Annotated For the People: A Track By Track Look at the New R.E.M. Retrospective

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11. “FINEST WORKSONG” (Document, 1987)

What is it? There is power in a union!

Does it deserve a spot here? Yes, in part because it proves what a perfect jigsaw puzzle were R.E.M.: Buck writes a riff that’s just a B-string hit over and over, that’s it, no really, and the Mikes save it with a sinuous bass line and a call-to-arms melody.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? And how! “My friend Chris told me that I was our generation’s Whitman, I think because I was ecstatic, and I liked men and women, and I was a poet in his eyes, even though I hated the word poet.”

12. “IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (AND I FEEL FINE)” (Document)

What is it? An armageddon-flavored homage to Dylan.

Does it deserve a spot here? Yup. It also made the All-TIME 100 Songs list.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No.

13. “THE ONE I LOVE” (Document)

What is it? This expertly cruel kiss-off song — and R.E.M.’s first Top 10 single — uses a total of 20 words. The chorus is just “FIRE!” and a half-heard descant; the guitar solo is borderline rudimentary for a guitarist in a seven-year-old band.

Does it deserve a spot here? Yes. Less is more.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No.

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14. “STAND” (Green, 1988)

What is it? What the hell was going on with Stipe’s voice on parts of Green? It’s like his sinuses had become self-aware, acquired megaphones and collectively agreed to attack, throttle and pin to the ground every “R” and “E” sound in their territory.

Does it deserve a spot here? It’s hard to imagine leaving it off, since it was a ubiquitous semi-novelty hit, but its cultural legacy largely resides in having provided the theme song for Chris Elliott’s cult early-’90s sitcom Get a Life.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No.

15. “POP SONG 89″ (Green)

What is it? A more palatable version of “Stand,” with an undulating guitar line and a thick, juicy fuzz bass.

Does it deserve a spot here? Yes — unlike most R.E.M. songs, it’s lusty and low-slung and has womanly hips.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No.

16. “GET UP” (Green)

What is it? A third Green wad of “insanely catchy bubblegum,” per Stipe.

Does it deserve a spot here? The tinkly-music-box, Tinkerbell-sets-her-alarm-clock interlude is lovely. But, hmm.

What’s the alternative? To show the scope of Green, maybe include the spooky doomsaying of “I Remember California” or the Gang of Four–inspired character vignette “World Leader Pretend.” Or just pick the yummiest bubblegum on the record: the untitled final track, an epistolary plea from a homesick lover/father/brother.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No.

17. “ORANGE CRUSH” (Green)

What is it? A lapidary guitar riff with percussive flourishes, a chilling wordless chorus, a ferocious yet wholly implicit political bent, Berry crushing his drums for once — U2 spent all of The Unforgettable Fire trying to come up with this song.

Does it deserve a spot here? I once had a semi-serious conversation with a rational person about the odds that some kind of Faustian pact was required to conjure “Orange Crush.” Bonus: when they used to play the song live, Berry would make his drums sound like machine guns!

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No.

18. “LOSING MY RELIGION” (Out of Time, 1991)

What is it? It’s the one where Stipe dances around in the little house near where they’re shooting the Derek Jarman movie. It’s also one of the last times we ever saw his hair.

Does it deserve a spot here? Like “Stand,” they couldn’t omit it, even though if you spend a half-hour in any Manhattan-area Duane Reade you can hear either this or Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” free of charge.

What’s the alternative? No, don’t get us wrong, it’s a good song. Name just one other massive hit single that doesn’t have a chorus but does have a mandolin.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No.

19. “COUNTRY FEEDBACK” (Out of Time)

What is it? Far and away the best song on Out of Time, a palpably desperate lover’s dirge that all but self-immolates once that climactic quake of feedback kicks in.

Does it deserve a spot here? YES.

Does Michael Stipe say anything immodest in the liner notes? No!

(MORE: The All-TIME 100 Albums)

(MORE: The All-TIME 100 Songs)

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