REM called it quits this week. This band meant a lot to me for a long, long time. I engaged in a couple little email conversations regarding them, so I decided to sorta piece them together into a longer post, which is what follows.
The first time I saw REM, they were on this TV show called Solid Gold. Marilyn McCoo hosted. Andy Gibb shared hosting duties at one point. Some of you Americans might remember it.
The premise of the show was to countdown the week's top ten hits, they'd play parts of the songs which featured interpretive dancing by the Solid Gold Dancers. They had the odd musical performance from whatever artist/band was hot that week. I saw Blondie on there once, playing Heart of Glass.
In any case, REM came on, Stipe was wearing this ridiculous paisley shirt, I remember wondering if it was a pajama top, and they played South Central Rain. I couldn't make out the lyrics except for when he wailed I'M SORRYYYYYYY, I'M SORRYYYYYYY.
I kinda forgot about them after that, but started listening more when Fables of the Reconstruction hit, so I had time to enjoy that mysterious weird kinda Americana. Document, was the first one where you could make out everything Stipe was singing. It sounded cleaner and bigger, but it was still REM. Document got them notice, Green put them in orbit, and Out of Time sent them into another dimension.
Just as an aside, U2 had that same 3-album explosion. I wanna say it was roughly around the same time, but I'm too lazy to research it. War kinda made everyone sit up and take notice, The Unforgettable Fire shot them into space, then Joshua Tree opened up another galaxy for them. Kinda weird, huh.
The moment I noticed they had changed for me was when I bought Out of Time. This was back when I was still going to the record store every Tuesday and grabbing the new releases I wanted. So I grabbed OOT, went home and listened to it and was promptly blown away. I remember telling my roommate, this guy named Rick who once subpoenaed me (after which, we had a huge and very public falling out in a courthouse waiting room), that this album was gonna make REM monolithic huge. It's just such a great album and it has a little something for everyone.
They put out a few more really good albums after that; Automatic for the People, Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi (the latter two were/are very underrated, I thought). The turning point came when Bill Berry left the band and the others decided to continue on. They had some very good moments (I'd rate At My Most Beautiful easily with any of their best songs) but it was never really the same.
These guys are one of my all-time favorite bands, one of the best American bands, and one of the best bands, period. Despite the last 10-15 years, even if I wasn't really a fan of the post-Berry stuff, they had a really fucking good run and I wish I could thank them for being there.
This is probably my favorite REM tune, check it out. And if you don't have any album and perhaps were curious, start at the beginning with the IRS stuff. It's really, really good. There's also a very good compilation album called And I Feel Fine... The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987, which is worth it if you want to start off with a sampler.
REM - Fall On Me