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(Credit: Michael Stipe)

Music

Michael Stipe once picked his favourite R.E.M. songs

@josephtaysom

When Michael Stipe founded R.E.M. as a student in 1980, he was oblivious to what waited around the corner for the group during their pioneering three decades together. Since their break up, Stipe can wistfully reminisce on their achievements and reflect on his favourite moments. 

R.E.M. wasn’t your archetypal arena conquering band, and fame was never something that they desperately reached for or even craved. For the first ten years of their career, the band achieved cult status before it all changed in 1991 when their seventh album, Out Of Time, went stratospheric.

The record featured the hit singles ‘Shiny Happy People’ and ‘Losing My Religion’ which catapulted R.E.M. into the hands of a new, international fanbase. For the next few years, the group could do no wrong. However, this rise didn’t last forever, and a tumultuous period got underway following drummer Bill Berry’s amicable departure in 1997. 

It was a setback that stunted the group, and they reinvented themselves in order to survive. In 2018, Stipe discussed eight of his favourite songs from their back catalogue with The Guardian. Unsurprisingly, he avoided selecting any tracks from 1998’s Up, which they created in the wake of Berry handing in his notice.

After naming ‘The Lifting’ from 2001’s Reveal, the singer noted how difficult he found the challenge of adapting to becoming a three-piece. “Peter has the kind of personality that if he’s not happy and he’s in the room with you, it just kind of brings everything down,” Stipe told the publication. “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and one of the most silent people, so you never really knew what was happening inside his brain.”

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‘The Lifting’ is a sequel to ‘Daysleeper’ from Up and finds Stipe writing from a woman’s perspective. He said that these two songs forced him to “challenge my own sense of feminist positioning”. The singer added, “Why did I write this insanely vulnerable character as a woman? I had to examine that.”

Bizarrely, Stipe’s list of eight songs initially didn’t feature a single track from their first six albums, and he also omitted anything from their beloved Automatic For The People. Although, he did later change his mind and include ‘World Leader Pretend’ from 1988’s Green.

“It was the first song I felt so confident about that we printed the lyric on the sleeve, allowing people to read it before they heard it,” Stipe commented. “So you could say it was eight years in the making,” he says about the band’s journey to arrive at ‘World Leader Pretend’.

Meanwhile, Stipe also included ‘We All Go Back to Where We Belong’, a previously unheard track that the group released in 2011 after announcing they were parting ways.

Stipe admitted the split was a “difficult decision”, but one he feels was their only option. “We had fulfilled our contract, and it had become evident to us that it was time to either let it devolve into silliness, which none of us wanted, or make the difficult decision of walking away from it on our own terms and let that be that,” he reflected.

Stipe holds eternal fondness towards those exhilarating years the band enjoyed, and there are not enough diamonds in the world that would tempt him into potentially ruining their legacy. This handpicked eight-song playlist is a fleeting nostalgia-soaked trip down memory lane, which also amplifies why Stipe is right not to risk tarnishing their illustrious name.

Michael Stipe’s favourite R.E.M. songs:

  • ‘World Leader Pretend’
  • ‘Country Feedback’
  • ‘Strange Currencies’
  • ‘The Lifting’
  • ‘Electron Blue’
  • ‘Supernatural Superserious’
  • ‘Oh My Heart’
  • ‘We All Go Back to Where We Belong’