A countdown of the Twenty-Five best songs by pioneering alternative rock band R.E.M.
By Carter Bagley
I figured to conclude any artist series I should make a list of what I think are that artist’s best songs. So after rummaging through R.E.M. fifteen studio albums and numerous singles and compilations I crafted this list of R.E.M.’s twenty-five best songs.
25. “7 Chinese Brothers” (Reckoning, 1984)
One of the many oddly titled but undeniably charming R.E.M. songs and one that completely defines the sound of R.E.M.’s classic sophomore effort “Reckoning”. It may not be a defining song for the band but it’s definitely a fantastic one.
24. “At My Most Beautiful” (Up, 1998)
A truly beautiful ballad from the band that pairs beautifully with other songs of theirs like “Nightswimming” but this one is tragically unrecognized. It’s really an amazing song and is the best song off their 1998 album “Up”.
23. “Bittersweet Me” (New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996)
Probably the most famous song from R.E.M.’s underrated 1996 sprawling double LP “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”. With a rocking chorus, slow breathy verses, and gritty lyrics this song is definitely good enough to be on this list.
22. “Driver 8” (Fables Of The Reconstruction, 1985)
“Fables Of The Reconstruction” is no doubt the most forgotten out of R.E.M.’s 80’s catalog, but the record has some truly great songs on it including this short yet deep and poignant track that’s catchy and memorable and defines this era of R.E.M. perfectly.
21. “Superman” (Life’s Rich Pageant, 1986)
Just a year after “Fables..” came “Life’s Rich Pageant” which is a stark contrast probably because “Fables” didn’t perform as well as they wanted. “Superman” one of the singles and closer of the album sounds like 60’s rock and that marks a new sound for the band and one that makes for a near perfect pop song.
20. “Supernatural Superserious” (Accelerate, 2008)
A late R.E.M. track that’s just as good if not better than many of their earlier songs. Off of 2008’s “Accelerate”, this single doesn’t sound at all like an aging band (which they definitely were) but instead like a young energetic band that still had a lot to say.
19. “Shaking Through” (Murmur, 1983)
A forgotten and unrecognized song of their debut album is one of my favorites because of it’s airtight instrumentation and Stipe’s on point vocals. It’s truly a great R.E.M. song and one that has gone and will continue to go severely underrated.
18. “Gardening At Night” (Chronic Town EP, 1982)
One of the band’s earliest songs yet still loved amongst fans and one of their most critically beloved. This is a very bizarre track with nonsense lyrics and jangly guitar that totally encapsulates the sound of early-80’s R.E.M.
17. “Orange Crush” (Green, 1988)
One of their first big singles that has gone on to become an alternative rock classic this is on their first studio album and might be one of their last early era sounding songs they ever recorded. Nonetheless it’s extremely catchy and incredibly charming.
16. “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” (Monster, 1994)
A true rocker that opens up R.E.M.’s 1994 “big dumb rock album” titled “Monster” and this is undoubtedly the highlight of that record. It was a new sound for R.E.M. and one they never really quite had again and as a single it’s definitely a standout of their 90’s catalog.
15. “New Test Leper” (New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996)
Not even released as a single, this is one of those deep cuts that only real R.E.M. fans will recognize. In my opinion it’s one of the best they ever wrote as the lyrics are deeply poetic and Michael Stipe’s vocals are beautiful. This is a song that you will fall in love with and if there’s only one reason to check out “New Adventures…” then this is it.
14. “Find The River” (Automatic For The People, 1992)
The closer to quite possibly the band’s finest album that really doesn’t sound like them at all. “Find The River” sounds a little like John Denver with an alternative twist to it and the R.E.M. penned lyrics are beautiful and much better than the stuff Denver writes. It’s pure and lovely and something you need to check out.
13. “These Days” (Life’s Rich Pageant, 1986)
A short and fast 80’s rocker from another standout R.E.M. record in “Life’s Rich Pageant”. It’s catchy and fun and a song that makes “Life’s Rich Pageant” the damn near perfect album that it is. The oddball lyrics but strong delivery is pure 80’s R.E.M. and it’s brilliant.
