Hive Five: An R.E.M. Video Tribute

R.E.M. in a dressing room, June 1984. Photo: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

It’s the end of the world as we know it for R.E.M, as the Athens, GA band announced their breakup yesterday. Though they hadn’t quite been the same since original drummer/multi-instrumentalist Bill Berry left the group almost exactly 14 years ago, it’s still shocking that the institution that practically invented the notion of “college rock” and turned it into an arena draw is actually calling it quits. “A wise man once said, ‘The skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave,’” wrote Michael Stipe on the band’s website of their decision to walk away from everything they created. And we guess the party’s over — but what a soundtrack it had! So to celebrate R.E.M.’s 31-year career, Hive took a look back at the band’s history through five of their most iconic videos.

1. “Radio Free Europe”

This is the band’s first video for their first single off 1983’s Murmur (though technically the track was initially released in a different form in 1981). R.E.M.’s trademarked jangly sound is already solidified, and so “Radio Free Europe” sounds timeless, like it could be off of any of their 15 albums. Michael Stipe’s hair in the video is a different story; it gives its era away instantly.

2. “Pop Song 89″

Stipe’s known for his outspoken political beliefs, and in this video for “Pop Song 89,” the band juxtaposes the casual phrasing of “should we talk about the government” with some good ol’ fashion censorship imagery.

 

3. “Losing My Religion”

Though they had been popular beyond the college rock realm since at least 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant, this video, which was directed by filmmaker Tarsem Singh (the man behind The Cell and the upcoming Immortals), is what truly broke the band to the MTV mainstream. “Losing My Religion” swept the 1991 Video Music Awards, taking home six Moon Men, and later winning a Grammy for Best Short Form Video. Who would have guessed that minor-chord mandolins could be the engines that could propel R.E.M. to commercial pop success?

 

 

4. “Everybody Hurts”

1992’s Automatic For the People yielded six singles, but of those, the most memorable video is the one for “Everybody Hurts,” which features the band and others stuck in a traffic jam as their inner thoughts are broadcast via subtitles. The moving track, penned by Bill Berry with string orchestration by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, is one of R.E.M.’s most overtly sentimental tracks (in no small part due to the fact that its well-articulated lyrics can actually be understood).

 

5. “Imitation of Life”

Though R.E.M.’s late-period songs (those post-Berry’s 1997 departure) may not have the resonance of their early career work, the band certainly became more technically proficient as the years went by. And not just with their music. This Garth Jennings-helmed clip for a song off 2001’s Reveal is just one 20-second shot of a raucous pool party manipulated to zoom in on different scenes within the frame (the guy manning the barbeque catches fire, a champagne fountain gets poured, kids jump in the pool) throughout. “Imitation of Life” is, like the band that made it, an ambitious success.

 

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