Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2019

Top 5 R.E.M. Albums

Top 5 R.E.M. Albums
R.E.M.

In 1976, Saturday Night Live’s producer, Lorne Michaels, made a plea to The Beatles:

The National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer you this check to be on our show . . . a certified check for $3,000. (Holds up check.) Here it is, right here. A check made out to you, the Beatles, for $3,000. All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs. ”She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” That’s $1,000 right there. You know the words—it’ll be easy. ”Like I said, this is made out to the Beatles—you divide it up any way you want. If you want to give less to Ringo, that’s up to you—I’d rather not get involved. . . . You have agents—you know where I can be reached. Just think about it, okay? Thank you.

Riffraf would like to make a similar plea to another influential band—R.E.M. And we can do so much better than Lorne Michaels’s $3,000. We’re prepared to go as high as $4,000 for an R.E.M. reunion. Here it goes . . .

Dear R.E.M.,

We know that it’s only been six months since your retirement, but we really miss you guys. Yeah, you haven’t made a really good album since New Adventures in Hi-Fi, but that doesn’t matter to us. This world needs great bands, and we just hate to see the great ones go away so gracefully. Couldn’t you just milk it for another thirty one years? You’re still relatively young men. What do you say?

When you do reunite, there are two stipulations you must adhere to. One, drummer Bill Berry must rejoin the group. When he departed, the little band from Athens, Georgia, just wasn’t the same; it was as if Mr. Berry not only packed up his drum kit and moved out but brought the band’s lifeline with him.

And yes, the other three members are immensely talented—Michael, nobody sings like you. You broke the mold. Mike, you’re the most underrated bass player of all-time. You’re the band’s musical chameleon. Peter, your jangly Rickenbacker guitar is part Roger McGuinn and part Johnny Marr, simple and melodic. You didn’t have to rip through solos in order to prove that you can rock, and we respect that—but once you lost your backbeat things were never quite the same.

The other caveat is that the $4,000 must be divided evenly among all four original members. The same way all four members shared the songwriting credit—Berry, Buck, Mills & Stipe—so will each musician receive equal share, $1,000 each. R.E.M. was truly a band, in every sense of the word. Four equal parts of one great whole: Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe.

Sincerely yours,

Riffraf

While we wait for R.E.M.’s manager to call, we’ll just have to play their records. Here are our top five R.E.M. albums.

(I’m curious to know what albums are in your top five, so drop me a comment.)


Album: Out of Time

Year: 1991

Highlights: “Losing My Religion,” “Me in Honey,” “Half A World Away,” “Texarkana”

R.E.M.’s seventh album is so good, so eclectic, that you can even forgive them for the insipid “Shiny Happy People.” With Out of Time, R.E.M. went from cult band to international stars. Even with their new status as one of the biggest bands in the world, rivaling U2 at the time, they showed us that you can hold onto your artistic integrity and not have to sell your soul in order to be a part of the mainstream.

Album: Document

Year: 1987

Highlights: “Finest Worksong,” “The One I Love,” “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”

I could have gone with Green, but Document was the first R.E.M. album that I ever bought, so there is a bit of nostalgia here (I’ll admit). Document has provocative song titles to accompany their respective songs—“Exhuming McCarthy” and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” Document also contains a lyric that had me wrapped the first time I heard it and it has never let me go: “Another prop to occupy my time / This one goes out to the one I love.” Rolling Stone included the album on their list of the 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s (#41), and also ranked it #470 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time.

Album: Fables of the Reconstruction

Year: 1985

Highlights: “Feeling Gravity’s Pull,” “Driver 8,” “Can’t Get There From Here, Maps & Legends”

Life’s Rich Pageant is certainly an alternative, but Fables of the Reconstruction contains one of my all-time favorite R.E.M. tunes: ”Driver 8.” By the time R.E.M. released Fables of the Reconstruction, they were the darlings of college radio. Spin magazine’s Charles Aaron wrote that by 1985

They’d shown how far an underground, punk-inspired rock band could go within the industry without whoring out its artistic integrity in any obvious way. They’d figured out how to buy in, not sellout-in other words, they’d achieved the American Bohemian Dream.

Album: Automatic for the People

Year: 1992

Highlights: “Nightswimming,” “Sweetness Follows,” “Man on the Moon,” “Everybody Hurts”

In a recent installment of “Landmark Albums,” Riffraf made the claim that Radiohead’s OK Computer was the best record of the ’90s, but R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People isn’t far behind. R.E.M. biographer David Buckley wrote, “Automatic for the People is regarded by Peter Buck and Mike Mills, and by most critics, as being the finest R.E.M. album ever recorded.”

Meanwhile, Ann Powers of the New York Times wrote,

Even in the midst of such disenchantment, R.E.M. can’t resist its own talent for creating beautiful and moving sounds. [ . . . ] Buck, Mills and Berry can still conjure melodies that fall like summer sunlight. And Stipe still possesses a gorgeous voice that cannot shake its own gift for meaning.

Album: Murmur

Year: 1983

Highlights: “Radio Free Europe,” “Catapult,” “Pilgrimage,” “Talk About the Passion, Perfect Circle”

It’s the album that started it all. It’s the album that spawned college rock that would eventually morph into alternative. It was Rolling Stone’s Best Album of 1983, beating out Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Police’s Synchronicity and U2’s War.

Murmur established a new playing field for other bands to play on: Sonic Youth, The Replacements, Nirvana, Pavement and Live have all been inspired by R.E.M. Kurt Cobain, who was a devoted follower of R.E.M., told Rolling Stone, “I don’t know how that band does what they do. God, they’re the greatest. They’ve dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music.”

They have also dealt with their retirement like “saints,” but we hope to lure them back into the sinful game. $4,000 fellas. It’s all yours for the taking.