If there was a single band that shaped my teenage ears, that shook me from the confines of classic rock radio and awakened me to quirky, adventuresome college rock, it was R.E.M. Soon after discovering Document, I had worked my way back through every cassette in their catalog. And when that was exhausted, I started looking for other bands that just sounded something like R.E.M. I felt sheltered, even betrayed, learning that all this music had been made during my adolescence—just up the road in Athens—while I was mowing the lawn to Foreigner 4.
I kept buying R.E.M. albums, eventually on CD, even as the quartet became a trio when Bill Berry departed. Rumors flew that the band would play its last show on New Year’s Eve of 1999, and while they plowed on into the new millennium, the ‘00s haven’t been as kind to R.E.M. But Accelerate was a fine return to form. And as I was reminded when Rhett Miller came to the Paste studio and played “Driver 8,” there are some mighty fine songs in R.E.M.’s 30-year oeuvre. Here are my favorites:
20. “King of Birds” (Document)
This may have been the song that immediately made me such a rabid fan. With words crashing into each other during the chorus and Stipe’s voice soaring as 100 million birds flew away.
19. “These Days” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
Following on the heels of “Begin the Begin,” one of the band’s best rock songs takes the energy up another notch.
18. “World Leader Pretend” (Green)
High-school Josh had this song on repeat, and now it’s the one R.E.M. album not in my iTunes. I need to remedy that, if only for this song and “Hairshirt.”
17. “Cuyahoga” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
Starts with a perfect little bass lick from Mike Mills and gets lovelier as it goes.
16. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (Monster)
Grunge was still king in 1994, and R.E.M.’s album of fuzzy, distorted guitar mostly left me unimpressed, with this one glorious exception.
15. “Gardening at Night” (Chronic Town)
The band was already gelling on the debut EP, particularly on its best song.
14. “Man on the Moon” (Automatic for the People)
This tribute to Andy Kaufman contains one of the catchiest choruses of any R.E.M. song.
13. “7 Chinese Bros.” (Reckoning)
One of the classic Peter Buck riffs also works well on the alternate take (“Voice of Harold”).
12. “Fall on Me” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
This list could have solely been made up of songs from Life’s Rich Pageant.
11. “Everybody Hurts” (Automatic For the People)
I think it’s the subtle Hammond organ that really makes this beautifully sad, uncharacteristically straightforward ballad.