R.E.M. Play By Play

By OfficialDiscogs OfficialDiscogs
updated 6 months ago

An annotated guide to R.E.M.'s most important releases, from the band's 1981 single 'Radio Free Europe' through 2014's 'REMTV.'

  1. R.E.M. - Radio Free Europe

    08 Jul 1981: R.E.M. had been playing around their native Athens, Georgia for a year before recording a demo tape that would spawn its legendary debut seven-inch, “Radio Free Europe.” The so-called “Hib-Tone” single (named for the tiny label that released it) was never a favorite of the band, who re-recorded the A-side for their debut album, Murmur, two years later. But this version was eventually released on other formats via the Eponymous collection, and the original vinyl issue is one of the most sought-after items in the band’s vast discography.

  2. R.E.M. - Chronic Town

    1 For Sale from $20.99

    24 Aug 1982: “Radio Free Europe” may have provided the first glimpse, but the Chronic Town EP really provided the fully formed picture of what R.E.M. would look like for its first few years. Over five songs and 20 minutes, it established Michael Stipe’s mysterious, borderline indecipherable wordplay, Peter Buck’s inimitable guitar chime, and the quietly insistent rhythm section of bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry. The band would remain with I.R.S. for their first half-dozen records, and the lineup wouldn’t shift at all for 15 years.

  3. R.E.M. - Murmur

    13 For Sale from $11.36

    12 Aug 1983: An album both murky in presentation and massively assured in its delivery, Murmur is a stone classic debut, with hardly a weak spot to be found. It not only reclaimed “Radio Free Europe” with a new version, but introduced instant classics “Talk About the Passion” and “Perfect Circle,” the latter of which would provide a template for excellent R.E.M. ballads of the future—though it was still a far cry from “Everybody Hurts.”

  4. R.E.M. - Reckoning

    27 For Sale from $14.00

    09 Apr 1984: Almost exactly a year to the day after Murmur was released, R.E.M. had another great full-length in record stores. Reckoning was less fussy and gauzy than its predecessor and more in tune with the band’s live energy, so in that way slightly less mysterious. But that takes nothing away from the weirdly wonderful “Time After Time,” the straightforward stomper “Second Guessing,” or the all-timer “So. Central Rain,” which the band had already debuted on David Letterman’s show in a storied performance.

  5. R.E.M. - Fables Of The Reconstruction / Reconstruction Of The Fables

    33 For Sale from $12.00

    28 Jul 1985: R.E.M. allowed themselves a whopping 18 months before Fables of the Reconstruction, and returned with a slower, stranger, less immediate record. Though apparently confusing to fans of their more jangly songs, Fables has grown into a classic part of the R.E.M. canon, perhaps because it makes more sense as part of the entire body of work than alone. Stipe’s lyrics started to get a little more direct here, too, with clearer stories about the South. Fables also has the unstoppable “Driver 8.”

  6. R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant

    63 For Sale from $10.00

    28 Jul 1986: You’d think R.E.M. would be tired, putting out essential albums pretty much every year, but Lifes Rich Pageant burst with energy and joie de vivre, even as it helped solidify the band’s long-running commitment to environmental causes. Maybe that’s actually the catalyst for this collection’s excellence—it shoots through the classic “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoga,” which examines an Ohio river so deeply polluted that it literally caught on fire. The fire and clarity of Lifes Rich Pageant makes it a perfect starting point for this era.

  7. R.E.M. - Dead Letter Office

    32 For Sale from $9.00

    27 Apr 1987: The same can’t be said for Dead Letter Office, the cleverly titled odds-and-ends collection released right in the middle of R.E.M.’s first massive flurry of activity. It’s still a fans-only affair, but the collection does prove that the band had a sense of humor and good taste in covers: They do Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic” and three Velvet Underground songs.

  8. R.E.M. - Document

    37 For Sale from $9.00

    01 Sept 1987: For a minute, Lifes Rich Pageant seemed about as commercial as R.E.M. might be capable of getting, but Document took things to another level, commercially and sonically. It marked the band’s first collaboration with producer Scott Litt, who would work with R.E.M. for a decade—its popular and arguably artistic peak. (Operative word: “arguably.”) Document is weird, dark, and political, right up to and including its chant-along hit, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

  9. R.E.M. - Eponymous

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    1988: Leave it to R.E.M. to release a greatest-hits collection that’s also filled with rarities. Eponymous is a mish-mash of already-classic album tracks (“So. Central Rain,” “Driver 8,” “Fall On Me”) and tough-to-find greats like “Romance,” which originally appeared on a soundtrack. It’s weirdly both essential and unnecessary.

