Jun 182020

You’re sent to the proverbial deserted island, except on this lousy island, you’re not allowed to bring your 10 favorite albums or artists. There are only four bands’ records available here, and there’s a waiting list. You get to choose from among these four bands: U2, REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam. What order do you put those bands in when you send them to the island quartermaster? Most desired to least desired. I will share my order, but I’m curious about the wisdom and tastes of the Hall.


  39 Responses to “Lousy Deserted Island Disks”

  1. This is a fine Hobson’s Choice scenario. For me, from relatively most desired to least desired, the list would go like this:

    1. U2
    2. REM
    3. Red Hot Chili Peppers
    4. Pearl Jam

    To be honest, if I could limit RHCP to two specific albums, the breakout one with “Give It Away” and the one that followed that one, I may take a risk and go with those two albums over any two albums by REM. When I like an RHCP song, as infrequently as that is, I usually like it on a more visceral level than an REM song. Thankfully, I’m sure I need to take the whole band’s catalog, so I won’t take this risk. I’ll stay with the safe, boring bet of REM.

  2. Happiness Stan

    Pearl Jam

    This with the proviso that, despite having definitely seen them once, I couldn’t name, or even hum, a single Pearl Jam song.

    Presumably once on the island there would be nobody else to force one to listen to the last two? If you’d substituted UB40 for REM I’d be hoping to drown before reaching land.

  3. mockcarr

    Pearl Jam

  4. RHCP (I liked them until Kiedis decided he should sing.)

    REM (Although they never interested me enough to actually buy anything, I generally find them a pleasant listen and, they’ve got a reasonable range of material to keep me interested.)

    U2 (I never liked ’em, but there are certainly a number of songs, particularly from the 2nd through 4th albums that I cold tolerate.

    Pearl Jam (I do not get them, even though they shared a drummer with RHCP.

  5. My personal beef with each of them is I don’t enjoy hearing any of them sing. RHCP, U2, and PJ all come off as too operatic and emotive, and REM is mumbling and ball-less. That said gimme,

    REM (@Geo, same. never bought anything, but they have the most interesting catalog of the bunch)
    U2 Really bugs me how ordinary the rhythm section is. Unadventurous. Guitar always sounds the same. Bono, whatever.
    Pearl Jam. I can never get past his Phantom of the Opera vocals. Maybe I can listen to everyone else.
    Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea is outstanding, but their songs stink,and Kiedis might be the worst of the 4 singers. The endlessly shirtless vibe gets on me too.

  6. 2000 Man

    Man. I think I have Pearl Jam’s first one on cd, but I don’t think I’ve played it more than a couple times and not in at least 20 years. I guess I’d check out some early REM, and that Pearl Jam album. I hate the other two. Not Eagles hate, but probably Led Zeppelin hate, so I’d rather just not have anything else.

    Gonna be a boring island!

  7. cherguevara

    I’m a bit surprised by this! I assumed that early REM would be highly rated around here, shows what I know.

    When I was in college, I formed a strange friendship with a total stoner guy who was into the Dead and Phish (I have never heard Phish). He was also into Zappa and his influences, we started by bonding over Stockhausen, musique concrete. While he hated most of the music I liked, I turned him onto Can and Trip Shakespeare. Anyway…. There I was at his apartment, sitting in a haze of pot smoke on a grungy sectional, with five or six other 20-somethings, all gorked out of our minds, watching music videos on the TV. A Pearl Jam video came on and one guy declared, “I don’t care what anyone says, Pearl Jam are as good as the Beatles!” His conviction spoke to me. Twenty minutes later, a Kenny Loggins video came on and he unexpectedly jumped off the couch, ran in front of the TV and started dancing by himself.

    U2 and REM are both “their early stuff” bands for me, all four bands are the music of various past roommates and girlfriends. My order:

    The 1st two albums have a good energy to them and that drum sound. I disagree with the above comments about their rhythm section, I rate that drummer. Bass player is a person who got lucky in life, playing 8th note pulses of root notes and sleeping with models. Long ago I was shopping in the drum dept of Zapf’s music, the salesperson asked me my setup. I said it was a four piece kit, with the addition of a timbale. He said, “Oh, a Larry Mullins setup!” News to me, I went back to the rehearsal space and put away the timbale.

