This article was originally published in 2017, but we’re dusting it off for Michael Stipe’s birthday on January 4th.
If you’re at all like me, you probably associate certain bands with specific moods. In other words, you turn to these bands when they fit your state of mind, match how your day went, or just seem to sound how you feel.
R.E.M. has never been one of those bands for me, though. No matter my mood, mindset, or emotion, there’s an R.E.M. album or sound that suits me. “I have lived a full life,” Michael Stipe once sang, and I think that’s how we felt about the band when they parted ways in 2011. To look back at their catalog then or now is to see a band that have lived a full life — and life to the fullest — leaving few stones of the band experience unflipped or unskipped.
All these years later, R.E.M. remains a band to vent to, cry to, and dance alongside. There are songs to make you remember, songs to make you forget, and songs literally sung to save your life. Again, no matter how you feel, they have something for you, and it’s hard to think of a better catalogue of songs to grow up with, to grow with, and, finally, to grow old with.
So, here are 20 R.E.M. songs we find ourselves turning to these days more than most. And, luckily, there are plenty more where they came from.
— Matt Melis
20. “Begin the Begin”
Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
Sleeping through a revolution is a cardinal sin, as “Begin the Begin” argues from the get-go: “Birdie in the hand for life’s rich demand/ The insurgency began and you missed it.” It’s a biting line that Michael Stipe repeats again and again for full effect, splattering his listeners with passive-aggressive guilt, as he later leans on aggression and loses any guff: “Silence means security, silence means approval.” It’s easy to see why the opening track off R.E.M.’s fourth studio album, Lifes Rich Pageant, would open so many of their live performances. It’s a timeless statement for progressives everywhere, and as such, incredibly emblematic of the band as a whole. Let’s listen again. — Michael Roffman
19. “Pretty Persuasion”
With its jangly, arpeggiated chords and driving rhythm section, “Pretty Persuasion” doesn’t seem out of place on 1984’s Reckoning, even though R.E.M. allegedly penned the song years earlier. There’s a clear power-pop influence here, and Peter Buck’s sparkly intro riff sets the tone for a darker, more ominous version of The Records’ “Starry Eyes” (released a year before R.E.M. formed, in 1979). Michael Stipe almost sounds like a punk singer as he rails against the “hurry and buy” impulse of consumerism, his anger intermingling with the jangly melody to create something odd and inexplicably captivating. — Collin Brennan