Published Sep 21, 20115. Kurt Cobain's fandom
The grunge legend frequently made no secret of his love for R.E.M., and this influence was especially obvious on Nirvana's 1993 MTV Unplugged session. Michael Stipe was reportedly in talks with Cobain to do a collaborative project, and the two became friends. Cobain reportedly listened to R.E.M.'s 1992 album Automatic for the People just before taking his life in 1994. Thanks to Kurt, R.E.M. will always be inextricably linked with the legacy of grunge.
4. "Radio Free Europe"
The single that started it all. Released in 1981 through Hib-Tone, the song was an underground hit and earned the band critical acclaim well outside of their home in Athens, GA. This got the band signed to I.R.S. Records, and they re-recorded the song for the 1983 debut Murmur. This new version was R.E.M.'s first charting single, reaching No. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's still one of their best-ever songs.
3. Automatic for the People
Out of Time from 1991 was a No. 1 smash hit with some unforgettable tracks, but let's be honest: it's by no means the band's most consistent or artistically adventurous album. But the very next year, at the pinnacle of their fame, R.E.M. followed it up with this sublime masterpiece. Elegant and sombre, its superbly wrought production and gorgeously poignant songwriting proved that mainstream success hadn't hindered their artistic vision. "Everybody Hurts" is the record's hit, but tracks like "Nightswimming," "Find the River' and "Try Not to Breath" are the true gems here.
2. "Losing My Religion"
Tune into pretty much any rock or adult contemporary radio station and there's a good chance that you will hear this career-defining mega-smash. It's unquestionably the band's signature tune, and the religiously themed video remains one of the most recognizable clips of all time (especially thanks to Michael Stipe's nifty dancing). The best part of it is that there's still no song that sounds quite like it; lead by Peter Buck's mandolin, the mid-tempo rocker doesn't have an obvious chorus, and it's unclear exactly what the hell the lyrics are about.
1. Signing to Warner Bros.
R.E.M.'s most enduring legacy is their ability to balance underground cool with commercial success. When they left I.R.S. Records and signed with Warner Bros. in 1988, it meant the end of their phase as America's premier college rock band, and the beginning of a new, even more influential stage in their career. They had already made their mark on the music world without compromising their integrity, and by signing with a major label, they embraced the mainstream without being corrupted by it. For many ambitious indie bands, this is still the blueprint to follow when it comes to pursuing commercial success.