    “War” and “Unforgettable Fire” are the albums I like best, but I’d rate “Joshua Tree” as well, and parts of “Achtung Baby.” For “return to form” albums, “All that you can’t leave behind” was an enjoyable listen, what more do you want from a rock album?

    Are they not legendary? Were they not the best of the bands that sounded like that? Would you swap them out for Guadalcanal Diary? I know I’ve listened to one of their albums a bunch – Document or Fables. I think the reverence for them is a disservice to a band slinging out simple strummers like “Driver 8.” That’s not genius or revelatory, but it’s an enjoyable tune.

    Pearl Jam:
    The name itself is a turn-off. I think they have a healthy disdain for the trappings of rock stardom, Vedder never painted a stripe across his face or attempted some kind of rock star alter-ego like Stipe and Bono. So I can dig that. It’s melodic. They finally got a drummer.

    When musical options are limited, silence is also a good choice.

  8. Che, I think maybe a part of what sticks in my craw with REM and U2 isn’t their fault. I always think “what have you wrought” with them. They are both responsible for myriad bands that want to do what they do, and then not even as well. I hold them responsible for bands that adopted the aspects of those bands I least enjoy. REM is legendary, and I expected most people to not have any gripes with either U2 or REM.

  9. REM
    Perl Jam

  10. You can put Pearl Jam and RHCP at 3 and 4 however you’d like. I couldn’t tell you a single song by either of them. Except PJ did some oddball cover in a film or something, didn’t they?

    I maybe know a couple of REM songs, put them 2.

    U2 tries too hard but at times their reach comes close to their grasp. If pushed I could name an album’s worth of songs by them.

    And I hung out with Bono on the beach at Marco’s Island about 25 or 30 years ago. Well, he & his family were in the cabana next to me.

    Close enough to put them at 1.

  11. My line up and how much I like by them

    REM – Most of the first ep and album, then about 10 other songs
    U2 – About 10 songs
    Pearl Jam – About 2 songs
    Getting Hit By A Bus
    RHCP – The George Washington in my Mount Rushmore of Least Favorite Bands. Cher nails it with his description.

  12. cherguevara

    Why choose one when you can choose both?

    The “what have you wrought” thing is just the make-a-buck nature of the music biz, though! A band breaks through then everyone else wants to sound like that – or is told to. Think of all those awful, awful post-Nirvana bands, let alone the bad Elvis, lame Beatles, the shitty Dylans. The strummy, organic sound of REM leaves a much more tasteful wake than the anthemic self-importance of U2, though. Pearl Jam seemed like 70’s retro when they were new, RHCP arose at the same time as other rock/funk hybrid bands, and I’d posit that Fishbone’s “Truth and Soul” wipes the floor with RHCP in every way possible – the musicianship, the stage show, the singing and presence of the front man, the lyrics (where the social message of Fishbone plays better with the energy of their sound than the misogyny or RHCP). Finding John Fruciante was the best thing to happen to RHCP, who brought brought more of a classic rock, Hendrix sound to the band.

    Or, alternate take: I’m totally full of shit!

  13. I say good stuff, cherguevara, but I do think the “what have you wrought” thing opens the door to a side topic that we may be best suited to take up.

    I think some bands are more prone to inspiring a horrific wake than others. There are plenty of artists, for instance, who were nowhere near as talented as The Beatles or Dylan yet managed to distill something worthwhile from their heroes. For years, I held scores of overwrought, vaguely futuristic Bowie devotees against the man himself. I don’t think Bowie’s work left much to distill. There’s an alcohol or food fermentation analogy to be made that I’m not qualified to make, but I think there’s Bowie, then there’s very little left of Bowie to build upon, especially from his Thin White Duke period onward. I think U2 is like that. They used up all the U2 culture that was in the atmosphere. What was left for other bands to pick up was tainted.

