10 Classic R.E.M. Tracks Revisited

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Michael Stipe photographed in 1985. 

In 1980 alternative rock band R.E.M. was formed by Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry. By the late ‘80s, the band had released their fifth (breakthrough) album, Document and by the early ‘90s, the band achieved international success with their seventh album, Out of Time.

The band called it quits in 2011, but not after rocking hard for 31 years over 15 albums. For frontman Michael Stipe’s birthday, we’re revisiting the early days of R.E.M. and some of our favorite tracks. 

“The One I Love” (1987)
“This one goes out to the one I've left behind”

Much like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” R.E.M.’s first hit single is a misinterpreted love song, with love being "a simple prop to occupy my time." Stipe said, “It’s probably better that they think it’s a love song. I think there’s enough ugliness around." It peaked at No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart.

“Pop Song 89” (1988)
“Should we talk about the weather?”

Behind Google’s content warning and sign-in verification, Stipe (with long locks) is seen dancing topless with three topless ladies. When MTV asked the band to censor the women, black bars were superimposed on the women (and Stipe!) who stated, "a nipple is a nipple." It peaked at No. 16 on the Alternative Songs chart.

“Finest Worksong” (1988)
“What we want and what we need has been confused.”

The “rallying cry” peaked at No. 28 on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart, though unlike the song, the video is easily forgettable.

“Orange Crush” (1988)
“I've had my fun and now it's time to serve your conscience overseas.”

The often misunderstood song title was named for an herbicide used to clear jungle during the Vietnam War called Agent Orange. The band took home the MTV VMA for Best Post-Modern Video in 1989, the first in the category, which was renamed Best Alternative Video in the ‘90s. It hit No. 1 on the Alternative Songs chart.

“Losing My Religion” (1991)
"Oh no, I've said too much. I haven't said enough."

Yes, this is probably R.E.M.’s most overplayed. The hit song title is an old southern expression for “being at the end of one’s rope.” Then there’s that Grammy Award-winning music video filled with "melodramatic and dreamlike" imagery. Mike Mills said, “If you want to talk about life changing, ‘Losing My Religion’ is the closest it gets.” The song was awarded Video of the Year at the 1991 MTV VMAs and peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100 chart.

“Drive” (1992)
“Hey kids, rock and roll, nobody tells you where to go.”

Mike Mills said, “’Drive' is just telling kids to take charge of their own lives.” The no-frills video shows Stipe moshing with fans and the song hit No. 1 on the Alternative Songs chart.

“Man on the Moon” (1992)
“I'll see you heaven if you make the list.”

A tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman, and the song Stipe said he will miss performing with R.E.M. most. It peaked at No. 2 on the Alternative Songs chart.

“Everybody Hurts” (1993)
“When you think you've had too much of this life to hang on.”

Another R.E.M. song that’s so overplayed, it’s lost a bit of the magic. But it’s still haunting, beautiful, and likely possesses one of the most important lyric in rock history, “everybody hurts… sometimes.” In the video traffic jam, we learn what ordinary people are depressed about. But, there’s hope. “So hold on.” This too shall pass. "The reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers,” Peter Buck said. It peaked at No. 21 on the Alternative Songs chart.

“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (1994)
“You said that irony was the shackles of youth.”

This song title was inspired by a story that would later become its own catchphrase. In 1986, journalist Dan Rather was attacked by two men who repeatedly asked, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Stipe said, “It's a misunderstanding that was scarily random, media-hyped and just plain bizarre.” It hit No. 1 on the Alternative Songs chart.

“Bang and Blame” (1994)
“It's not my thing so let it go.”

This song has been speculated to be about domestic violence, specifically from a woman’s point of view. But who isn’t a fan of songs with surprise endings? At 4:45 in, after a brief period of silence, an untitled instrumental sweeps in until the song ends (again). It hit No. 1 on the Alternative Songs chart and was the band’s last Billboard Top 40 hit.