5 Must-Hear Deep Cuts by R.E.M.

R.E.M. is America’s greatest rock band. In case the back of the room missed it, R.E.M. is America’s greatest rock band.

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On June 13, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry reunited in New York to perform “Losing My Religion” at the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was the first time the four original members of R.E.M. performed together since their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2007.

Stipe put it this way, “We are R.E.M. and this is what we did.” Enough said.

Between 1983 and 2011, R.E.M. released 15 studio albums. The group’s deep cuts would be a greatest-hits collection for lesser bands. So, below are a few deep-cut highlights from a thrifty band from Athens, Georgia, who made giant noises.

They call me the apologist.

“Fall on Me” from Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)

Berry said “Fall on Me” is about acid rain, yet Stipe told journalist David Fricke it’s really about oppression. One could argue that acid rain is a kind of oppression. Abstraction was often Stipe’s writing tool and the feeling, reaction, and counterreaction to navigating the world outweighed the plot. Plot as a verb is an intention. The goal. But life happens unpredictably and surviving the difficult moments requires the improv rigidity doesn’t allow. “Fall on Me” shows Stipe’s instinct for devastatingly heartrending hooks. And Mills’ supportive voice is like a Brian Wilson transmission from another dimension. Also, the track references the law of falling bodies if you’d like to google some science.

There’s a problem, feathers, iron
Bargain buildings, weights, and pulleys
Feathers hit the ground before the weight can leave the air

Buy the sky and sell the sky
And tell the sky, and tell the sky

Don’t fall on me

“These Days” from Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)

R.E.M. could be as ferocious as The Replacements. Also, look at the album title for punk rock grammar—who needs an apostrophe? Buck, Berry, and Mills were as powerful as any three-piece. The band-in-a-room sound of “These Days” is missed in an era of computer recording and its endless tweaking and cleansing of supposed imperfections.

Now I’m not feeding off you
I will rearrange your scales
If I can, and I can
March into the ocean, march into the sea, had a hat
I put it down and it sunk, reached down
Yanked it up, slapped it on my head

“Star 69” from Monster (1994)

There used to be this thing called “last-call return,” where one could dial *69 on a landline and reach the last person who called you. R.E.M. cranked the volume on Monster and Buck replaced his shimmering arpeggios with blown-speaker distortion. “Star 69” is the sound of Stipe angry and uttering this fantastic tabloid-heavy line: This seems like some dork Inside Edition, Hard Copy.

You don’t have to take the bar exam to see
What you did is ignoramus 103
What’ve I got to hang my hat on?
You don’t have a pot to pee in
All this just to be your friend
I was there until the end
Extortion and arson, petty larceny

“Walk Unafraid” from Up (1998)

This is R.E.M.’s first album without drummer Bill Berry, who left in 1997 after collapsing onstage from a cerebral aneurysm two years earlier. Buck had been experimenting with drum machines and vintage synths even before the band adjusted to Berry’s departure. The glitchy electronica was further embellished by Nigel Godrich’s mix. “Walk Unafraid” is one of Stipe’s finest choruses. It’s the light peeking through layers of cold and lonely despair.

As the sun comes up, as the moon goes down
These heavy notions creep around
It makes me think, long ago
I was brought into this life a little lamb, a little lamb
Courageous, stumbling
Fearless was my middle name

“Exhuming McCarthy” from Document (1987)

Here, Stipe connects Joe McCarthy’s communist paranoia to America’s late-’80s chauvinism. “Exhuming McCarthy” begins with R.E.M.’s signature jangle before an abrupt scene change where Mills sings about the sign of the times and Buck bends surf licks through deep reverb that Anton Newcombe would appreciate.

Enemy sighted, enemy met
I’m addressing the realpolitik

Look who bought the myth
By jingo, buy America

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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