With 15 studio albums, tons of outtakes, and scores of unreleased material getting anyone to name their favourite R.E.M. song is a major task. For super fans, comparing some of the band’s numerous different eras and sounds is almost sacrilege: the folk-heavy 1980s, the pop songs, the acoustic mandolin-led early 1990s, the glam rock turn on Monster, the airy electronica of Up. R.E.M. could sound like multiple different bands across their catalogue, so pinpointing just a single song is incredibly difficult.
Michael Stipe has given it a fair shot, though. In a 2018 discussion with The Guardian, Stipe cited ‘The Lifting’ from 2001’s Reveal, ‘World Leader Pretend’ from 1988’s Green, and ‘We All Go Back to Where We Belong’, a previously unreleased track that finally saw the light of day when the band announced their split, as some of his favourites.
It might be surprising to see comparatively few R.E.M. classics on that list. No ‘Man on the Moon’ or ‘Losing My Religion’ or ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’. In fact, Stipe originally didn’t list anything from the band’s first six beloved albums, only later amending his list to include ‘World Leader Pretend’. Stipe seems like the kind of figure who constantly likes to look to the future, not the past, so perhaps it’s not shocking that some of his favourites are hidden gems and overlooked songs.
But when R.E.M. showed up for their first of two MTV Unplugged concerts in 1991, Stipe was more amicable to one of the band’s best-loved songs. That would be ‘Fall On Me’, the folky first single from 1985’s Lifes Rich Pageant. Concerning the effects of acid rain and advocating a strong environmentalism message, ‘Fall On Me’ was a major step forward in R.E.M.’s catalogue, showing Stipe becoming more comfortable with taking on specific topics and references within his lyrics.
When introducing the song during the Unplugged concert, Stipe claimed that ‘Fall On Me’ “may well be my favourite song in the R.E.M. catalogue.” The statistics seem to support this claim as well, as ‘Fall On Me’ remains the ninth-most played song in R.E.M.’s live career. According to setlist.com, the band played ‘Fall On Me’ 382 times over the course of 23 years. That’s more times than favourites like ‘Driver 8’ or even mega-hits like ‘Everybody Hurts’.
Check out R.E.M.’s performance of ‘Fall On Me’ at their 1991 MTV Unplugged concert down below.