Considering that R.E.M. released their debut album a year before I was born, it’s safe to say that I grew up surrounded by their music, whether it was on the radio, at a friend’s house, or that infamous scene at the beginning of Independence Day where “It’s The End Of The World And We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” plays in the background (in a rather obvious attempt at foreshadowing, I might add). It makes me pine for the days of my not-too distant childhood when all Will Smith did was save the world from alien invaders (and I could still enjoy a Hollywood blockbuster) and R.E.M. were busy crafting a sound that would in many ways define the landscape of alternative rock for an entire decade. Combining a relentless work ethic (releasing a new album every year from `83-’88 and touring non-stop) with an underground buzz and ever-increasing following that would culminate with their major-label debut in 1988 with Green, R.E.M. created a model for success that would be adopted by independent artists for years to come.
The move from independent label IRS Records to Warner Bros. with the release of Green found R.E.M. further refining their pop formula, which would peak on their subsequent releases of the ’90s;—91’s Out Of Time and 92’s Automatic For The People. On Green, long gone are Michael Stipe’s mumblings from the days of Murmur. Stipe’s vocals leap to the foreground, leading the way for Peter Buck, who had since honed the jangle of his Byrds-inspired guitar work. Besides spawning two massive singles, the anthemic “Stand” and the infectious “Orange Crush,” Green also allowed the band to experiment with Buck’s mandolin in the delicate “You Are The Everything” and “Hairshirt” (leading eventually to the hugely successful mandolin-led “Losing My Religion” from Out Of Time).
From the opening arpeggiated guitar chords of leadoff track “Pop Song `89,” Stipe plays the role of prophet, forecasting the future of music for the coming year (and years to come) with seeming aplomb. In the aforementioned “You Are The Everything,” Buck’s mandolin takes center stage with accordion for accompaniment and the eventual flourish of piano over Stipe’s heartfelt lyrics. Stipe expounds on his lyrical prowess hinted at on “The One I Love” from Document, loading the songs on Green with a pervasive theme of introspection and self doubt: “this is my mistake/ let me make it good” on “World Leader Pretend” and “Dreams/ they complicate my life” from “Get Up.”
And as for the singles: the rhythm section for “Orange Crush,” led by Bill Perry’s trusty drumming and Mike Mills commanding bass line, yanks you by the ears and doesn’t let go for 4 minutes. Although, I’m not sure what Stipe is singing about, it’s a perfectly radio friendly pop-tune (and a decent soda advertisement for that matter). “Stand” is unarguably one head-bobber of a tune, and Stipe’s call to “Stand in the place where you are/ Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t” has a certain sense of profound simplicity that might actually make you stop to think about its invitation.
You’d be hard pressed to argue that R.E.M. didn’t influence an army of bands raised in the ’80s and ’90s (heard the new cover of “Orange Crush” by Editors yet?) as well as the musical direction of alternative music to a certain degree. With Green, the band assured their success through the coming decade, and also proved they were ready for the big time. It’s probably not difficult for most people to think of an R.E.M. song they like and to remember where they first heard it (even if it was in a Will Smith movie), and even harder to think of an R.E.M. hit they dislike. For one of the hardest working bands in the business, I think I’ll `stand’ and give R.E.M. the round of applause they deserve.
Human Television – Look At Who You’re Talking To
The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man
Toad The Wet Sprocket – Fear