  14. Che, great video share. I either had not seen it or heavily repressed the memory of seeing it. Funny.

  15. OK. Thanks. What did I learn. No one seems to want to go to war for any of these bands. I added up each band’s number in your list. REM most preferred at 14. U2 next at 21. Pearl Jam 32. And Chili Peppers at 33. Geo is on his own island by picking RHCP first.

  16. Happiness Stan

    Don’t want to go to war, but I’m prepared to stand up and be counted for REM, the EP and first album were fine, Reckoning is great, one of my favourite albums, Fables is pretty good, Out of Time and Automatic for the People have suffered from being over played, the rest is a bit meh. Saw them several times, they were always a great live act, last time was at Glastonbury just before they called it a day, a real crowd pleasing hits and favourites and obscurities set, first time was art an all dayer in Milton Keynes around the time Murmur came out, possibly before and they were amazing. Also on the bill were Billy Bragg and the Ramones. Headliners were U2. I was there with my girlfriend, we looked at each other after U2s first number, shook our heads and went home.

    I saw Pearl Jam supporting Neil Young and Booker T and the MGs, can’t remember anything about the music, saw U2 backing Paul McCartney at Live 8, they were competent enough but hardly the Beatles, saw about ten minutes of RHCP at Reading before wandering over to the other stage to see Tindersticks. I think I’d probably rather see U2 than RHCP if there were no alternative, if REM were to reform and play somewhere I could get to see them, I’d go, definitely.

  17. Hallelujah, Happiness Stan! I too am a big fan of REM’s Reckoning. Now there’s a band that really let me down!

    When I was in college (I think it was college), I read about them in Trouser Press (good old reliable Trouser Press) and bought their first EP based on a review. Solid. Bought Murmur. Solid back then, but doesn’t hold up as well. Bought Reckoning. Played it LOUD over and over again. Saw REM at something that was like a gym at the University of Pennsylvania. Stood about out three feet in front of them while they played underneath a basketball hoop. Thinking about it now still gives me goose bumps. They were tight, extremely energetic, and Michael Stipe did his best to give the crowd his version of a Jim Morrison Whiskey a Go Go front man performance. I felt like I was blessed. I finally got to see a rock show that was something close to what I had been reading about in histories of the NY and LA mid sixties rock scenes. In short, REM were unbelievably cool.

    Here’s a clip that gives a pretty good idea of the REM I saw underneath that basketball hoop.


    Again, super fucking cool. Throughout the years, I’ve taken shit over and over again from the Moderator for championing whatever’s going on in that two and half minute slice of magic. Know that it’s an absolute joy to have you celebrate that which should indeed be celebrated. They were good, god damn it. Really fucking good.

    I bought all their LPs up to Life’s Rich Pageant, and then I gave up. Something started to go wrong. I blame much of that on Stipe’s decision to start acting like an unapologetic dick. And man oh day,when he made that decision he succeeded with flying colors.

    Some years later, I heard an interview with Stipe on Terry Gross. He was surprisingly great, not one whit like the arrogant prick constantly pontificating about whatever in Rolling Stone’s Random Notes column, which continued to be useful for those who wanted updates on the J. Geils Band, Mick Jagger’s solo career, and David Crosby’s latest drug busts. A good chunk of the interview was about his teen years and young adult years: living in a trailer with his mother, the joy of finally finding like minded souls, and the “chore” of learning how to write songs. In the interview, he talked about his early lyrics, admitting that many of them made no sense whatsoever. Through writing in that manner, he realized that the meanings of words and phrases weren’t nearly as important as their phonetic sounds, that words and phrases should work like an instrument, blending with the rest of the instruments played on whatever song. If the overall sound provided a memorable feeling, then the use of random words and phrases was totally justified.

    Around the LP “Green” he said he decided to throw out this approach to make sure the lyrics actually said something. I found this interesting because “Green”, for me, is where he became more or less insufferable.

    U2 have a solid greatest hits album, though it’s one that I don’t need to have. Red Hot Chili Peppers have one song I can tolerate: the Hendrix rip off about getting clean. Pearl Jam has yet to show me anything of interest whatsoever.

    Gotta walk the dogs.

