R.E.M. Singles Ranked, 71-80

Originally Published on Facebook Notes (June 1, 2017)

Here are the songs that R.E.M. made videos for but didn’t release as singles:

    Feeling Gravity’s Pull
    Green Grow The Rushes
    Dream (All I’ve Got To Do Is)
    Swan Swan H
    Love Is All Around
    Half A World Away
    Walk It Back
    All The Best
    Every Day Is Yours To Win

“Low” and “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” would both be top 20 contenders. So would maybe “Green Grow The Rushes” and “Swan Swan H.” I didn’t include these on my list because its already too fricken’ long.

Here’s some I did include:

80. Academy Fight Song

1992 Bucketfull of Brains promo single

I applaud R.E.M. for covering a Mission of Burma classic like “Academy Fight Song.” I hope it brought a little additional (and much-deserved) attention to that great Boston band. R.E.M. and Mission of Burma started off around the same time and were getting airplay on the same college stations before R.E.M. broke big. R.E.M. cranks the dial up a bit on the Wire-esque rhythmic elements (which I like) but I prefer the lo-fi original. There’s three covers from 71-80 and I have a bit of a hard time separating how I feel about R.E.M.’s versions of these songs from how I feel about the original songs. This is why I’ve resisted including cover singles on these lists, but I have to include R.E.M.’s The Clique’s “Superman” so I felt compelled to include all of their covers.

79. It Happened Today

From 2011’s Collapse Into Now, Fifth Single

Late period R.E.M. singles often suffers (at least to my ear) from a tendency to sound alike. Even if the parent albums offer a nice variety of tempos and styles, either the band or the record company kind of fell into a sort of “which mid-tempo song shall we release now” pattern. Maybe they decided the fan base had aged up to a point where they needed to make sure the singles would be soothing adult contemporary radio tunes. Maybe these were just the songs the band liked these days. This was the last single from the last R.E.M. album (though not their last single overall) and its not necessarily bad. Its just not especially memorable.

78. Femme Fatale

1986 Felxi-disc single from The Bob Magazine

I think there was a rule in the 1980’s that every alternative rock band had to cover the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” at some point. Its a great song but, based on most of the covers I’ve heard of it, its really pretty hard to cover well. R.E.M. tries admirably, but I don’t think they really quite hit it. Check out versions by Tracy Thorn, Elvis Costello or (maybe best of all) Big Star for your “Femme Fatale” cover needs.

77. Bad Day

From the 2003 compilation In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003, First Single

Before R.E.M. recorded “Its The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” they were working on a song called “PSA (Public Service Announcement).” That song was the jumping off point for that better known song. “PSA” was later reworked for their 2003 hits collection as “Bad Day.” Its very, very similar in structure to “End of the World” right down to a shared shout (“Leonard Bernstein”/”Such a Creep”) at a similar point in the song. I mean, if you were waiting for R.E.M. to do another “Subterean Homesick Blues”-style song, then “Bad Day” was the song for you. I’m sort of meh on it.

76. New Test Leper

From 1986’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Germany-only promotional single

This is a much-beloved R.E.M. song (Stipe in particular loves it) that is my least favorite song on the wonderful New Adventures In Hi-Fi. My second least favorite song from that LP is coming up quickly too. There are so many other songs I love from that album that weren’t singles (“Leave?” “Binky the Doormat?” “Undertow?” Holy cats, amazing songs) that I perhaps am unfairly taking out my bitterness on the decent, unassuming “New Test Leper” by ranking it lower than it deserves. New Adventures in Hi-Fi is arguably the hardest rocking album they released and its certainly is a contender for my “#1 favorite R.E.M. album.” I do really dig Stipe’s lyrics to the song – I just find everything else about it a little less interesting (than everything else on the album).

