Thirty Years of Music

There’s something pretty cool about (most of) the response to R.E.M. breaking up. I’m not referring to the people who are saying, “Who’s that?” or “About time,” of course, but rather the number of responses talking about why the band meant so much to them, and their favorite songs. (My friend Chris Butcher has a nice write-up of why he loved R.E.M., for example.)

But here’s the thing that I find the coolest, at least for me. Every time someone has said, “And here’s my favorite song,” I’ve started nodding along… and then realized that once again, no one among my friends appears to be picking a duplicate. I guess when you’ve got 15 full length albums (plus EPs, soundtrack contributions, and bonus tracks for compilations) it’s easy to hit that.

I won’t pretend I’ve got anything deep to write about the band—I first started paying attention to them in the mid-80s thanks to a co-worker at Giant Food, plus my friend Kira in high school—but I too have loved a lot of their music and thought I’d pick three favorite songs; one from the ’80s, one from the ’90s, and one from the ’00s. (I’ll be nice and include 2011’s Collapse into Now into that final grouping.) I tried to pick non-singles as well, if only because they’re great songs that you may not have heard.

Exhuming McCarthy

From the clicking of the typewriter keys to the bouncing tune and the sharp lyrics, I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it, before it was even complete. Never fails to put me into a good mood, simply by its presence.

Sweetness Follows

Choosing just one song from the ’90s is almost impossible, thanks to five amazingly strong albums (Out of Time, Automatic for the People, Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and Up), save for the fact that this song is always fighting for the top slot regardless of year constraints. There’s something just so dark and beautiful from the very first moment, with that rasp of the bow over the cello’s string… if I could write something half as beautiful as this song I’d be an extremely happy man.

Living Well is the Best Revenge

After a tepid response to Around the Sun (which is definitely their weakest album but “Leaving New York” and “The Boy in the Well” mean it’s still got a couple of good tracks), R.E.M. blazed back with Accelerate, the perfect title for their high-energy response. This is the first track from the album, and it lays down the law for what’s to come. There are a lot of quiet songs from their last few albums I could’ve chosen, but best to remember one of their powerful, fast-moving ones to wrap this up. And after all, R.E.M. has been living pretty well these past 30 years. Thanks for all the great music, guys.

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