Holy cats but there’s a lot of R.E.M. singles.
Here’s some insight into my working method. I keep a spreadsheet of all of the singles. I have two pages – one with the titles of the singles more or less in chronological order and the other with the ranking. I first listen to the whole playlist chronologically a few times and then I make a first stab at ranking everything (I usually rank each album’s singles and then use those mini-rankings as a jumping off point to rank everything else). If I don’t feel like I really am familiar enough with a song to rank it yet, I put it at the top of the playlist so I listen to it a few more times before finding a home for it.
As I listen, I adjust the playlist and I keep a record of where I’d previous ranked songs. For example, I can tell you that the song I currently have ranked at 50 was once ranked 26. I keep adjusting even after I’ve posted the first parts of the list and only post the next part of the list when I’m absolutely sure I’m not going to be dropping any of the songs to an even lower number. Generally speaking, stuff gets moved up and, thus, some tracks gradually get shuffled down the list a bit. If you’re curious about the course any of the songs took in my thought process, ask away and I’ll share the series of numbers. DATA!
70. We All Go Back to Where We Belong
From 2011’s compilation album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982-2011, First Single
After Collapse Into Now, R.E.M. began regrouping for one more album. This song was the product of that regrouping. Alas, they decided to split up instead but at least with Collapse Into Now, they exited on a high note. When they released their “final” compilation album (because there’s always one more compilation album), they included three new songs. This one was released as a single. As near as I can tell, this wasn’t intended to be their final song as they were recording it, but its an appropriate final song. Its a Burt Bacharach influenced Adult Contemporary song with a gentle bass part and some low key guitar work. It feels like the three permanent members of R.E.M. are gently walking away from their partnership. If you want a good comprehensive overview of R.E.M.’s career, this is a great compilation album and worth your time. It includes both singles and also fan-favorite songs that weren’t singles. Anyhow, “We All Go Back To Where We Belong” is a fine little song though its afflicted with the same late-period R.E.M. “all the tempos blend together” issue that effects a number of their post-Berry singles.
69. The Lifting
From 2001’s Reveal, Promo Single
This is the first single from Reveal on this list. After Bill Berry departed, R.E.M. took off in a sort of art-rock direction. I (and I’m in a minority here) really liked Up, their first post-Berry experimental pop album, but didn’t end up spending a whole lot of time with Reveal. As I’ve mentioned, I spent absolutely no time with Around the Sun, the album that came after Reveal. This song is allegedly a prequel to the sublime “Daysleeper” and, yeah, I can hear that. Its a swirling piece of dreamy pop that sounds a bit like “The Great Beyond” and a bit like “All The Way To Reno.”
68. Mine Smell Like Honey
From 2011’s Collapse Into Now, First Single
That video is worth a watch. I don’t know if there’s a lyrical connection between this song and their earlier track “Me In Honey,” which is about pregnancy. I don’t know this because I haven’t taken the time to figure out what’s going on with the lyrics. I like it when R.E.M. rocks out, however I neither dislike this song enough to rank it lower or like it enough to rank it higher.
67. I’ll Take the Rain
From 2001’s Reveal, Third Single
You’re getting a trio of songs from Reveal in this segment. Two of my three favorite songs from that album were not released as singles (“She Just Wants To Be” and “I’ve Been High”). “I’ll Take The Rain” is sort of a copy of a copy of a copy of earlier R.E.M. songs. Like I can hear them reaching for grandeur and not quite achieving it. I feel like this song would have benefited from Bill Berry’s input. In fact, whenever I’m sort of meh on a post-Bill Berry song, I assume his input would have changed my opinion. I experience something like yugen – the Noh theatre feeling of catching a glimpse of something that used to be beautiful – when I listen to this song and sometimes that glimpse is enough to trick me into really digging it quite a bit. On the other hand, sometimes I listen to this song and feel nothing. Its hopped back and forth between the bottom of the list and the high mid-section of the list. This feels like about the right rank for it.
66. I Took Your Name
From 1994’s Monster, Promo Single Only
I find it profoundly odd that this song was released as a promo from Monster and not, say, “Let Me In” or “King of Comedy.” I never understand what record companies are thinking. If I were to guess, I’d imagine they figured distorted guitars and creepy lyrics were big in 1994 so maybe this would get some airplay? I mean, its fine, I guess. Just more of a deep cut than a single to my ear.
