R.E.M.’s Top 10 Songs: An Alternative Expedition



R.E.M.’s influence on the alternative rock scene of the 1980s and 1990s is hard to overstate. Hailing from Athens, Georgia, the band carved out a unique sound that blended catchy melodies with poignant and introspective lyrics. Through their career, R.E.M. released a string of highly acclaimed albums, solidifying their status as one of the most influential bands of their time. In this article, we will take an alternative expedition through R.E.M.’s discography and discuss their top 10 songs that have left an indelible mark on the alternative music landscape.

1. “Losing My Religion” – Out of Time (1991)

“Losing My Religion” propelled R.E.M. to new heights of mainstream success, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning the band several Grammy nominations. The song’s instantly recognizable mandolin riff, haunting lyrics, and soaring chorus made it an iconic track of the ’90s. “Losing My Religion” not only showcased R.E.M.’s ability to craft memorable melodies but also addressed themes of unrequited love and the internal struggle of maintaining one’s faith.

The impact of “Losing My Religion” on popular culture cannot be overstated. Its evocative and mysterious music video, directed by Tarsem Singh, introduced R.E.M. to a wider audience and became a staple on MTV. The song’s success also solidified R.E.M.’s reputation as a band that could create meaningful, introspective music while maintaining commercial appeal. Watch the music video here.

2. “Man on the Moon” – Automatic for the People (1992)

“Man on the Moon,” inspired by the life and legacy of comedian Andy Kaufman, is a mesmerizing track off R.E.M.’s critically acclaimed album, “Automatic for the People.” The song showcases R.E.M.’s ability to tackle complex subject matter with both depth and accessibility. Its hypnotic melody, driven by Peter Buck’s distinctive guitar work, combined with Michael Stipe’s poignant lyrics, created a heartfelt tribute to an enigmatic cultural figure.

“Man on the Moon” went on to become one of R.E.M.’s most iconic songs, resonating with listeners across the globe. Its infectious chorus and themes of wonder, inspiration, and mortality earned it a lasting place in popular culture. The song was also featured in the 1999 film of the same name, solidifying its impact on both the music and film worlds. Watch the music video here.

3. “Everybody Hurts” – Automatic for the People (1992)

“Everybody Hurts,” also from “Automatic for the People,” is an emotionally charged ballad that has become an enduring anthem for people facing adversity. The song’s powerful message of empathy and solidarity resonates with listeners, providing comfort in times of despair. Musically, “Everybody Hurts” showcases R.E.M.’s ability to build tension and release it in a cathartic fashion.

The impact of “Everybody Hurts” transcends the alternative rock genre, becoming a symbol of hope and unity. Its moving lyrics and memorable melodies have helped countless individuals find solace in difficult moments. Furthermore, the song has been covered by various artists over the years, serving as a testament to its enduring popularity and impact on popular culture. Watch the music video here.

4. “Nightswimming” – Automatic for the People (1992)

“Nightswimming,” another jewel from “Automatic for the People,” captures the nostalgic essence of childhood innocence and the bittersweet feeling of growing up. The song’s gentle piano melody, accompanied by Michael Stipe’s delicate vocals, creates an intimate and evocative atmosphere. The heartfelt lyrics touch on themes of longing, memory, and the passage of time.

The impact of “Nightswimming” lies in its ability to transport listeners to a specific moment in their own lives, evoking emotions that are relatable to people of all ages. The song’s rich imagery and poignant storytelling showcase R.E.M.’s songwriting prowess and further solidify their reputation as masters of crafting deeply emotive music. Watch the music video here.

5. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – Document (1987)

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is a frenetic and infectious track that showcases R.E.M.’s ability to infuse their music with social and political commentary. Released during the height of the Cold War, the song’s rapid-fire lyrical delivery and energetic instrumentation captured the chaotic zeitgeist of the time.

The impact of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” not only lies in its catchy chorus and clever wordplay but also in its ability to articulate anxieties prevalent in society. The song has since become a cultural touchstone, referenced in various films, television shows, and even during times of significant societal change. It remains a testament to R.E.M.’s ability to tap into the collective consciousness of their audience. Watch the music video here.

