Friday Top 5: R.E.M.

A few weeks ago, when I did the first installment of the Friday Top 5, I mentioned how hard it would be for me to actually compile a list of my top five R.E.M. songs. This week, however, I was inspired by a wonderful post over at Pretty Goes with Pretty and the continued brilliance over at Pop Songs 08 to actually give it a try.

The problem with doing this is that there are so many R.E.M. songs to choose from (over 300 on my i-pod) that it’s nearly impossible to narrow the list down to just five. There are two or three that stand out as no-doubters, and then fifty or sixty fighting it out for the last couple of spots.

We’ll start with the no-doubters.

First is “Country Feedback” from 1991’s Out of Time. This has been my favorite R.E.M. song for some time, and Michael Stipe has mentioned it as being one of his favorites as well. The song is named for what it is… a country dirge with lots of feedback. Stipe’s lyric is an especially bitter one about the ending of a relationship in which both parties have tried to hold things together, but are now giving up. Stipe will typically perform this song with his back turned to the audience.

“E-Bow the Letter” from 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi is similar to “Country Feedback” in that the two songs share a similar sound. This song also retains its working title… Peter Buck used an E-Bow for his guitar parts, and the lyrics came primarily from a late night letter Stipe wrote but never sent. Hence, “E-Bow the Letter.” Stipe’s idol, and fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Patty Smith provides vocals as well.

Time to go old-school now with “So. Central Rain” from R.E.M.’s sophomore album, 1984’s Reckoning. The song made its national debut in October of 1983 when the band appeared on Late Night with David Letterman to promote their debut album, Murmur. After playing “Radio Free Europe” from that album, Letterman asked to guys to do a second song. Instead of playing something else from the album, they debuted “So. Central Rain”… a song so new, it didn’t even have a title at the time.

“I Believe” comes from 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant and is my favorite song from my favorite R.E.M. album. Peter Buck kick starts the proceedings with a short banjo riff before Bill Berry’s snare signals a sharp change of pace. Buck drops the banjo and returns to his Rickenbacker for the song proper. This song is also one of my Top 5 Mike Mills sing-along songs. I love to try to match the high harmonies Mills provides in the chorus and a few other places.

We’ll end things with “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine),” one of R.E.M.’s signature songs from 1987’s Document. One of my fondest concert memories is wailing along with this song at my first R.E.M. show at Rupp Arena. The first time I made it through without the help of a lyric sheet was like a rite of passage for me. This song sounds like throwing a party at the apocalypse. An obvious choice… but there isn’t another song in their catalogue that inspires me to dance around and sing like an idiot as much as this one.

R.E.M.: Country Feedback (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: E-Bow the Letter (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: So. Central Rain (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: I Believe (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine) (Buy Album)

3 Responses to “Friday Top 5: R.E.M.”

  1. Just curious: of the fifty or sixty you said were contenders for the last couple of spots, what just missed?I can’t imagine doing a legit top 5 R.E.M. songs: too many to choose from, as you mentioned. Off the top of my head, I’d have to say “Harborcoat” might make it, maybe “Country Feedback,” “Perfect Circle.” Too hard!

  2. Country feedback is a classic. I love the live version that appeared as b-side to At My Most Beautiful. My top 5 would be…turn you inside out, country feedback, the one i love, walk unafraid and world leader pretend! Great blog!

  3. Robby…Probably the toughest choice was deciding between “I Believe” and “These Days.” I wanted one song from LRP, but I didn’t want two songs from any album. Others that were really hard to leave behind:“Driver 8”“Don’t Go Back to Rockville”“Pilgrimage”“Fall on Me”and strangely… “The Wrong Child”Peter…Thanks for the comment. Glad you like it here.

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