Deep Cuts: R.E.M.

Statistics show – and please don’t ask to see the statistics, because someone set their coffee down on them, it spilled, and now the ink’s all smeared, so you can’t read them, anyway – that there are essentially only two types of R.E.M. fans: those who discovered the band prior to the release of their 1987 album, Document, and those who discovered them when the band’s single, “The One I Love,” unexpectedly began its stampede into the Billboard Top 10.

Me, I cut it pretty close. I discovered them with Dead Letter Office, a B-sides and rarities collection that showed up in stores scant months before Document… but, still, if there’s a fence, I’m on the side where I can wave over it and point and laugh like Nelson Muntz, saying, “HA-ha!”

I first heard R.E.M. when “Fall On Me” scored some minimal mainstream radio airplay in 1986, but, on a field trip with my high school journalism class, I ended up hearing Lifes Rich Pageant – the album from which “Fall On Me” originates – in its entirety, which piqued my interest enough to invest in a cassette copy of the aforementioned Dead Letter Office. I must’ve read Peter Buck’s liner notes about the origins and histories of that album’s contents a hundred times – no small feat, given the tiny type in that tape cover – and I decided that I was definitely going to be picking up more of the band’s recorded output.

So I did.

It’s almost 20 years later now, and I’ve got all of the band’s studio albums, as well as a handful of CD singles, a best-of collection, a rarities disc, and – shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone! – even a bootleg or two. I’ve seen them live three times, and even had a close encounter with Bill Berry as he wandered the campus of the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, before the band’s show – with openers 10,000 Maniacs, no less – at William and Mary Hall. You may be familiar with the concert in question; Peter Buck immortalized it in the pages of Rolling Stone when he bitched about getting nailed in the head by a wet sweatsock…which, come to think of it, would explain why our encore got cut short.

So armed with that knowledge and experience, here are my picks for some of R.E.M.’s best deep cuts:

1. “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars),” Chronic Town EP – From the get go, it was obvious that Michael Stipe was not going to be going out of his way to have his lyrics understood, but you can at least make out that this is where the title of the band’s first EP came from. Dig the creepy circus music that starts the song; it makes for a great mix disc opener.

2. “Perfect Circle,” Murmur – One of the loveliest songs in R.E.M.’s catalog, it remains a favorite of many fans…and, apparently, of the band themselves; even 22 years down the road, they still break it out in concert once in awhile.

3. “We Walk,” Murmur – It’s an inconsequential little number buried near the end of the album, but damned if your head doesn’t bob every time you listen to it.

4. “7 Chinese Brothers,” Reckoning – Peter Buck’s chiming guitar, with a little helping from the occasional plinking of a piano, is what drives the song. The track was revisited on the flip side of “So. Central Rain” in the form of “Voice of Harold,” where Stipe recited all new lyrics over the same music. But it’s the original that’s “a must.”

5. “Second Guessing,” Reckoning – It’s a pop song, pure and simple, coming in at under three minutes in length…2:50, to be precise. Stipe spends most of the time asking, “Why are you trying to second guess me,” but it’s the bit where he and Mills harmonize on the line, “Here we are,” that makes the track.

To see the entire R.E.M Deep Cuts list, click here, and check out Bullz-Eye’s R.E.M. profile.


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