  18. Back from walking the dogs. The wife is upstairs cooking my request for dinner: roasted chicken thighs and Stove Top stuffing. Whilst at the Moderator’s on Friday night, I had to get verification about the deliciousness of the thighs, and that was only going to come from one source, the Moderator’s oldest son, just 21 and already something of a legend when it comes to the kitchen. “Hey man, is it just me, or are the thighs the best part of the chicken?”

    He adjusted his Lennon specs, rubbed his nose, and responded, “Thighs. It’s a no brainer.”

    I definitely subscribe to the Anthony Bourdain school of thought when it comes to cooking. It’s all about bringing the best out of the cheapest ingredients.

    Time to tear into the Moderator again. Please watch the REM video I’ve posted and tell me, in detail, your real problem with the EP, Murmur, and Reckoning REM. The REM after that is pretty much a whole different band, so you need not bother with that.

    I beseech thee to vomit it all out so that it may be examined by the enlightened brethren of the Hall.

  19. Happiness Stan

    Hey EPG, good to hear from you again, I thought I was shouting into the void. I think the USA is more open for business than we are, so you probably have more to occupy your time than we do at the moment.

    That’s a great clip, takes me back to seeing them first time, and on the Fables tour. They didn’t really register much in the music press here, so I missed it on Stipe turning into a dick, Document was where I started having doubts, although I bought the albums up to Monster, which I played once and waved goodbye. Green was a dud, Out of Time felt like a return to form at the time, but in retrospect isn’t a record I revisit often. As you say, a different band.

    As I said, their 2003 set at Glastonbury was a barnstormer, they certainly hadn’t lost it live.

  20. EPG, I’m in a really shitty mood at the moment, so I’m not going to risk taking it out on you or anyone else in here. I’ll keep it simple re: that REM clip from Letterman.

    1) It’s a spirited performance of probably their best song.
    2) I used to own that first EP, before Murmur. That song and “Gardening at Night” promised a lot, but I don’t think they had the ability to replicate and add to their narrow formula, the way U2 could. You know why? Because they had nothing to say until Stipe finally found the courage to say anything intelligible. By that time, unfortunately, the music was going nowhere. U2, for comparison, attempted to ask big, bold questions about life. The last thing I want to do, along with taking out my personal hell on you, is give U2 too much credit.
    3) Beside all that’s great about the performance of “Radio Free Europe,” for my tastes, there’s no getting around how jangly that band is – and how little bass there is to balance things out. When the Beatles or even the Byrds jangled, they still had a bass foundation. Mike Mills plays like a guitarist who lost a coin flip.
    3a) I don’t like the spacing between the ankles of both Mills and Buck. They never assume a shoulder-width stance with a lowered center of gravity. That is an extremely vulnerable guitar stance they deploy.

  21. Good to hear from you, Stan! Things are indeed opening up here, but the reasons for much of that don’t have a whole lot to do with anything approximating logic.

    I listened to Reckoning once again while chopping up cardboard for mailers. It really holds up well.

    Good morning to you as well, Moderator. Hope you’re feeling better today. Just a couple of things: I agree that REM took a dive musically when Stipe decided that his lyrics needed to make some kind of sense. In regards to your insights concerning the jangle, low bass, and personal space necessities when performing, I’m lost.

  22. Feeling a bit better, EPG, thanks. I don’t get any middle-of-the-body oomph out of REM. It’s not that Mike Mills is a “bad” bassist, because he’s not, but their music doesn’t aspire to hitting me in that area. Their songs are all directed at the shoulders and up. I don’t feel anything in my chest or stomach. I don’t feel anything in my ass. Townsman andyr, who is a fan of drummer Bill Berry, may better be able to speak to the technical issues I’m trying to address. I bet geo can articulate what I feel is lacking, too. The rare times when they play songs with heavily accented rhythms with “nooks and crannies” for my emotions to fall into, like “Catapult,” I’m distracted by Stipe’s Neil Diamond approach to melody. I find the band to be “blocky.” You’re Mr Dancefloor. Maybe you feel like moving when you hear those early records. I don’t dance literally, but I dance in my head. The music of REM doesn’t make me want to dance in my head.

