The Best of R.E.M.’s Cover Songs

This feels weird. Really, really weird. I mean, what’s the etiquette for wishing your favorite band a happy birthday when it’s no longer functioning? It’s different when you fall in love with a band that hasn’t been around for a long time, as I am wont to do.

So, this year I asked my Twitter followers what their favorite cover songs by R.E.M. were. You guys didn’t disappoint. Many of my own personal favorites made your list, along with some I had long forgotten. Why cover songs you ask? Because they did them well. Unlike my other favorite band (cough, U2, cough), R.E.M. could take the subtleties of a song, throw up a cloud of dust, and make something magical.

I’m always surprised by the sheer range of songs that the band did. On one hand, you have something like Pylon’s “Crazy,” something not too far from the R.E.M. formula and local to boot. Then they toss out “Moon River.” So here’s some videos for us to remember every moment by. Happy anniversary R.E.M. (and happy birthday K.O.!)

This one became Mike Mills’ go to cover song during shows. I asked him once why he loved it so. The reply? “The bass.” *shrug* Regardless, it’s been a staple in the band’s catalog.

I don’t often complain about being too young to have heard certain songs performed live but this is one of them. This received the most requests by far. “Wichita Lineman” manages to showcase Michael’s distinctive voice while still sounding like it could’ve been an R.E.M. original.

“Wicked Game” contains such a strange guitar sound, it draws you in immediately. Some recordings include Mills’ strong backup vocal part. He’s often overlooked as far as singers go but you’d be hard pressed to find a better harmonizer.

This is far and away my favorite cover. Just brilliant all the way through. All the traditional R.E.M. elements are here: mourning slide guitar, mandolin, almost country music beat, and of course the harmonies. Not to mention the fun little rhythmic change between chorus and verse.

Time for our second Mills standard, “Love is All Around.” The secret to Mills’ vocals lies in his pure tone, tinted with just the right amount of edge to make it memorable. Here we see just how well the Mike/Michael duo work even with the roles reversed.

I played this once at a Leonard Cohen cover show. To date, it remains my only public performance in Athens. Hehe. Anyway, I really love “First We Take Manhattan” and evidently, you guys do to. The doubling up on Michael’s voice allows us to hear both his high pitched shouty type range and his low growl at the same time.

Now, the guys of R.E.M. have a great sense of humor. It’s not something we saw a whole lot of in the later years but things like “Tom’s Diner” show exactly how crazy they could get. Check out the “dance moves” in the background.

We’ll end with this one. It seems especially poignant today with the band now being gone and Athens once again being in a state of musical, physical, and social flux. But as the song reminds us, when we want to remember what was without sacrificing what is, all we have to do is dream…


  1. I've always loved their cover of “First We Take Manhattan” and I'll remember it now for being the song I was listening to when I read that they were calling it a day.

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