Ranking the Discography: R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

Fables of the Reconstruction was the first album recorded outside the United States, as it was recorded in the UK. Its producer was Joe Boyd. The album had a Southern Gothic theme, and had three singles. The album reached #28 in the US, and #35 in the UK.

The Tracks:

  1. “Feeling Gravitys Pull”: The album starts with this great hard-edged track. The guitar has a good rough sound to them. The song is about falling asleep while reading.
  2. “Maps and Legends”: This song was dedicated to Rev. Howard Finster, who designed the sleeve for the previous album. It has a good jangle to it. I like the harmony from Mills.
  3. “Driver 8”: This song has some rural imagery in it. It has a good tempo. This song’s video received lots of MTV airplay, although we still have a ways to go before R.E.M.’s breakthrough.
  4. “Life and How to Live It”: This has a soft, folksy feel to it, a good contrast from the previous songs.
  5. “Old Man Kesey”: This song was cod written by Stipe’s friend Jeremy Ayers. It’s got a good rhythm.
  6. “Cant Get There From Here”: This song is such a banger! I think this is where R.E.M. starts to get good.
  7. Green Grow the Rushes”: This song alludes to a folk song and was something both Michael and (now) former 10,000 Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant did by both writing songs about the genocide of the Native Americans.
  8. “Kohoutek”: This song is named after the comet, and is one of their earliest love songs.
  9. “Auctioneer (Another Engine)”: This has a good edge to it.
  10. “Good Advices”: Another good song with some strong lyrics from Stipe about trust.
  11. “Wendell Gee”: Peter Buck hated this song, saying the banjo solo was the only good part. Even so, it has a good piano solo.

Final Verdict: This album has some signs of the darker tones REM adopted on later albums. This is a good start for R.E.M.’s growth.

Grade: A


Ranking the Discography: R.E.M. Part II: Reckoning (1984)

Like their debut, Reckoning was produced by Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. They intended to capture R.E.M.’s live sound and used binaural recording. The album was recorded faster than usual in order to prevent meddling from I.R.S. to make the album “more commercial”. The album had two singles, and reached #27 in the US and #91 in the UK, and reached Gold status. Many of the songs have watery imagery.

The Tracks:

  1. “Harborcoat”: the album starts with a frenetic-paced opener with some good vocals from Berry and Stipe.
  2. “7 Chinese Brothers”: This song was inspired by The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Hutchet Bishop, in which five boys have special powers. One of which is capable of swallowing the ocean. I like the drumming and guitar work.
  3. “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”: I’ve watched the video for this song, and it is so weird to see how Stipe looked when the band was starting out. I like the somber feel of the main riff. This is Thom Yorke’s favorite R.E M. song, and one of mine too.
  4. “Pretty Persuasion”: Another one of my favorites. The guitar hits hard and there’s a good rhythm. I think it’s the best song on the album.
  5. “Time After Time (Annelise)”: Another nice somber track with some good bass.
  6. “Second Guessing “: A decent guitar on this one.
  7. “Letter Never Sent”: This has a good rhythm to it.
  8. “Camera”: This is about a friend who died in a car crash. It’s probably one of the darkest songs on the album.
  9. “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”: This was written by Mills as a plea to his girlfriend not to return to Rockville, a town in Maryland. In fact, sometimes Mike Mills would sing the lead vocals instead of Stipe. It has a good piano solo. It was later covered by 10,000 Maniavs
  10. “Little America”: Not a good closer, but not bad.

Final Verdict: This is a rushed follow-up, and although I like Murmur better, it’s not a sophomore slump.

Grade: B

Ranking the Discography: R.E.M. Part I: Murmur

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of their debut album Murmur, I’ll be ranking R.E.M.’s discography. (Since I don’t normally include EP’s, I’m skipping Chronic Town.)