  23. Try this on for size, EPG, if you want to understand a key quality that I find lacking in almost all of REM’s music. I’m not expecting you or anyone else to share in this value; I’m not proselytizing. This is NOT to suggest that BTO is a paragon of musical taste and values, but this song is aimed directly at my midsection.


  24. All that’s fair, Mr. Moderator. Good to hear that you’re feeling better. I pick on you because I love you. You should know that by now.

    Had a thought yesterday while me and the wife were playing 500 rummy listening to the Ben Vaughan show, which continues to be a winner. Among the many things I like a lot about his show is that he doesn’t bother wasting my time trying to turn me on to something past circa 1983. His message is plain and simple: “For me, that’s where it ends.” Going further, I’d like to think his thought process is much like mine. The truth of the matter is that popular music is a teen / young adult thing. You’re supposed to make it and/or enjoy it during that time frame. It’s so much different than other forms of art. Deal with it. Much of it is about the performers AND audience looking good and having lots of energy.

    This is going to be really offensive, but there’s nothing worse than some old fart telling you why you should listen to someone like Courtney Barnett. I think she sucks, but she, like Dave Grohl, should be celebrated for doing so well with so little to work with. That said, I really have no right to say that because the truth of the matter is that I’m over the hill, living comfortably in the suburbs with the wife, dogs, multiple responsibilities, and all the physical limitations that kick in during the middle age crazy years. Courtney is not writing for me. My need for a resuscitator after I mow the lawn is and will never be one of her concerns. She’ll never have me in mind while she’s writing songs about the ins and outs of relationships. David Fricke’s thoughts on rap should be taken seriously? He’s actually the least offensive of those late 50s/early 60s bozo critics who need to retire, but he should at least have the decency to end all of his commentary with something like “Look, I really have no business putting in my two cents about the Weekend, but the money continues to be incredible, which is remarkable considering the fact that I really have no idea what I’m talking about.” And if that’s not an option, he should at least ditch the bowl head do and motorcycle glasses.

    So, God bless Ben Vaughan. I was never a fan of his own “shave and a haircut” pop, but he really knows how to put together one hell of a good radio show, And he definitely has a sense of humor about all this, which is another reason why I keep listening!

  25. Point well taken, Moderator. They certainly don’t have that. That said, neither do XTC, Television, nor Talking Heads.

  26. Believe it or not, EPG, those band DO pass the BTO litmus test, as I dread calling it. All three bands feature heavy bass and guitar parts that dig in, don’t just jangle around like tin cans on the back of a newly married couple’s rear bumper. An example from each band, respectively, is “Respectable Street,” “See No Evil,” and “I’m Not in Love.”

  27. I had seen that REM clip before and I thought it was really great. Mr. Mod’s complaints about bottom end, though, are accurate. I am not a fan of the typical Rickenbacker bass sound, which this has in spades.

    I can only specifically remember seeing REM once, probably in 1987, at the Tower with the dB’s opening. I was there mainly to see the dB’s and REM were fine except for a fairly lame cover of “See No Evil,” which honestly is a song even Television should’ve avoided live because the studio version is approximates perfection.

    I did have a vague memory of seeing them at the East Side club very early on, so I looked at their gigography to check that out. There it was in 1982. But I don’t remember a thing. Furthermore, I stumbled on two shows that I definitely saw at Emerald City in 1981, Gang of Four and Bow Wow Wow, both of which they opened and neither of which REM left any impression on me whatsoever. That is pretty indicative of my feeling that they are certainly not bad, just not really to my taste.

    That said, they always seemed like good guys, introducing three bands that I really like, dB’s, Minutemen and Dash Rip Rock, to venues they might never have played, employing Holsapple and McCaughey for years and generally supporting good causes and worthwhile underdog bands.

  28. I’m confused about all this “low bass” nonsense. I don’t recall that being the case with any of the REM records up to Reckoning, nor is it the case with the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. And even if it is (which it isn’t), isn’t there a dial on the amplifier one can use to increase the bass?

