Friday, January 16, 2009

I can tell you what it's NOT

Was reading through the great pop culture blog Pop Candy today, and it was mailbag time. This question (and answer) appeared:

I was sitting around with my friends, and we started to discuss R.E.M. I asked them to tell me their all-time top 10 favorite R.E.M. songs. We had a long and very heated discussion on this topic. To help us settle this, can you give me your all time top 10 R.E.M. songs? -- Bill K.

This changes all the time for me, and I know I've written about this before. However, on this day, at this moment, here are my favorites:

1. Driver 8
2. Fall On Me
3. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville
4. Begin the Begin
5. Country Feedback
6. Cuyahoga
7. E-bow the Letter
8. So. Central Rain
9. Pretty Persuasion
10. It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

I like Whitney's list quite a bit. After I read this, I started thinking about my own R.E.M. Top 10. Given where I went to school, and the timing of it all, there's probably no band on earth I've heard (and seen) more. It goes without saying that they are indeed my favorite band. So I've listened to every song they've ever done hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

But before I consider the favorites, I can definitively state what song will NOT be appearing on this list: "Swan Swan H." I honestly think I would rather listen to a Debby Boone rap album than this tune. Back in the college days, there was a group of us that lived together and we always played cards or darts while partaking in a bit of the devil's parsley and listening to tunes -- usually R.E.M. We all loved Life's Rich Pageant, but the second -- and I mean the second -- that "Swan Swan H" started, the four of us would frantically reach for the remote. Even in a bambalachi haze, when Stipe started moaning "swan....swan....hummingbird song..." someone would hit "forward" or "stop" or "mute" or anything just to get the madness to stop. If the remote wasn't in easy grasp, one of us would jump from the card table in a hippie lettuce stupor and and sprint like Usain Bolt across the living room to hit a button, any button, on the CD player.

Anyhoo, that's more than enough time spent discussing a song I hope to never hear again.

As for my top 10? I feel similarly that this changes all the time, depending on mood and what you've listened to lately. When Accelerate came out this summer, it marked a great return to form for the band, and I played the hell out of "Living Well is the Best Revenge." So that's perhaps a bit overcooked in my memory right now, or else it might make the list. And I don't necessarily consider this the "best" of R.E.M., but rather a list of my favorites:

  1. Pretty Persuasion
  2. Chronic Town (Box Cars)
  3. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville
  4. Turn You Inside-Out
  5. Begin the Begin
  6. Can't Get There From Here
  7. It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
  8. So. Central Rain
  9. I Believe
  10. Perfect Circle
  11. Just a Touch

Okay, I cheated and added an extra to the Top 10. Sue me. Also, special mention has to go to some of the oddities from Dead Letter Office, including "Voice of Harold," "Windout," "Walter's Theme," "Toys in the Attic" (which I actually heard before Aerosmith's original), "Pale Blue Eyes" and the drunken "King of the Road."

What about y'all?


  1. Off the top of my head?

    1. Don't Go Back To Rockville
    2. Electrolite
    3. Fall On Me
    4. Half A World Away
    5. Driver 8
    6. Strange Currencies
    7. Night Swimming
    8. Supernatural Superserious
    9. Country Feedback
    10. First We Take Manhattan (from a Leonard Cohen tribute album)

    However, I would be happy never hearing Losing My Religion or It's The End of the World ... for the rest of my life. Not bad songs, but I've heard them way too many times.

  2. I rarely get sick of songs I truly love, but if I had to pick an "overheard" REM song, it would probably be Fall On Me. But it's still damned good.

    Unrelated - I can't tell you how many times I played End of the World in a row one weekend in college, trying to figure out the lyrics. REM hardly ever "published" lyrics, and they were mumbled and obscure enough as it (and this is back in the days before the intertubes). We sat in front of a speaker, and kept running the CD over and over in micro-segments, trying to write them all down. Now, you can get them all within 2 seconds on your blackberry. Progress for society!

  3. REM hit the mainstream somewhere between Green and Out Of Time up here. When they hit big Losing My Religion was inescapable.

    Also, It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I'm Too Lazy To Type Out The Rest Of The Song Title In It's Entirety As It Contains A Lot Of Words And You Would Surely Know What I Was Referencing Even If I Didn't Type Out The Parenthetical Part) was a minor, almost Weird Al Yankovickian novelty hit song. Sad, as it is a great song, but the memory is still tarnished by a much younger Hipster trying to get people to listen to Murmur. If 'normal' people liked it, how good could it be?

    By the way, if I get to add two more songs, they'd be Daysleeper and Bad Day. Later REM discs aren't consistent but usually include a gem or two.

    Re: Unrelated - I remember doing the same thing to Red Barchetta by Rush as a pre-hip hipster. Mind you, now that I'm old enough to realize
    'cool' people unapologetically listen to whatever they want - I'm still really fond of Rush.

    I really shouldn't be on the internets drunk.