  10. R.E.M. - Green

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    17 Oct 1988: By 1988, Michael Stipe’s lyrics had become fully decipherable but were still somewhat oblique: That didn’t stop Green from making its point (or getting massive). Politics were on the band’s mind, from the title on down, and “Stand” gave R.E.M. another big hit—no surprise given the shift to what Peter Buck called “major key rock songs.” When all was said and done, R.E.M. was playing arenas and amphitheaters on a massive world tour.

  11. R.E.M. - Out Of Time

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    12 Mar 1991: And just when it seemed like R.E.M. couldn’t be a more ubiquitous cultural force, out came “Losing My Religion” and Out of Time. The album sold 18 million copies worldwide on the strength of that single (and its religious-themed video) and “Shiny Happy People,” a song that the R.E.M. of just a few years earlier could never have imagined. But Out of Time is also brilliantly strange, shifting gears from the KRS-One feature “Radio Song” to the spare “Low” and “Belong.”

  12. R.E.M. - Automatic For The People

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    05 Oct 1992: Another truly weird set, Automatic for the People was also massive and hit-filled, though even more ballad-centric than Out of Time. “Drive” and “Nightswimming” set the mood, and “Everybody Hurts” brought it all home: Stipe wrote his most straightforward—some would say sappy—lyric ever, and it worked. In an informal poll at any college reunion, Automatic would likely come out as the favorite R.E.M. record.

  13. R.E.M. - Monster

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    27 Sept 1994: After two massively successful but markedly mellow albums, R.E.M. decided to glam it up and rock out for Monster—and produced their least engaging album to date. Sure, it was fun for a while, and features some great songs, but there’s a reason that Monster ended up in every used-CD bin in the world.

  14. R.E.M. - New Adventures In Hi-Fi

    23 For Sale from $105.00

    09 Sept 1996: Though famously recorded mostly while on the massive Monster tour, New Adventures in Hi-Fi pulls back the rock muscle in a big way, though its lack of big catchy singles make it something of an outlier. It’s Stipe’s personal favorite of the entire catalog, though, which must count for something.

  15. R.E.M. - Up

    8 For Sale from $110.00

    26 Oct 1998: Drummer Bill Berry abruptly but amicably left R.E.M. in 1997, after the band had already begun demo-ing songs for Up. With that long-term dynamic shifted, Stipe, Buck, and Mills leaned on more electronic sounds and mellow arrangements. Most of Up is gorgeously understated—maybe so understated that it barely called attention to itself—but it features some truly classic R.E.M. songs.

  16. R.E.M. - Reveal

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    14 May 2001: Reveal was easier to wrap your head around than its predecessor, but considerably less interesting because of that fact. A return to a more classic R.E.M. sound, it never finds the weird nooks and crannies that their best albums do. More keyboards and layers don’t make up for whatever’s missing.

  17. R.E.M. - Around The Sun

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    04 Oct 2004: Even the best bands will have a worst album, and Around the Sun is the unanimous choice for R.E.M.’s low point. Listless and spent-sounding, it’s mostly boring and occasionally embarrassing—specifically a guest rap by Q-Tip. Even the band didn’t like it, and it seemed like it was going to be their recorded epitaph. Thankfully it wasn’t.

  18. REM* - Accelerate

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    01 Apr 2008: Accelerate is the most literal-minded title in the R.E.M. catalog—a band proving that it still had some gas in the tank after the sputtering album that preceded it. Stipe, Buck, and Mills—all creeping on 50 or just past it—proved they could still sprint, loudly. In a way, it’s the record Monster should have been.

  19. R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

    5 For Sale from $49.00

    07 Mar 2011: Knowing that they were headed toward the end—the band parted amicably and with a real sense of finality in 2011—R.E.M. attempted to make a sort of greatest-hits collection of brand new material. Collapse Into Now revisits the scenes and sounds of past successes, from ballads to rockers to that mysterious middle ground they always found so fertile. It’s probably nobody’s favorite R.E.M. album, but it’s surprisingly effective.

  20. R.E.M. - REMTV

    24 Nov 2014: There are a bunch of live albums and hits collections in the R.E.M. catalog, but nothing that rivals the six-DVD set REMTV. None of the band’s many, many music videos are included, but it does feature both excellent Unplugged sessions (from 1991 and 2001, and including outtakes) and lots of later-period live shows, plus a documentary about the band.