16 Most Underrated R.E.M. Songs
From their 1982 debut EP, Chronic Town, through 2011’s career-capping Collapse Into Now, R.E.M. released numerous songs that wove their ways into our personal soundtracks: “Losing My Religion,” “Man on the Moon,” “Superman,” “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” and on and on.
But if you only know the hits, you’re missing out on some of the best songs in the band’s discography. R.E.M. made some remarkable music during their 30 years in the studio — too much, in fact, to cover in a single playlist.
And so we compromised. It wasn’t easy, but we limited ourselves to one single song from each of the band’s albums (and Chronic Town) that might not be on your playlist but should be. These are our picks for the 16 Most Underrated R.E.M. Songs:
“Gardening at Night”
The band came out of the gate strong with the Chronic Town EP. “Gardening at Night” set the template for the R.E.M. sound, and it still sounds fresh over 30 years later.
This cut from the band’s first full-length album demonstrated that they weren’t all about the jangle. R.E.M. were capable of ballads as pretty and delicate as … well, as a perfect circle.
“Time After Time (AnnElise)”
This should’ve been the greatest song named “Time After Time” released in 1984, but Cyndi Lauper dropped a monster single by the same title in January of that year. There’s time for two, though.
“Maps and Legends”
A good song in any format, but this live version recorded at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Los Angeles is a true classic. If you’re a collector, you’ll find this on the B-side of the 12″ single version of “The One I Love.”
“What If We Give It Away?”
This is one of those songs that flies under the radar solely because it is so well-constructed: rock solid groove, great vocals from both Michaels — Stipe on lead and Mills on harmony. One would have a hard time finding a song that more accurately showcases R.E.M.’s sound.
“Disturbance at the Heron House”
“Disturbance at the Heron House” is one of those evolutionary oddities that marks the boundary between old and new. Document marked the end of R.E.M.’s career as indie artists. Shades of what was to come with Warner Bros. are on display in this track, but the “classic” R.E.M. sound is still there.
“Turn You Inside Out”
Few songs have been more appropriately titled. Green announced the end of the “new wave Byrds,” replaced by a more muscular, arena rock sound. The shift certainly turned longtime fans inside out, but it also brought the band a whole new audience.
Out of Time was a monster, both commercially and critically. Tracks like “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People” propelled the album to multi-platinum sales, but “Country Feedback” anchored the band to its roots — and to its diehard fan base.
Michael Stipe’s growth as a lyricist over the band’s first 10 years was remarkable. Moving from the impenetrable lyrics of Murmur to the evocative imagery of “Nightswimming” in just a decade is a tremendous artistic achievement.
And it’s the best song you’ll ever hear about skinny dipping, too.
Monster was conceived as an album that rocked, and no cut rocked harder than this one. “Circus Envy” sounds like some lost piece of ’60s garage psychedelia as channeled by your favorite riot grrrrls.
Maybe the most southern rock track the band ever cut — never mind hi-fi, give us this one on 8-track, preferably jammed into the dashboard of a ’70 Chevelle.
“At My Most Beautiful”
An odd candidate for an “underrated” list given its Top 10 showing on the U.K. singles charts, but the track didn’t do much in the U.S. Too bad — it’s a beautiful song, nearly an approximation of what an R.E.M./Phil Spector collaboration may have sounded like.
“All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)”
Another great “What if” song, in this case, “What would R.E.M. sound like playing Jimmy Webb songs?” Here you have it — the greatest sequel to “Wichita Lineman” that Jimmy Webb never wrote.
Around the Sun didn’t fare too well in the U.S., but “Final Straw” stands out as one of the finest protest songs written in response to the Iraq war.
“Sing for the Submarine”
A weird, dramatic picture painted with waltz time, minor keys and obtuse lyrics. This is what R.E.M. is all about.
Collapse Into Now was part swansong, part celebration. Like Seinfeld’s George Costanza, the band wanted to go out on a high note. The album featured not only a fierce collection of songs but an all-star supporting cast. This uniquely title track features guest performances from Peaches and the legendary Lenny Kaye. Come on!