I just learned that one of my favorite bands, R.E.M., is coming up on the 25th anniversary of their breakout album, Lifes Rich Pageant. It is getting the full Expanded & Remastered treatment, according to Paste.

The band‘s groundbreaking fourth album, Lifes Rich Pageant re-release date is July 12, the album’s 25th anniversary. A special 2-disc edition will feature a digitally remastered version of the original album plus 19 previously unreleased demo recordings.

The album recorded by vocalist Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry was R.E.M.’s first Gold record, reaching #21 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. It included the hit singles Fall On Me and Superman.


I was a huge R.E.M. fan in grad school, and their first few albums were enormously powerful and influential on me personally. It was one of the first examples a younger me realized you could go on your own path and still be successful.

Most of you young’uns probably are familiar with the band’s later bigger commercial hits — “Losing My Religion, Shiny Happy People, Everybody Hurts, Stand, etc.” That stuff is all good for what it is — better than most of the pop on the radio at the same time, anyway.

You may not realize that R.E.M. was the original alternative rock band. Their first album, 1983′s Murmur, transformed the post-punk, underground college-rock era into brand new genre: What you take for granted as alternative rock was essentially created out of whole cloth by R.E.M. way back then. Its oin my top, 100 list.

For those of you who only know their latter, shiny happy, pop stuff, delve into this seminal, influential band’s best work — these 4 albums; Genius that way lay.

A little context: In 1983, the US Stock market had just awoken from a 16 year slumber. Reagan was President, polyester had not yet gone away. The movie Saturday Night Fever was still relatively fresh in people’s minds, and there was plenty of Disco on the air, along with Journey, Boston, and Foreigner. It was a simple, if uglier time.

Along comes R.E.M., from of all places Athens, GA. Murmur broke boundaries, and literally created a new musical genre. The sound lay somewhere between the jangling guitar work of ’60s bands (Beatles, Byrds), with a drive that was not unlike later bands (Clash, Elvis Costello).

The original versions of Murmur and Reckoning are $7.97. (About time the music industry started to price discs dynamically, especially on artists’ back catalogues). They are probably a decade too late, and have already lost a generation of CD buyers.

R.E.M. was overtly political. Their songs were barbed attacks on the status quo, hidden beneath hauntingly beautiful melodies, arcane lyrical language, driving drumbeats, jangly guitars, and
mumbled vocals. It was a completely idiosyncratic approach, but it worked well.

What stood out most of all were their collections of
songs, alternatively beautiful and compelling. Dramatic structures, majestic melodies, lush vocal harmonies and somewhat archaic language combined for a unique sound.

The band became a critical darling, and sold increasingly well. Each subsequent album sharpened the band’s focus, and saw their writing become increasingly layered and complex, culminating in the tight, driving rock of Document. This was the album that catapulted R.E.M. from college radio favorites to mainstream stardom — and with good cause, too. It also marked their critical (but not their commercial) peak.

A WSJ piece noted the commercial decline:

“It has been a long, slow fade for a band that came to be known both as one of the founders of alternative rock and one of the genre’s most bankable names. Its 1996 contract turned out to be the high-water mark of a five-year frenzy of wildly expensive superstar contracts across the music industry, whipped up by interlabel bidding wars and CD sales’ seemingly boundless potential for growth. Most of these deals, such as Sony Music’s $60 million contract with Michael Jackson in 1991, and Virgin’s $70 million 1996 pact with his sister Janet, proved overly optimistic about the commercial prospects of artists who were past their prime.”

That sound about right. None of these artists have since achieved any level of their former commercial — or critical — success.

I hope REM breaks the streak. I like what I hear of the new album, Collapse Into Now. (mentioned previously here)

Must Own Albums:

Murmur (1983)

Reckoning (1984)

Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)

Document (1987)

Videos after the jump . . .


Radio Free Europe (on Letterman)

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine…)

Losing My Religion

Man on the Moon


REM Official Website

REM Wikipedia Entry

Concert Project

R.E.M. Attempts to ‘Accelerate’
The Veteran Rock Band, Facing Fleeing Fans, Ramps Up Its Publicity
WSJ, March 28, 2008; Page W6

Category: Friday Night Jazz, Music

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

32 Responses to “Friday Night Alt-Rock: R.E.M.”

  1. BR,

    re: R.E.M.

    You and I, both..

    though, from the “Document” Album, I would have thought you might have gone w/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2wET1OlK4Q

    you know, to remind the BBoomers, among us, that they, still, have some ‘Lessons’ to Learn/’Tasks’ to Finish..

