The Best American Band: R.E.M.



R.E.M. has had a long and distinguished career. The band clearly has its roots in the 1980s — and the early ’80s at that — but its stripped-down sound and lyrics reflected a sharp departure from the more frivolous songs of that decade. Many of R.E.M.’s more memorable songs have stories to tell and do so with an interesting, quiet intensity. So, Central Rain and (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville are good examples. At the same time, in other songs the band managed to combine humor and political commentary, such as in The End of the World as We Know It, Orange Crush, and Man on the Moon. And, of course, where would TV dramas be without Everybody Hurts being played at some crucial moment of character angst and self-awareness? I expect that song is one of the most oft-played in TV history.

Although the topics of R.E.M.’s songs are diverse, the band’s sound remains easily identifiable. Credit must be given to any group that had more than a decade of extraordinary success, managed to record songs that mention professional wrestling and soft drinks and feature a not-bad Elvis impression, and ultimately produced a very strong body of work over a series of albums. The faithful Ipod reflects the high quality of R.E.M.’s offerings, including songs like What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?, Radio Free Europe, Talk About the Passion, So, Central Rain, Fall on Me, The One I Love, It’s the End of the World as We Know It, Stand, Man on the Moon, and Orange Crush.

Oh, and one other thing — even if you don’t have the greatest vocal range or talent, you can still sing along to R.E.M. songs. I must commend a band that records in an accessible key.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

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