6. “Radio Free Europe” – Murmur (1983)

“Radio Free Europe” served as R.E.M.’s debut single, released in 1981, and quickly became an anthem for college rock. The song’s jangly and raw sound, combined with abstract lyrics that remain open to interpretation, created an intriguing and distinctive musical identity for the band. “Radio Free Europe” marked the beginning of R.E.M.’s journey as an alternative music powerhouse.

The impact of “Radio Free Europe” extended beyond its initial release, serving as a catalyst for the rise of the alternative rock movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Its success on college radio demonstrated the demand for music that deviated from mainstream pop and encouraged other bands to push boundaries and explore new sonic territories. R.E.M.’s debut single paved the way for a new generation of alternative music, making it an essential part of their discography. Watch the music video here.

7. “Orange Crush” – Green (1988)

“Orange Crush,” from R.E.M.’s album “Green,” is a politically charged anthem that addresses the devastating impact of war. The song’s driving rhythm, abrasive guitar work, and Michael Stipe’s impassioned vocals create a sense of urgency and frustration. “Orange Crush” is a powerful protest song that remains relevant and impactful to this day.

The impact of “Orange Crush” extends beyond its lyrical content, as it represented R.E.M.’s transition from an underground band to a mainstream success. The song’s success in the charts and its widespread airplay signaled R.E.M.’s ability to maintain their artistic integrity while reaching a wider audience. It also solidified their reputation as a band with a distinct and powerful voice in both the music and political arenas. Watch the music video here.

8. “Stand” – Green (1988)

“Stand,” another standout track from the “Green” album, stands out for its infectious upbeat sound and optimistic lyrics. The song’s catchy melody, complete with hand claps and sing-along refrains, showcases R.E.M.’s ability to captivate listeners with a more lighthearted approach. “Stand” showcases the band’s versatility, highlighting their propensity for experimentation and departure from conventional song structures.

The impact of “Stand” lies in its ability to uplift and inspire listeners, counterbalancing the band’s often introspective and melancholic tracks. The song achieved commercial success, reaching significant positions on various charts worldwide, and further solidified R.E.M.’s place in popular culture. “Stand” became a fan favorite and remains a staple of the band’s live performances. Watch the music video here.

9. “The One I Love” – Document (1987)

“The One I Love” is an iconic and powerful track from R.E.M.’s fifth studio album, “Document.” With its signature slashing guitar riff and a deceptively catchy melody, this song represents R.E.M. at their most accessible while retaining their alternative edge. Lyrically, “The One I Love” explores themes of love, obsession, and the complicated nature of relationships.

The impact of “The One I Love” stems from its ability to captivate audiences with its irresistible hooks while delivering a deeper and thought-provoking lyrical message. The song’s success in mainstream charts showcased R.E.M.’s ability to bridge the gap between alternative and popular music, offering a unique sound that resonated with a wide range of listeners. Watch the music video here.

10. “Bad Day” – In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 (2003)

“Bad Day” was initially recorded in 1986 but remained unreleased until R.E.M.’s compilation album “In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.” The song became a single in 2003, and its fiery energy and socially conscious lyrics made an immediate impact. Bursting with urgency, “Bad Day” is a powerful critique of media manipulation and political deceit.

The impact of “Bad Day” extends beyond its catchy melody and electrifying sound. Its release in 2003 coincided with global political unrest, making it resonate with audiences searching for a voice to articulate their frustrations. The song’s success further solidified R.E.M.’s position as an influential force, capable of delivering impactful music that resonated with listeners over the span of several decades. Watch the music video here.

R.E.M.’s discography is brimming with iconic alternative rock tracks that have stood the test of time. Each song on this list represents a vital piece of the band’s legacy, showcasing their ability to create introspective, catchy, and socially conscious music. R.E.M.’s influence on the alternative rock genre is immeasurable, with their thoughtful lyrics, memorable melodies, and unique sound shaping the future of music.

As we’ve taken this alternative expedition through R.E.M.’s top 10 songs, it becomes evident that their impact extends far beyond the alternative rock scene. R.E.M.’s music has touched countless lives, providing solace, inspiration, and a soundtrack to the most profound moments in our existence. Their songs have transcended generations and continue to resonate with listeners of all backgrounds. R.E.M.’s place in the pantheon of alternative rock is undeniable, and their legacy as a band that challenged conventions and pushed boundaries remains firmly intact.