  2. WhipTail says:

    I had to check the date on this post 3 times. I’m still wondering if I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole or if you’ve made a mistake. The new album is Collapse Into Now. Accelerate is three years old.


    BR: It is 3 years old! I will update

  3. louis says:

    The original Chronic

  4. BPLipschitz says:

    Uh, check your dates. The Clash (the only band that really mattered) pre-dated REM by more than 5 years.

    Big REM fan–saw them at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in July 1983, the same year the Violent Femmes released their debut album.

    Great times.

  5. mdjohnson53pa says:

    The album cover for “Reckoning” was the creation of folk-artist Howard Finster. Also, the Rev. Finster created the album cover for the Talking Heads “Little Creatures” album.

  6. Michael S says:

    REM, huh?

    I never thought about it, but I could see you as an REM fan — especially with that Twitter photo you’ve got going . . .

  7. KJ Foehr says:

    REM is right near the top of my list as well. There are several reasons why I like them: The music is great and the lyrics often have something meaningful to say. I just love their jingly jangly sound, sometimes acoustic, sometimes hard. Stipe went to high school near my home town. And he is (or was) a practicing Buddhist, my favorite philosophy.

    I love all their early albums, but my favorite has to be Green: I considered “The Wrong Child” to be the most sensitive song ever written by a man. That’s probably hyperbole, but not by much. Several other great songs too. One of my top 10 albums of all time. It’s a great mix of pop music and more substantial songs with meaningful lyrics. And the mandolin is a nice addition too!

    Green (1988)
    Side one – “Air side”
    1. “Pop Song 89″ – 3:04
    2. “Get Up” – 2:39
    3. “You Are the Everything” – 3:41, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-3JA750Zxc&feature=related
    4. “Stand” – 3:10
    5. “World Leader Pretend” – 4:17, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUEk4MMSMzE&feature=related
    6. “The Wrong Child” – 3:36, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4ykXSnLBEI

    Side two – “Metal side”
    7. “Orange Crush” – 3:51, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mSmOcmk7uQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BvXBwtrs_k&feature=related
    8. “Turn You Inside-Out” – 4:16, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-LAnnu09tk
    9. “Hairshirt” – 3:55
    10. “I Remember California” – 4:59, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-QDmnIkw_c&feature=related
    11. “11″ – 3:10

    Man I miss that music, REM, 10,000 Maniacs, The Smiths… What do we have now that is even close?

    Wanna shocker? Stipe is 51 years old now!

  8. Beancounter says:

    Loved early REM – always thought the B-52′s deserved the “original” designation though.

  9. larsonian says:

    Just started getting deeper into their early stuff and picked up Dead Letter Office, which ha their original EP on it (including Gardening at Night). Worth picking up for those 5 songs alone

  10. “from of all places Athens, GA”

    I knew you were a New Yorker, but I never took you for a yankee chauvinist.


    BR: As opposed to Nashville or LA or Seattle or SF or NY or other musical hotspots

  11. TripleB says:

    Things that make me feel old this week….

    Little kids I used to babysit now have school-age children of their own.

    Learning that REM is 25 years old.


  12. Connie Jacobs says:

    It’s funny. I read this blog every day. I’m in finance/economic head when I read it. Then the weekends come and Barry posts some non-econ thing… This wonderful post brings me back to my senior year in college. I was in engineering school and was sleep deprived and stressed. There was this dumb show on the then new fox channel called Get a Life starring Chris Eliot. I usually left the TV while I studied and this show caught my attention only because of the theme song: ‘Stand’ by R.E.M. I was hooked. I bought the CD straight away (CD’s were still cool and new!) and that was my foray into alt music that has lasted some 20 years. Thanks Barry for reminding me I’m old >:( but at least I’m in good company.

  13. mpavan says:

    Amen brother.

    The REM of my undergrad and grad student days is top three all time for me. The later stuff – meh. LOVE that sound, especially the harmonizing in the main lyrics, not the chorus, which is almost never done. These days its jazz and classical and world for me, but if nostalgia grips me, I reach for Murmur or LRP. (Or the Doors first album, but that’s for another day …)

    Will certainly pick up the re-release. Hope they open up the dynamics a bit – all music of that era was a little compressed on disc

  14. “You may not realize that R.E.M. was the original alternative rock band.”

    Don’t make me laugh.

    BPLipshitz thank heavens, didn’t make me break ground on this, but the Clash, not to mention the Talking Heads, changed R.E.M’s diapers. Go put on “London Calling” or “Combat Rock” and then we’ll talk.