R.E.M. was formed in 1980 when the four members were students at the University of Georgia. Peter Buck met Michael Stipe in Wuxtry Records, where Buck worked. They discovered they had similar tastes in music, and met Mike Mills through a mutual friend. After their first gig, they brainstormed such names as Cans of Piss and Twisted Kites, before Stipe suggested R.E.M. after a dictionary search. After dropping out of school, they eventually recorded Chronic Town, their debut EP, with Mitch Easter. They signed a deal with I.R.S. Records, and then began work on the full-length debut.

Murmur has received several accolades. It’s in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, and it’s on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list, at #165. Rolling Stone also listed it at #18 on their Best Debut Albums of All Time list. It had two singles.


Michael Stipe: vocals

Peter Buck: guitars

Mike Mills: bass, backing vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, vibraphone

Bill Berry: drums, backing vocals, percussion, bass guitar, piano

The Tracks:

  1. “Radio Free Europe”: Stipe has admitted that this song was intended not to be understood, and the title was purely selected for its appeal. It’s taken a long time to grow on me.
  2. “Pilgrimage”: I like the vibraphone and bass on this track. The rhythm is nice.
  3. “Laughing”: the guitars and vocals are good on this.
  4. “Talk About the Passion”: this song is about the plight of homelessness. The bass and backing vocals are great.
  5. “Moral Kiosk”: This is one of the few songs that don’t work for me.
  6. “Perfect Circle”: this song was written by Berry and has some great instruments. I like the longing sense of the lyrics.
  7. “Catapult”: I like the bouncy feel of this track.
  8. “Sitting Still”: This has a more traditional feel to it, with a very good mix of folk and punk.
  9. “9-9”: I’ve never been able to get this song.
  10. “Shaking Through “: This has some good energy to it.
  11. “We Walk”: This has a good rhythm to it.
  12. “West of the Fields”: This has a good fast pace.

Final Verdict: When I first listened to this album, it didn’t grab me. Several years later with repeated listens, I’ve come to accept its charm. It’s not an accessible album at first, but give it a listen. It does deserve its many accolades.

Grade: A-

Ranking the Discography: Yes Part XXI: The Quest (2021)

With The Quest, we have a Ship of Theseus situation: it’s the first album with no original members. This is the first album to feature Billy Sherwood since The Ladder. This is also sadly Alan White’s finale (his replacement, Jay Schellen, is one of the guest musicians). The album had 3 singles.


Jon Davison: lead vocals, guitar on track 6

Steve Howe: guitars, mandolin, koto, autoharp, vocals

Billy Sherwood: bass, piano (track 3), keyboards and acoustic guitar (track 5), vocals

Geoff Downes: piano, Hammond organ, synthesizers, Mellotron, and piano

Alan White: drums

The Tracks:

  1. “The Ice Bridge”: Now, this is how you start an album! We have some excellent keyboards reminiscent of “Fanfare For the Common Man” and a cool guitar and bass ensemble. It feels like the kind of song that should have been on the 80’s Yes albums, but in a good way.
  2. “Dare to Know”: This feels like it was left off Magnification, with a beautiful orchestra.
  3. “Minus the Man”: The lyrics aren’t working for me, but I like the instrumentation.
  4. “Leave Well Alone”: This has Howe playing a koto and some sweet rhythm.
  5. “The Western Edge”: I’m not keen on Sherwood’s vocals on this one, but the rest of the song is good.
  6. “Future Memories”: This has a good bassline.
  7. “Music to My Ears”: This one has some great guitar and piano parts.
  8. “A Living Island “: This song was inspired by the pandemic while Davison was on lockdown in Barbados. It’s got some of the best guitar work on the album. The keys come in nice, and there’s some great rhythm too.
  9. “Sister Sleeping Soul”: The guitar and vocals are pretty good on this, but it’s missing a bassline.
  10. “Mystery Tour”: This is a tribute to The Beatles, and to be honest, it’s kind of lame. Good thing it’s the shortest song on the album.
  11. “Damaged World”: I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t like the vocals on this.

Final Verdict: I don’t know what the critics were listening to, because I enjoyed this album. It had some flaws, but it’s not bad at all.

Grade: B+