80’s Music: REM

The greatest band in American rock history.  Sure the Beach Boys and CCR had amazing runs of original music, but no American band has put together the nearly 3 decade resume that REM has.  Their first 6 albums were in the 80’s and only U2 is in the same ballpark during the decade.  Their first single was Radio Free Europe and it is the song I think of most when I think of College radio during my days at the University of Iowa.  Re-recorded for it’s magnificent debut record, Radio Free Europe, Talk about the Passion, and Moral Kiosk were the 3 I’ve picked, but the whole record is worthy.

OK, Michael Stipe’s early vocal style made the lyrics hard to decipher, but this was part of what made the band’s first couple records so great, as his voice was another instrument.  The jangly, Byrds-like guitars and great rhythm section…It all works perfectly.  Reckoning is almost as great as Murmur and is a perfect bookend to it.  So. Central Rain is their greatest ballad of the 80’s, while Pretty Persuasion and Don’t Go Back to Rockville feature the same great harmonies.

A lot of hipsters then and now feel that REM was never as good as their first 2 records. That’s a load.  Fables of the Reconstruction had a more commercial sound, but not to the point that it still didn’t feature challenging music.  Even though it was their weakest record of the decade, Fables is still a B+, with great songs like Can’t Get There From Here, Maps and Legends, and a cool acoustic version of Driver 8.

REM’s most underrated record followed, Life’s Rich Pageant.  A complete record with great production by Don Gehman who had done John Mellencamp’s great records at the time.  Begin the Begin is the band’s hardest rock song and here is a live duet of it with Eddie Vedder.  Also, Fall on Me and Superman.

I think Document is another B+ record, which is great for most bands, but a little below average for REM.  Here is Finest Worksong, Exhuming McCarthy, and their first top 10 hit, The One I Love.

Their final album of the 80’s, Green, was their most commercial.  Lots of great singles, though I think the cohesiveness of the record is impacted by it.  Orange Crush, Pop Song 89 (Stipe looks Iggy Pop) and Get Up rock out, while World Leader Pretend features the band’s classic jangly guitar.


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