    Separately thought, I was thinking just last night how there are more great bands and albums than there is time to listen to them so we all end up with our own favorites and our own little music islands.


    : The Clash were clearly a punk band.

    And the Talking heads — which may be my very favorite band of the the post Beatles/Rolling Stones era — pre-dated the alt.-rock era. They started at as pure punk from the CBGB era, and evolved from their — but they were not alt. rock.

  15. Julia Chestnut says:

    The early 80s were a super-fertile period — there was a lot going on. REM was the vanguard of the college radio station band, I would agree, but I don’t know that they created alt-rock out of whole cloth. I do love them! But I think that one has special feelings for that first band that told them what it really felt like to be who they were in college.

    My very, very favorite REM song was off this album — begin the begin. I love something about the opening riff. But I was actually hanging out in an alternative music scene at the time, paying a five dollar cover (or getting in free for being cute and/or with the band) to see some incredible bands back then, and barbequing cheap cuts of meat with some fairly fantastic folks. Ah, youth. But I sometimes wonder what happened to the explosion of different TYPES of music that we saw back then – it seemed like there were a lot of different genres floating around or being solidified at the time. University towns throughout the South were hot spots. Maybe they still are, and I’ve just gotten old. . . . . .

  16. philipat says:

    Surely, “Around the Sun” should be on the Must have list. Especially considering:

    Leaving New York


  17. HEHEHE says:

    Great band. Agree regarding the earlier work. My older brother made me by Murmur on cassette for him one Christmas when he came home from college. Up to that point I was listening to classic rock and metal bands, not hair metal mind you-I had some taste, not much but some. I listened to Murmur which kind of peaked my interest. Saw he had Reckoning and that one sealed the deal.

    PS. Two great bands that have had fantastic albums come out recently.

    1) Middle Brother – which is a collective of the lead singers from Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit. Unlike most “supergroup” records this is an unbelievably well constructed album from start to finish. Just fantastic songwriting, touching lyrics and vocals.

    2) J Roddy Walston & The Business – this came out last year, though they have an older album with a slightly different line-up, which is also fantastic BTW. I’ve seen this band described as “an AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd fronted by Jerry Lee Lewis” or “an almagamation of early Black Crowes and Guns N Roses that doesn’t sound like it ripped off material from either band” or “a steamroller, a steamroller in a drunken bar fight, a steamroller in a drunken bar fight inside a telephone booth”. In any event it is the most Rock ‘n Roll album I’ve heard in years. To top it off they are the best live act I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen probably 200 or so bands. They played Maxwells in NJ last Tuesday. The place was about half full and you’d have thought they were playing before the President and were told that if he didn’t like their performance he’d be sending them to Guantanamo – it was sweaty and insane. They play at Brooklyn Bowl the next four Mondays in May. Tickets are only $7. I paid only $10 at Maxwells and felt guilty. In five years they’ll be headlining arenas. If they were a stock I’d be taking out a second mortgage on my house and buying them on margin.

  18. BPLipschitz says:

    BR: The Clash were clearly a punk band.

    And the Talking heads — which may be my very favorite band of the the post Beatles/Rolling Stones era — pre-dated the alt.-rock era. They started at as pure punk from the CBGB era, and evolved from their — but they were not alt. rock.

    Punk schpunk. The Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, the Angry Samoans, now *those* are punk bands. But, I’ll concede the point that the Clash & REM were not of the same genre. Just pointing out the timeline difference.

  19. scottinnj says:

    I think the other highly influential mid 80′s band that can be said to be one of the fathers of alt-rock that hasn’t been mentioned is the Smiths – they are up there but agree not quite at same level as REM (at least in the US). To be fair while they are probably a bit bombastic today in the mid 80′s U2 had a murder’s row of great albums – - War, Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree.

    I spend fall 1985 studying in the UK and myself and a couple friends spend a few weekends traveling around to see REM at various small clubs in the UK (Manchester, Glasgow and Hammersmith Odeon come to mind). Had the pleasure at the Manchester wheny they first performed ‘Fall on Me” and “Begin the Begin” in concert. Plus I don’t think there were more than 500 people at any of these shows.

  20. BPLipschitz says:

    @KJ Foehr Says

    You went to Collinsville High School?

  21. MelJ says:

    In October of 1982 I was lucky enough (since they were then unknown)
    to have seen R.E.M. in NYC at the Peppermint Lounge (when it was on Fifth
    Avenue and 16th Street) as the OPENING act for a group named The Fleshtones
    (who were kind of popular at the time). Of course most pretty much ignored
    the unknown opening act even though they were great. I still miss those
    NYC dance clubs of the late 70′s and early 80′s.

