Monday, August 15, 2011

The More Simplistic the Better

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: You Are the Everything
SONGWRITERS: Michael Stipe / Peter Buck / Mike Mills / Bill Berry
ALBUM: Green
YEAR/LABEL: 1988; Warner Brothers

Yee haw!  Let's go make an art record!
(Peter Buck)

Athens, Georgia is the home of the University of Georgia.  Thanks to the bustling music scene that roared from the town in the late 70s and early 80s, one could make a legitimate argument that it is also the birthplace of "college rock," a genre of more adult, experimental music than the mainstream was cranking out in the disco and synthesizer era.  While acts from the Athens music scene enjoyed varying degrees of success (the B-52s were quite successful, Pylon and Kilkenny Cats were not), they all paled in comparison to the Hall of Fame success enjoyed by R.E.M.

When R.E.M. debuted in the early 1980s they were a cross between Tom Petty's jangling rock sound and Bob Dylan's cryptic lyrics (and garbled vocal delivery).  The albums had the added problem of no lyric sheets, meaning that it was up to the listener to decided what lead singer Michael Stipe was saying.  The music was perfect for the time:  "roots rock," the answer to the heavily-synthesized music that was dominating the pop charts at the time.  R.E.M. quickly became critics' darlings and picked up an increasing number of fans (among them, Warren Zevon, who recorded his Sentimental Hygiene album backed by Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry).  When they left the independent IRS label for giant Warner Brothers many claimed they were selling out, but in actuality their music was as fresh as the day they started.  Just as they ignored the popular music of the time when they started, as they sold millions they stayed true to what they wanted to do.  That meant as music got louder, with the rise in popularity of the hair bands in the mid-80s, R.E.M. decided to pull out the mandolin for a song.

That song is the highlight of their album Green, and indeed one of the highlights of their entire career:  the stunningly beautiful "You Are the Everything."

Proving they could mix music styles (the album was labeled, instead of "side one" and "side two," "air side" and "metal side") R.E.M. presented a lovely ballad that was as close to a love song as they had recorded (for the record, Stipe clearly and repeatedly stated in interviews that "The One I Love" was not a love song).  Buck picked up the mandolin and played a simple, beautiful melody as Stipe began, "Sometimes I feel like I can't even sing."  And you have to love a song that uses the word eviscerate, not to mention the notion of a band from the South throwing in a line that says, "You're drifting off to sleep with your teeth in your mouth."

R.E.M. has continued to impress fans and re-invent themselves.  Their masterpiece, however, is a haunting balled with a simplistic instrumentation that proves that a rock band doesn't have to "rock" to be memorable.


The entire Murmur album -- their initial album stands as one of the best of the 1980s.

The entire Dead Letter Office album -- a collection of B-sides, some fabulous ("Ages of You," their cover of "Femme Fatale"), some so bad they're good (their drunken rendition of "King of the Road," which they state in the liner notes should have led to a lawsuit from Roger Miller) but all that needed to be removed from the "buried B-side" status.  The best side of a single wasn't always the "A" or "plug" side!

"Gardening At Night" (originally on the Chronic Town EP, a different version appears on Eponymous) -- in various interviews both Michael Stipe and Mike Mills stated they have no clue what this song is about.  Flash back to the early days when songs didn't really have to be more profound than a Bob Dylan album to be good.  This song brings that notion forward.


You Haven't Heard
Winter's Come and Gone
Where Do I Go to Throw a Picture Away
When My Rowboat Comes In
When I Lift Up My Head
Rose of My Heart
Rock of Ages, Hide Thou Me
Our Town
Old Memories Mean Nothing to Me
Not That I Care
Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
My Book of Memories
Lost to a Stranger

A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Wall of Death
Train Leaves Here This Morning
Swallowed By the Cracks
Stealin' Time
Starting Tomorrow
Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
She's a Runaway
Painted Bells
Out to Sea
One More Song
New Delhi Freight Train

Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

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