One of my all-time favorite bands has pulled the plug after 31 years and I’m confused. I’m confused because this year they released what may be my favorite album of this year. I’m confused because this album seemed to return them to the greatness of their 80’s & early 90’s music. I’m confused because, quite frankly, they seemed to disappear for many years and then returned and seemed stronger than ever. Nevertheless, there it was on their website on 9/21/11 that they are “calling it a day” as a band and are leaving as friends who have moved on and have new interests to pursue.
This is, for me, sad news. There are few bands that I can honestly say that I would wait in line at midnight to buy their new albums. R.E.M. was one of those bands. I remember when I first became fan of R.E.M. It wasn’t in their early years. Actually, I had never heard of them until their breakout hit, “One I Love,” hit the pop charts in the summer of 1987. That was my senior year in high school and it was a staple in many mix tapes that I would make that year. The single will always be one of my favorite songs and to this day I hear it and it transports me back to my younger days. From there I went to college and ended up working in the radio industry. R.E.M. released “Green” in 1988 and I remember playing “Stand” and “Get Up” on AM radio and getting the album for free as the station got extra copies. I played it non-stop in my car and, even though it’s not the strongest R.E.M. album, it still resonates with me whenever I hear a song off it.
And then, in the early spring of 1991, I was a senior at Ohio University and program director of the campus radio station when “Out Of Time” was released. I imagine we played every track off the album in heavy rotation that year. I can’t hear a song from it that doesn’t remind me of that year in school. College is where I became who I am today. Those days spent with friends, working at the station, going to classes and enjoying my final year of school are all wrapped in “Out Of Time.” I hardly remember listening to anything else. And those days, in my mind, are as pure as any memory I have. From the super-hit “Losing My Religion” to the final track “Me And Honey,” there’s not a bad track on the album and it’s a classic by any standard.
The year after I graduated, in the fall of 1992, R.E.M. released “Automatic For The People” and, once again, I wore it out in my tape deck in my car, listening to it repeatedly that winter. It’s funny to me that “Everybody Hurts” became as big as it did because it’s one of my least favorites on “Automatic.” My personal favorite, “Try Not To Breathe,” never became a hit but it’s one of MY favorites by the band…
I will try not to worry you
I have seen things that you will never see
Leave it to memory me. Don’t dare me to breathe
I want you to remember, oh (you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
Over my grave again (you will never see)
I need something to breathe (something to breathe)
Baby, don’t shiver now
Why do you shiver? (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to breathe (something to breathe – I have seen things you will never see)
I want you to remember
In 1994, R.E.M. released “Monster.” On that album, the band went more mainstream rock with “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” and it was on their tour for this album that I that I finally got to see them live in Cincinnati in October of 1995. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen many. Unfortunately it was also the only time I got to see them perform live. I remember them opening with “Kenneth” and blowing me away with their sonic power. I also recall Stipe singing “Let Me In” with his back to the audience and then whipping us into a frenzy with the show ending “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” They also performed many songs from their upcoming album that I had never heard and I remember thinking that their next album was gonna rock harder than anything they had ever done before. And I was right.
After “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” was released in 1996 and it was everything I wanted it to be. From the sheer sonic force of “The Wake-Up Bomb” to the pounding “Leave,” I really don’t think this album gets the status it deserves. It ranks high as one of my favorite R.E.M. albums mostly because it’s a combination of so much of everything that R.E.M. was up to that time. In 1997, drummer Bill Berry left the band. Tired of the spotlight, he left with the band’s blessing but they seemed lost without him. They released 4 albums without him but never really seemed the same. Until this year and “Collapse Into Now.” And it might very well be my favorite album of the year to this point.
So now R.E.M. is no longer but I have to believe that there are more songs to be heard by this band. 31 years leaves a lot of opportunity to create music and I’m sure there are plenty of songs stored in a vault somewhere just waiting to be heard. They’ve already been inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame (in 2006) and will always be mentioned whenever the discussion of greatest alternative bands of all-time comes up. With 15 studio albums, countless bootleg live albums and a few greatest hits collections, R.E.M. has made its mark on alternative rock radio and will always be one of my favorite bands forever.