75. Wanderlust

From 2004’s Around The Sun, Fourth Single

Here we are, the first song on my list from R.E.M.’s least-loved album, Around the Sun. R.E.M. put out five albums after original drummer Bill Berry retired. This was the third album and is considered by many to be their nadir. The reviews were so bad that I held off on buying it until I saw it in a discount bin in a record store in Chicago while we were at CIF in – I think – 2007. Even then I only picked it up because I’m a R.E.M. completist. I added two songs from it to my iTtunes library when I received my first iPod (a personalized old school iPod shuffle courtesy of my brother Todd) and “Wanderlust” was not one of them. In fact, I’ve only started listening closely to the album in this past month. You know, its not great, but its not terrible either. It mostly suffers from the same “all these songs sound similar” issue that plagues many of the tracks from the post-Berry era. “Wanderlust” is a peppy bit of a song that features some unusual vocal choices from Stipe and a silly little guitar riff from Buck. Otherwise, its kind of unremarkable.

74. Oh My Heart

From 2011’s Collapse Into Now, Third Single

Jeez, two songs from Collapse Into Now way, way down here on the list. Its a pretty decent album, I swear. I have a hard time remembering the difference between this track and “It Happened Today.” They don’t even sound all that much alike (this is the song that is little more emotional) but they sound enough alike that I have pained over where they actually belong on this list. I like this one marginally better (I enjoy singing the chorus). Collapse Into Now, at the time of its released, was praised as a return to form for R.E.M. It is that, but sometimes at the expense of the occasional “we’ve heard this before” track. To whit, its a good song, but there are other better songs that cover some of the same aural ground.

73. #9 Dream

From the 2007 Compilation Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur

I don’t especially care for the John Lennon original of this song. I feel like Lennon was the Beatles’ lyrical master in general while McCartney was the one who really got how to compose songs (apropos of nothing, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of The Clash had a similar partnership). After the split, Lennon’s songs often tended to meander a bit for my tastes while McCartney generally floated further and further into the clear water of catchy pop song banality (obviously, this is not true 100% of the time for either artist). I think R.E.M.’s version of this song works better than Lennon’s original – its more focused and doesn’t try to force a dream-like quality onto the vocal. Still, on my “I must enjoy each song more than the last song” list, this one falls here.

72. What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

From 1994’s Monster, First Single

In 1994, I loved this song. Now, even as the lyric (about an older person trying to make sense of youth culture) is starting to reflect my life, I don’t feel as attached to it as I did before. I think part of what I dig about it is that it seemed like a breath of loud fresh air from R.E.M. after two comparably mellow albums. It was so exciting for me just to hear them rocking out again that I just went with it, obscure Dan Rather reference and all. When I hear it now, I don’t feel even a hint of that old excitement. Maybe I’ve burned through my endorphins? I mean, I still get a thrill when I hear “Turn You Inside Out” (Spoiler: maybe not my #1 song on this list) so I’m still capable of feeling joy. Maybe its that the production hasn’t aged especially well and the song sounds a little muddy. Maybe the attempt to remain relevant in the grunge-age sounds a little more obvious now than it did then (though, to be fair, they had plenty of songs that sounded grunge-y long before grunge). At any rate, I love every other song on Monster more than this one now. Age is cruel.

71. The Wake-Up Bomb

From 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Charted Track

Now, I absolutely love when Stipe sings “See ya, don’t want to be ya” on this track. How can anyone not? “The Wake-Up Bomb” was not released as a single but got enough airplay anyways to chart. Good enough for me for it to make my list. Part of what makes New Adventures in Hi-Fi so exciting is that over half-the song were recorded live on an 8-track recorder during sound checks. You can really hear the excitement of the whole band on the record – and by whole band, I mean Stipe, Berry, Buck and Mills but also touring guitarist Nathan December and keyboardist Scott McCaughey. Stipe considers this album to be the band at their peak and I can’t dispute that. On the other hand, while I love the transition from verse to chorus and think Bill Berry makes parts of this track soar, I find myself skipping over this track more than I should. Part of that is because when I was listening to the CD, I just wanted to get straight to “Undertow.” In fact, take a moment to listen to that song right now. It will be a few days before the next segment of this list so you may as well.

Coming Soon: One of the oldest songs on this list. Not from Chronic Town.

R.E.M. Singles Ranked81-8671-8061-7051-6041-5031-4021-3011-201-10