Immediately after R.E.M announced their break-up, many fans began to countdown their inevitable reunion, which they jokingly estimated would happen after about 10 years. Some critics often think that the legendary band stuck around for too long and, as a result, extinguished their legend. In actual sense, there was a massive contrast in the band’s first fourteen years in comparison to its final few years. The band was formed back in 1980 by Bill Berry, the drummer, Peter Buck, the guitarist, Mike Mills, the bassist, and Michael Stipe, the band’s lead vocalist. At the time of formation, the quartet were students at the University of Georgia. The band was famous for their impressive stage presence during their concerts, and their songs featured some obscene lyrics, great drumming, melodic bass lines from Mills, and distinct vocal performances from Michael Stipe. For this reason, R.E.M were considered pioneers of alternative and jungle rock and bands such as Nirvana and Pavement looked up to them. “Radio Free Europe” was their first single, released in 1981 from Hib-Tone records.
An EP followed in 1982 before the band released their critically acclaimed debut studio album, Murmur. The band never ran out of material, and they released new material every year for the next four years till 1988. However, it wasn’t until the 90s that the band released their most commercially successful albums. R.E.M signed an $80 million contract with Warner Bros, which turned out to be the most expensive contract ever. Their 1994 album, Monster, saw the band’s intentional shift in style from their previous two albums. The album made its debut on US charts at the top position, with the track “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” being very popular across the US. In 1995, R.E.M embarked on a tour, supported by other acts such as Radiohead and Sonic Youth. Although the tour was a commercial success, it was marred by a series of unfortunate events, with Bill Berry collapsing on stage in Switzerland due to brain aneurism. With more than 30 years of influential innovation and contribution to alternative rock music, R.E.M are one of the most incredible rock acts of the last 30 years. Here are the top ten R.E.M songs.
The number 10 song in our list of the greatest R.E.M songs comes from the band’s best-selling 1992 album, Automatic for the People. An interesting fact about the song is that it was the first song written on a computer by Michael Stripe. As a result, the song has some deep guitar touches, and Stripe’s vocals will blow you away.
9. Don’t Go Back to Rockville
I wish this song got more airplay because you can almost hear the alt-rock vibes blended into their chiming. However, the song has a comforting sound, and the chorus is excellent. The song was written by Mike Mills, and even he admitted that he never thought the song would enjoy so much longevity. The song was initially intended to be a faster song like punk rock, but they had to slow it down. The song is about a girl that Mills met and liked. However, at some point, she wanted to go back home to Rockville, hence the song’s title, “Don’t Go Back to Rockville.”
8. The One I Love
“The One I Love” is the lead single from the band’s 1987 album, Document. R.E.M fans have used this song as the perfect dedication to their loved ones. However, the song’s interpretation shows that the song is quite dark and manipulative. The song has three verses, with the first two being similar. “The One I Love” was the band’s first hit single, peaking at position 9 in the US Billboard Hot 100.
7. Radio Free Europe
This track is one of the most significant songs in the band’s career since the unintelligible lyrics of the song have distinguished R.E.M’s songs from any other rock band. The song was released in 1981 and re-recorded to be included in their 1983 album, Murmur. The song has a progressive beat with open-ended lyrics, and it marked the beginning of the American alternative rock era.
6. Fall On Me
I can never fall out of love with this track. The track features some shimmering harmonies and fantastic guitar tunes while Mill’s and Stipe’s vocals on the haunting lyrics of this song. It’s a beautiful song. The song peaked at position 94 on the Billboard Hot 100 was covered by Death Cab for Cutie in their 2020 E.P The Georgia.
5. Drive 8
This song contains one of the best guitar intros by Peter Buck. The beautiful vocals from Michael Stipe and Bill Berry’s backbeat will sell you to this band from the first time you hear this song. “Drive 8” refers to the Southern Crescent, a train operated by the Southern Railroad.
4. Finest Worksong
“Finest Worksong” was released in 1988 from the band’s 1988 album, Document. It was the final single from the band to be released on I.R.S Records. Like most other songs with Mike Mill singing the chorus or harmony, “Finest Worksong” is a timeless masterpiece.
3. Night Swimming
“Automatic for the People” is one of the best albums in history. You could listen to this song as many times as you wish, and you will never get tired of it. The song is beautiful yet quite evocative. The piano in the song is impressive, and Stipe’s vocals are sublime.
2. What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?
The song’s title is inspired by an incident where unknown assailants attacked Dan Rather in New York in 1986. The song was released in 1994 from the album, Monster and it hasn’t aged even a single day. The song is crunchy, seamless, and is the most straightforward rock song that the band has ever released.
1. Losing My Religion
The number one song in our list of the best R.E.M songs is a song that talks about losing one’s temper. It is the band’s highest-charting song in the US, peaking at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also won two Grammy Awards for Best Short Form Music and Best Duo by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The literature in the song, mixed with poetry and great melodies, makes this song an absolute timeless masterpiece.