65. Near Wild Heaven
From 1991’s Out Of Time, Third Single
And here’s our first single from Out of Time! R.E.M. are huge Beach Boys fans and they have several songs that were clearly influenced by Brian Wilson and the gang. Mostly Brian Wilson. Mike Mills sings lead vocals on this song – he has an excellent voice and in another universe, R.E.M. could have been a power trio with him as the lead vocalist. I don’t think they’d have been as successful because Michael Stipe’s voice is a whole other level of gorgeous and because Stipe is charismatic as all get out. I mean, its like playing Lebron James against a really good college player one on one, you know what I mean? Anyhow, this is a sweet little love song but its otherwise unexceptional.
From the 2003 Compilation In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1998-2003, Second Single
R.E.M. in psychedelic mode for this second single from their 2003 hits package. Our friend at Pop Songs 07-08 sums up the track pretty well. Its a sci-fi rocker (R.E.M. does Muse?) that is kind of fun to sing alone with and the song was apparently a late-career concert favorite. I am sure I would like it better if I’d heard it in concert. Absolutely sure. I have a slight natural antipathy to original songs tacked on to greatest hits collections for the purpose of forcing fans to buy a set of songs they already own, but this is the digital age now and generally you can make the choice to just buy the songs you want. Hurray for the modern world.
63. Ages of You
1981 Song released as a single from the 1987 B-Side Compilation Dead Letter Office
“Ages of You” was originally going to be a track on R.E.M.’s Chronic Town EP but, according to Peter Buck, they “got tired of it.” It was released as a single from the B-side and rarity compilation album Dead Letter Office. OK, so, back in 1987, before the Internet, we had very limited ways of knowing when a new album was coming out, especially by bands that weren’t on a major label. I was program director at WRBC by this time, so I had access to the college radio trade magazine CMJ. I knew they had a new album coming out and when I saw this one arrive at WRBC, I initially assumed this was the new record. Well, its pretty clear once you read the sleeve that its not, but I can’t help but think there were people out there who picked it up thinking it was all new material and were surprised to find an album of drunken covers and B-sides quality tunes. “Ages of You” was the stand-out track (I lie – the drunken “King of the Road” was the stand-out track, because they are so wasted and its hilarious) and was a nice little addition to my program’s song rotations for a few weeks. However, when it came time to make this list, I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I thought it might be a cover. Listening to it now – 30 years later – it sounds like a pleasant enough jangle rock number, but I get why it was cut from Chronic Town. Those five songs are of a whole other level of quality.
62. All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)
From 2001’s Reveal, Second Single
The song’s lyrical conceit is kind of hilariously awesome – there’s a dude heading to Reno convinced that he’s going to become a star once he arrives. Reno? What? That’s awesome. Even a medium sized city can look like a big city depending on where you’re traveling from. I really dig Peter Buck’s laconic guitar riff here but I have a very hard time mentally separating this song from “The Lifting.” I’ve put six songs in between them because I like the lyrics so much, but I could have easily put them right next to each other and been unaware when one song ended and the other began unless I was paying attention.
61. The Great Beyond
Single from the 1999 Man On The Moon Soundtrack
R.E.M. is the band with two songs about Andy Kaufman. Their hit “Man on the Moon” lent its title to Kaufman’s biopic. This song is from that biopic and contains a little lyrical snippet from the original song hidden in the backing vocals of the fuller version, though this video is not the full version (more details here if you want to know what to listen for and when to listen). I remember when this song came out I spent a lot of time listening to the radio hoping to hear it. When I finally did, I was, I don’t know, underwhelmed? I was expecting something more sonically similar to “Man On The Moon.” Like I imagined they’d sit down and listen to the older track and come up with something that sounded like a country jazz rock response to it. Instead, its a 1999-era R.E.M. song that just happens to also be about Andy Kaufman. It is likely unfair of me to ask this song to live up to my feelings about the earlier song and, furthermore, R.E.M. never said it was a sequel to that song. None-the-less, here it is at #60. My heart says “too high,” my ear says “just about right.”
Coming Soon: Our first songs from Automatic for the People and Accelerate. Nothing from Up yet.