their second in 1984.
"Get On Their Way" (AKA "What If We Give It Away?") was performed in 1981 but would not appear on an album until their fourth in 1986.
The fantitled "Ha (We Still Get Paid For It)" from 1981 would not be developed until a full song until part of it turned into "Burning Hell" in 1984 and the other half formed the basis for "Oddfellows Local 151" in 1987.
"Hyaena" was recorded for the band's second and third albums but wasn't released till it appeared on their fourth.
"When We Were Young" (aka "Throw Those Trolls Away") was recorded for the band's third album, and the title was even written on the inner sleeve. It was performed live around the time. The band decided not to include it at the last minute. It was reworked into "I Believe" which was recorded for their fourth album.
The band's cover of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was recorded in studio 10 years after they had started performing it live.
"Bad Day", which was recorded in 1986 but not released because Michael Stipe thought it was too personal.(Instead they wrote "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" around it.) They eventually rerecorded it in 2003 and only after that was the original version released.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
Kate Pierson performed the back up vocals for "Shiny Happy People" and "Me In Honey."
Q-Tip performs a rap at the end of "The Outsiders."
On Collapse Into Now, Peaches shares lead vocals on "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter", Patti Smith sings on "Blue" and "Discoverer", Eddie Vedder and Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras harmonize on "It Happened Today".
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).
"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 live
That 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.
"Fuck Star 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.
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.
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?"
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."
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 since become more common.
Lyrical Cold Open: "King of Comedy" from Monster, "The Wake-Up Bomb" and "New Test Leper" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and "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.
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.
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.
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.
"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 conciousness perfectly...
"Horse to Water" has "Friday night, fuck or fight, a pub crawl."
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.
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.
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:
"Get drunk and sing along to Queen Practice my T. Rex moves and make the scene"
"Voice of Harold" has Stipe listing the address of the United Music World Recording Studios, Inc., among other items.
"Belong" from Out of Time and "Chance" from the Automatic for the People sessions 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.
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".
"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 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.
Titled After The Song: "Man on the Moon" not only became the title of, and was used in, an Andy KaufmanBiopic, 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)".
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.
What Could Have Been: The release of In Time delayed the band's work on Around The Sun, and by the time they got round to recording it they were burned out, plus they had contributed two of the best tracks to the compilation. Had it not been for this, the album might have been better, though it's not as though the compilation was a waste of time.
A line in "Welcome to the Occupation", off Document, originally read "Hang your freedom fighters." Stipe had intended for it to have a double meaning — "hang" as in "lynch" and "hang" as in "frame on a wall like a picture" — but the Unfortunate Implications were present enough that Bill Berry requested it be changed (the line in the finished product reads "Hang your freedom higher").
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 intended 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.*
Michael Stipe has always said that the song is about the US military's use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Perhaps the band's most notable aversion of this trope is "Everybody Hurts," as Stipe had aimed its lyrical content at teenagers.