  22. Blurtman says:

    Go back to the start of REM and buy Dead Letter Office to access their first unreleased album, Chronic Town. Increadible music!

    “Wolves, Lower” – 4:10
    “Gardening at Night” – 3:29
    “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)” – 3:54
    “1,000,000″ – 3:06
    “Stumble” – 5:40

    Here is a video of the great Wolves Lower. Incredible transition in the song at “House in Order.” Play it loud. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLh9rs5JXyE&feature=related

    Here is the great Carnival of Sorts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwzxvxKBhbc&feature=related

    The crowd dances to te song in Back to the Future 1980′s outfits. Hilarious.

    REM rocks.

  23. Blurtman says:

    And for something completely different, let’s not forget The Meat Puppets, for that mescaline Arizona high sounding experience. I saw them live at a small packed club in San Diego in ’83. They played all their songs at high speed. Incredible show.

  24. aramps says:

    definitely chronic town. definitely. didn’t know it came on the DLO CD, which is a good standalone purchase for the VU covers and king of the road.

    record labels like IRS, SST and homestead were pretty much the only things that kept the 80s from being a terrible memory for me.

  25. ami_in_deutschland says:

    In so many ways the early 80s were the period of my musical “awakening” as it were. Undergrad years and the particularly fertile music scene (catalyzed by college radio) made a truly potent combination.

    I agree that REM was really central to this era.

    Thinking about my first exposure to REM, I recall a novel business in Houston which opened around 1983-84. Their concept: renting LPs and selling blank tapes!! Of course, it didn’t take too long for someone in the music industry to put an end to the place, but not before I had Murmur on Maxell.

    A few other excellent proto-alternative bands around this time:

    The Replacements
    The Dream Syndicate
    The dB’s
    The Feelies
    Hüsker Dü
    Green on Red
    Hoodoo Gurus

  26. SalesAnalyst says:

    “Big REM fan–saw them at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in July 1983, the same year the Violent Femmes released their debut album.

    Great times.”

    I was at this show too, and saw them on the Pre-Construction tour at the Stock Pavilion (you know, where the display stock animals@) in Madison about a year later. Murmur and Reckoning are the gold-standard for R.E.M. but Automatic For The People and New Adventures In Hi-Fi are outstanding mid career CDs too.

  27. SalesAnalyst says:

    There’s a great book about Athens and the scene R.E.M. came out of at the U of Ga, which has quite a bit about the B-52s and Pylon and how it all happened. It’s called “Party Out Of Bounds” by Rodger Lyle Brown. There was so much great music going on in the early 80′s.

  28. SalesAnalyst says:

    “from of all places Athens, GA”

    I knew you were a New Yorker, but I never took you for a yankee chauvinist.


    BR: As opposed to Nashville or LA or Seattle or SF or NY or other musical hotspots

    How about Minneapolis? Husker Du, The Replacements, Prince, Soul Asylum….from the end of the 70s to early 1980s Minneapolis was a great music city.

  29. BPLipschitz says:

    Hey SalesAnalyst, did you see the Blasters the night after REM at Summerfest?

  30. What can you do with lyrics like this?

    There’s a problem, feathers iron
    Bargain buildings, weights and pullies
    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 (What is it up in the air for) (It’s gonna fall)
    Fall on me (If it’s there for long) (It’s gonna fall)
    Fall on me (It’s over it’s over me) (It’s gonna fall)

    There’s the progress we have found (when the rain)
    A way to talk around the problem (when the children reign)
    Building towered foresight (keep your conscience in the dark)
    isn’t anything at all (melt the statues in the park)
    Buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky and tell the sky

    Don’t fall on me

    Well I could keep it above
    But then it wouldn’t be sky anymore
    So if I send it to you you’ve got to promise to keep it whole

    Buy the sky and sell the sky and lift your arms up to the sky
    And ask the sky and ask the sky

  31. BR,

    @ your 09:07

    Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
    Fall on Me


    you may have to ask Micheal Stipe, but, were they referencing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyatt_Regency_walkway_collapse ?

  32. Bill Borden says:

    It’s good to see that a lot of readers didn’t forget about Dead Letter Office/Chronic Town. Dead Letter Office is a great mix of B-sides, Outtakes, alternate versions of songs and REM messing around (barbecue joint jingles and covers). All of REM’s albums from the 80s hold up well. there’s a good documentary from 1988 about the Athens, Ga. music scene called Athens, Ga. Inside/Out that features REM, B-52s and Pylon.