"You Are the Everything" – R.E.M. (Song of the Day)

Green album coverSuch a wonderful little song off the Green album. You might not have expected mandolin from R.E.M., but there it is. Peter Buck branching out to new instruments means new and interesting sounds for R.E.M.

Like a lot of R.E.M. tunes, the lyrics are a bit more poignant when sung than on paper. "Drifting off to sleep with your teeth in your mouth" puzzled me as a teen. Where else would they be? Perhaps he's talking about dentures, but that seems weird. The overall effect is lovely, though.

This is one of those quiet, unassuming songs that I tend to forget about until I listen to the album. Then it's like, "oh, right! This song is fantastic." Not that there are any bad songs on Green, mind you.

My favorite 100 albums of all time: #9 ("New Adventures in Hi-Fi")

"New Adventures in Hi-Fi"I had low expectations for New Adventures in Hi-Fi after Monster, but R.E.M. blew it out of the water with this one.

From 1983 to 1992, R.E.M. had an unbroken string of fantastic albums, at least by my reckoning. (No pun intended.) To that point, Document was the high-water mark for me, but I had zero disappointment in Green, Out of Time, or Automatic for the People. (I even like "Shiny Happy People" non-ironically. At least I think I like it non-ironically. Who can tell, these days?)

And then Monster. I slogged through a few listens to Monster and then put it aside, disappointed. It seemed R.E.M. and I had gone separate ways. And then New Adventures came out, and all was well with the world.

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My favorite 100 albums of all time: #19 ("Document")

"Document" album coverFor Document R.E.M. picked up a much harder edge than previous albums. Sure, Life's Rich Pageant dabbled a bit with more aggressive guitar, but Document has a much harsher sound throughout. And it sounds so, so good.

Document practically kicks you in the face with the opening track, "Finest Worksong." A whip-crack snare and then Peter Buck is off to the races with an almost metal guitar intro that sets the rhythm. There's more than a little The Who influence here. And Michael Stipe's voice, once again, is crisp and clear at the forefront. This is, by the way, true to its title. If "Finest Worksong" doesn't motivate you to get shit done, seek medical care.

R.E.M. has taken on some political overtones with Document. "Welcome to the Occupation," and "Exhuming McCarthy" in particular. "Exhuming McCarthy" is also the first R.E.M. song I can recall with "found" sounds or samples, starting with the typewriter setting the tempo at the beginning, and then audio of Joseph Welch chastising Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings. There's some heavy keyboard on this one, and I seem to recall it was Peter Holsapple on this track but I can't find anything today that confirms this.

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My favorite 100 albums of all time: #42 ("Life's Rich Pageant")

"Life's Rich Pageant" album coverIt's almost by accident that I wound up being a big fan of R.E.M. A happy accident, I might add.

Earlier in this series I talked about my early obsession with Robyn Hitchcock. Not long after I became a big fan of Robyn Hitchcock, a friend of mine turned up with tickets to R.E.M.'s Green tour. Was I interested? "Dunno," I responded, "I'm not really a big R.E.M. fan" – and threw out an unlikely scenario "unless Robyn Hitchcock is opening or something…" Turns out, yes, he was. So… I decided to brush up on my R.E.M.

Life's Rich Pageant is one of my very favorite R.E.M. albums. It's the last album before R.E.M. really took off, and has a lot of the feel of early R.E.M. – but finally moves Michael Stipe's vocals to the forefront rather than burying them in the mix. It also has a decent mix of straight-forward rockers and oddball pieces that only indie bands can get away with.

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My favorite 100 albums of all time: #85 ("The Minus 5")

The Minus 5 album cover The Minus 5 may be one of the best bar bands ever assembled. Made up of a rotating cast of alt-rock heroes like former R.E.M.'er Peter Buck and drummer Bill Rieflin, and headed by Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, the self-titled The Minus 5 is a loose, rollicking set of songs that practically beg to be performed live.

I can thank Robyn Hitchcock for my introduction to The Minus 5. Several members of The Minus 5 (Buck, McCaughey, and Rieflin) backed Hitchcock on his 2006 album Olé! Tarantula as "The Venus 3," and I had the chance to catch the bands in Seattle, playing the Crocodile Cafe in November 2006. So I nabbed The Minus 5 too, to see what they had to offer. Quite a lot, as it turns out. (Spoiler alert, this isn't the only time Hitchcock or Buck will appear in the top 100.)

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