Over the years R.E.M have released some all time classic singles, but also some of the most memorable videos, some even for their less classic or more popular songs.
Here are our Top 10 film treatments.
Imitation of Life
Whilst perhaps not one of their most enduring or most loved singles, the video for the lead single from 2001’s Reveal is widely regarded as a classic of the 00’s. The footage is of only 20 seconds of film looped backwards and forwards and zoomed in to different areas of the shot and the characters in it.
Perhaps one of the most iconic videos of the nineties, the band stuck in traffic, before everyone gets out of their cars and walks away to oblivion. An anthem for when you’re feeling like everything is on top of you. Some say it’s maudlin but sometimes you need that life affirming pep talk. Hold On…
So, Central Rain
The dawn of MTV had only just cracked and this is simplistic but endearing. The silhouetted figures of Berry, Buck and Mills as Stipe is the reluctant frontman, cans on, behind a large, classic chrome microphone, long hair covering half his face.
Couple of years later and they’re getting the hang of it. I doubt meant people will have seen this video but if asked what a video for this song should include, the images of metal work would definitely be suggested.
As poignant as you would expect. Grainy 8mm and CCTV and dark, shadowy water is everything you want from the video to one of their most stripped back, nostalgic and beautiful songs. A nostalgic look in the rear view mirror at a moment in time, a quiet night, a happy time. Can we remember?
The video for ‘Bad Day‘ gives us the three-man line-up of Buck/Mills/Stipe in their rolling news ‘Morning Team’ alter-egos. Michael Stipe is ‘Cliff Harris’ – all charismatic eyebrows and arch nods. Mike Mills is key reporter ‘Ed Colbert’ and weatherman ‘Rick Jennings’. Peter Buck doubles up as ‘Eric Nelson‘ and climate expert ‘Geoff Sayers’. Dividing up the lines of the song, the words become different reporters’ lines from the news broadcast. R.E.M. does a few minutes of satirical character comedy, and it really works.
It delivers thematically serious issues in an appropriately sardonic manner. The technological, economical, governmental and environmental themes are, of course, not unusual for R.E.M. content. Mike Mills (in Rick Jennings mode) shouts “We’re sick of being jerked around,” through the literal and figurative hurricane. The ‘Twister In Apartment’ and ‘Office Floods’ provide surreal disaster scenes. ‘Ordeal on Phipps Street’ sees a drenched couple still glued to the television through an indoor monsoon, making you wonder what was more of an ordeal – the planet being knackered or becoming addicted to the idiot box.(Jon Kean)
What’s The Frequency, Kenneth
A ‘violent green’, dimly lit band performance in a car park, initially with their heads cut off the shot. A treatment to match the harsher, loud and distorted guitars that marked the move from Automatic for the People to Monster, mandolin, delicate piano and ballads, chronologically followed by the loud and brash Buck guitar.
Naturally the video is old footage of trains and their drivers, with images of the band cut in. Michael Stipe was largely responsible for their videos in their first decade relying on artists around him to help out. Here it’s an industrial clip, of real people working the railroads, which fits the lyrics and sense of a train ride created by the movement in the music.
Fall On Me
R.E.M. didn’t like to have their lyrics in their album inlays at this point, so that the visual for ‘Fall On Me’ delivers its ominous clear messages about oppression, ecological and foreboding disaster, themes that are just as prescient today, in bold font which shows how keen they were to get it accross.
It might be what many lyric videos look like now, but its effective messages were superimposed by Stipe over upside-down, black-and-white footage of a quarry. Towards the end of the second verse, he misspelled the word ‘Foresight‘. Its a visual that well matches the songs direct, anthemic and haunting qualities.(Bill Cummings)
Losing My Religion
Videos were very important for R.E.M. around the Out of Time and Automatic for the People releases, when they weren’t touring, only performing an acoustic show around the release of Out of Time, so visual communication was vital to their success.
The video for ‘Losing My Religion’ is particularly burnt in the memory due to its visual impact, setting and its heavy rotation on MTV. It was directed by Tarsem Singh which was a departure for the group as up until this point, the group’s singer Michael Stipe had directed their music videos, or entrusted those around him, claiming he would never lip synch in videos something he kept to in their first decade.
Singh, who was previously responsible for videos for En Vogue and Suzanne Vega, told Rolling Stone that this dramatic visual was inspired by Gabriel García Márquez Caravaggio and “Pierre et Gilles, who are these iconic gay photographers that take how Indians do their gods and goddesses, then they do that to the Western gods.”
It effortless mixes high art and implants it into the mainstream, as was their want as a band. The videos vivid and abstract iconography, angel wings, the laughing gods, the foreboding of water, and the setting of a single seat by a window paired with Michael Stipe’s magnetic performance and elastic dance, made a mark and added more depths to this extraordinary pop song.(Bill Cummings)