12. “Country Feedback” (Out of Time, 1991)
One of the many highlights of R.E.M.’s best-selling seminal album “Out Of Time”. Maybe not the most consistent album they’ve made but one that’s full of poetic and beautiful songs like this that make it understandable that the record got the classic status it has.
11. “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” (Reckoning, 1984)
A song that sounds completely different than the rest of the album it’s at the tail-end of, yet it’s still undoubtedly a standout on “Reckoning”, their 80’s catalog, and their entire discography altogether. Having a very southern country rock sound but with the charm of typical R.E.M. and using jangle-pop vibes that make it an R.E.M. staple.
10. “The One I Love” (Document, 1987)
A fantastic hit single that can and has been interpreted in many different ways. Most people see it as a simple love song but it’s nearly the exact opposite and is layered which you can tell when Stipe wails “Fire!” after the chorus. This is one of the songs that grew the band’s fame and secured them a record deal for their next album, and it’s easy to see why.
9. “World Leader Pretend” (Green, 1988)
Hands down the best song off their divisive first studio album “Green”. Despite the album being divisive this song always seems to be given the accolades it truly deserves. Stipe moodily delivers fantastic lyrics that touched on new ground for the band. If you haven’t heard this song, do yourself a massive favor and go give “World Leader Pretend” a few spins.
8. “So. Central Rain” (Reckoning, 1984)
A song that completely encapsulates the perfect sound featured on their sophomore classic “Reckoning”. The lyrics are beautiful, the instrumentation is catchy, and Michael Stipe’s vocal performance is perfect and all that adds up to an amazing early alternative rock song complete with jangly guitars and moody vocals.
7. “Fall On Me” (Life’s Rich Pageant, 1986)
Probably the band’s first recognizable success came with this single as the video got decent airplay on MTV and it blew up college rock stations everywhere. One of the catchiest songs they ever recorded, “Fall On Me” highlights one of R.E.M.’s best albums and defines the term college rock.
6. “Nightswimming” (Automatic For The People, 1992)
A truly beautiful ballad accompanied with lovely piano and vocals that make you feel more than you’d like to admit. The all-too-real lyrics and the pure and genuine tone it naturally has cemented “Nightswimming” as a memorable heartwarming song that only gets better the more you hear it. Really go check this beautiful song out as soon as possible.
5. “Radio Free Europe” (Murmur, 1983)
One of the earliest singles the band ever made that still makes you single along to the nonsensical lyrics even after you’ve heard it thousands of times. “Radio Free Europe” is insanely likable and completely defines the sound of the band’s debut album “Murmur”.
4. “Man On The Moon” (Automatic For The People, 1992)
One of the strangest singles from the band, but the song tackles a lot of topics in one song and it seems to do it beautifully. It’s one of those songs with that amazing chorus that just gets drilled into your head the first time you hear it. The performance and the catchiness of this song is what makes it so good especially the chorus which is what makes it such a powerful lovable song.
3. “Talk About The Passion” (Murmur, 1983)
One of the band’s earliest poetic songs and one that features a more laid back sound opposed to most of “Murmur”. This song doesn’t seem to be talked about at all unless by real R.E.M. fans and those are the people who really cherish it. Some beautiful lines mixed with the rawness of the band’s early sound is what solidifies my love for this album.
2. “Losing My Religion” (Out of Time, 1991)
The band’s smash single that broke them into mainstream success still holds up amazingly 25 years after it’s initial release. Now it’s become a rock classic and has retained a status on the same level as other hits of the era. With thought provoking lyrics, angry and raw vocals and layered instrumentation accompanied by one of my favorite music videos of all time, it makes sense why this is the song that brought them universal acclaim. It’s truly legendary.
1. “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (Document, 1987)
There’s an endless amount that could be said about this song and what it means. It’s honestly one of the best pop songs to ever be recorded in my opinion and every single aspect including the fast, rambling verses, perfect backing vocals, catchy jangly guitars and hard-hitting drums along with the political yet smile-inducing lyrics that can only put you in a great mood. All of it leads into one of the best choruses ever put to tape and I truly mean that. Out of the enormous discography from this acclaimed pioneering rock band, this song remains their greatest achievement and has only grown in popularity since it’s release. It’s proved itself addictive and timeless and even if the end of the world as we know it comes, this song will keep us feeling fine.