R.E.M. is proof that a band can write their best songs in the second half of their career. Monster just turned 20 years old. When it came out in 1994, the band had already been around for over a decade with eight albums under their belt, trying to maintain relevance in an alt-rock landscape. Looking back at their career got me thinking about all the great R.E.M. songs that have made it into the soundtrack of my life. Take a listen:
“The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”
Listen to the opening melody – does it sound like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”? That was the inspiration behind it, with some other great pop cultural references like “Dr. Seuss” and “Nescafe and Ice” thrown in for good measure.
“Imitation Of Life”
It’s appropriate that this new song was included on their 2003 greatest hits collection, because it’s an embodiment of everything that made R.E.M. great: intriguing lyrics, pensive verses, and a super catchy chorus to keep you hitting that repeat button.
For a band named R.E.M., it’s about time they had a song about sleeping! Michael Stipe wrote the song about how hard it is to be a shift worker living in New York, trying to sleep during the day surrounded by the noise of the world.
“E-bow The Letter”
An E-bow is a guitar sustain device that creates an effect similar to the bow of a violin. The “letter” referenced in the song is rumoured to be written by a concerned Michael Stipe for his friend, actor River Phoenix, who died of a drug overdose before it was ever sent.
This has to be one of the most beautiful tracks in the history of pop music. The relentlessly charging piano, the subtle string arrangements, and the melancholy lyrics that yearn for the days of our youth that can never be recovered. This song is truly a gift to the world.
This Vic Chesnutt cover was featured on the benefit album Sweet Relief II in 1996. Peter Buck’s guitar has never sounded more psychedelic and Michael Stipe’s growl has never sounded more sincere.