    To suggest that the Talking Heads, XTC, and Television records have plenty of bottom is asinine. All those records sound like they’ve been recorded with equipment manufactured by Soundesign. Remember Soundesign? It’s what you bought when you wanted a stereo that looked like a real stereo but didn’t have the money for something from Pioneer, Technics, or Sony.

  29. “Blah blah blah,” says my great friend EPG.

    [Makes references to shitty ’70s stereo systems that I know nothing about. Will eventually work in a reference to a clerk in a lousy music store chain, like Guitar Center, which will definitely make me laugh.]

    “I’ll never understand why you like Talking Heads, XTC, and Television, and I refuse to make sense of what the fuck you’re talking about!”

    I’m not talking about the engineering, my friend. I’m talking about where the rhythms aim. The Rolling Stones are all about the midsection. Shoot, don’t they have a song called “One Shot to the Body”? I think it’s from the time of that amazing song about revolutions in South America. It’s hard to explain this without getting nasty and simply cutting up on REM. I refuse to do that, thanks to the Terry Gross interview with Stipe from all those years ago. Those guys are decent.

  30. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    Are you trying out some kind of new writing style? Something similar to a William Burroughs cut and paste thing? I haven’t a clue at what you’re getting at. Amazing song about revolutions in South America? Did you start taking drugs again? If so, I’m more than happy to take them with you if they can help us work together to figure out what you’re trying to tell me.

  31. I couldn’t remember the name of the song: “Undercover of the Night.” I know we agree on that video!

    Listen, when you don’t like something, you struggle with getting inside someone else’s shoes. I’m good at that, even when I’m being insincere. I couldn’t be much clearer about the whole midsection thing that *I” find key to liking a band. I acknowledged that I couldn’t fully explain this alone. If you’re still not getting it, direct your confusion to geo, andyr, and perhaps chickenfrank. He’s all about his core.

  32. I’m still not getting it. Geo, Andyr, Chickenfrank, please explain. It appears to be something that goes beyond what an equalizer can fix.

  33. Happiness Stan

    Ah, Geo, your reference to the Rickenbacker bass sound has set me thinking, and I’m wondering if it might be key to the question I’ve long asked myself about why I like and appreciate the Jam, but love the sound of the Stranglers and the Fall a lot more.

    I don’t now, and never have, given two hoots about quality hifi, I fell in love with tinny pop radio when I was nine and haven’t moved on a lot, so always appreciated a bass sound that could cut through something with the sound quality of the opening of Wish You Were Here. That’s the sound I grew up with.

    The bass, for me, should rumble, if you can hear the strings clicking there’s something wrong.

    There’s a ton of other stuff in this conversation I’m really grooving on to, need to get on with other stuff now, have a good day everybody.

  34. When I included these 4 bands, I knew REM and U2 were clearly better than PJ and RHCP. There’s just something about REM and U2 that is missing for me. I knew an argument could be made to defend REM and I’m glad people are making it. I don’t think my problem is with the bottom. I like the active trebly bass playing of Graham Maby and Bruce Foxton, and I don’t have any complaints against Mike Mills.

    The whole sound just doesn’t have any power to my ears. I feel like the needle would skate across their records for lack of a deep groove. I love Rickenbacker guitars, but I never think of Peter Buck when I think of that guitar being employed by bands I like. I want less jangle out of his playing and more bite.

    I formed an opinion about Stipe being an incoherent mumbler that was always hiding behind his hair and I never shook that. That’s on me, but that’s my visceral reaction whenever I hear them.

    I love that REM subscribed to the “band is more important than the sum of its parts” ethos and felt they had things to say and mattered. I should like them more, and seeing a one-off video can convince me their plusses outweigh the things I don’t like. That Letterman clip is great. (lost points when the first song I ever heard of a band is still my favorite of theirs; e.g. Radio Free Europe and I Will Follow respectively)

    BUT, I can’t shake the fact that if you offered me a choice between say, REM and The Doors; I’m going to the roadhouse 10 times out of 10.

  35. Well said, Chickenfrank. And just for the record, I usually don’t like an active trebly bass, but I too like it on the Jam LPs as well as the first two outings from Joe Jackson.

    For the most part the bass should be felt but not distinct: the aural equivalent of mud. If you believe the bass should be distinct and upfront in a recording, you better make damn sure its doing something to bring out the best in a given song. Hence, the prominence of the bass in “Taxman”, “Paperback Writer,” Costello’s “Pump it Up”, etc. And grudgingly, I have to admit that I enjoy the bass on XTC’s Respectable Street.

    And speaking of XTC, one of my biggest problems with the band, besides Andy Partridge’s man or machine vocal. stylings, is that thei lyrics are really dumb. Dumb is fine in and of itself, but Partridge wants us to believe he has worthwhile wisdom to share. He doesn’t. Honestly, if you’re going to go the well worn “Well Respected Man” route, have something to say.

    (And just for the record, Ray Davies doesn’t always hit the mark. “Session Man” is pretty hard to get through.

    By the way, that would be another great “Last Man Standing” thread. Songs about the bores of the world, who “just don’t get it” according to aesthetes of pop. Many of them have titles like “Mr. This” or “Mr. That”, and most of them are very, very bad.

  36. I always thought my main problem with REM (particularly the early version) was the general tendency to use a very repetitive mid-tempo beat with the bass drum plunking on One And Three. (Boom Ba-Boom) while the chord changes being consistently a chord in the first measure, new chord in the second measure, new chord in the third and hanging on the fourth measure, then repeat. Early U2 used a similar approach. This is reductive but it’s also the template that spawned a million copycats. This approach specifically invited copycats because it was so easy to ape to and sound acceptable, if not actually special. Off the top of my head, I can name three Philadelphia 80’s era bands that used that template, one that I actually prefer to REM.

    OK, I did go back and listen to Reckoning and I’ll say that I was being unfair. Only a couple of songs on there have that feel. Murmur, which is playing now, has more. But aside from the two slight hits, So. Central Rain and Rockville, there is not a single song that would grab my attention, and I think those two were were merely more familiar, not that much more gripping. I also don’t like how the melodies have so little action beyond floating from chord to chord. It’s pretty dull and rarely if ever does any specific element grab attention.

    Murmur is certainly better for me, even though it does lean on more on that rhythm template. The songs on there just seem way more memorable.

    Here’s a link for a band that I loved doing their REM copying, although their occasional foray into this style was certainly not their selling point.


  37. mockcarr

    Geo, I have that same irritation with the one and three bass drum thing, it sounds sodden to me, which could mislead one into expecting BTO. I think Mills is not as trebly as guys like Foxton and Mabry who seem to also be much busier bass players, Mills is more in the pocket than those guys IMO, and I can’t remember him slapping the bass so at least there’s that.The bass brand is not to blame, there are few warmer sounding bass songs than late period Beatles – that’s often a friggin Rickenbacker. I suspect Mills’ influences and contemporaries are partly responsible for his eschewing some of the low end, but with the rhythmic, jangly framework Buck set out, I understand not wanting to wallow in the mud and not apply any useful counterpoint and accents. He’s a fairly melodic bass player, at least in the first six years of records I have.

  38. mockarr, I agree with you on Mills. I don’t think he was too trebley on the records, but he is all out pick on a Rick’ in the Letterman video. I did however say the video was great, and a huge part of that is his bass playing. I’m glad you got what I meant about that feel they use so often. It’s so easy to lean on and it always seemed the hallmark of their sound and what made them average to me.

  39. I missed this when it was first posted, somehow, and now have SO MUCH to respond to from previous posters…but shan’t, as that would probably be obnoxious. I snoozed, I loozed.

    1) REM is my favorite American band ever by far, so that’s a pretty easy choice. (Although I guess because I like them they’re actually disqualified?)

    2) I’m something of a U2 apologist, despite actively disliking them when they were cool, so that’s pretty easy, too.

    3) I love a little bit of Pearl Jam and like a bit more and love reading about them, so they get third place.

    4) And batting cleanup are the Peppers, who I think absolutely suck. I suppose I’d take them if absolutely nothing else was available, but I suspect most of the time I’d prefer to just listen to the waves.

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