The Story Of R.E.M. Without The Greatest Hits

R.E.M.'s latest album serves as an unofficial history of the band. But you won't find many of its greatest hits: no "Losing My Religion" or "Everybody Hurts." Neither is "Man on the Moon" represented, nor "Nightswimming," nor "It's the End of the World as We Know It."

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Michael Stipe of R.E.M. i i

Michael Stipe of R.E.M. performs at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin during the summer of 2007. courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption courtesy of the artist
Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

Michael Stipe of R.E.M. performs at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin during the summer of 2007.

courtesy of the artist

During a five-night residency in Dublin's Olympia Theatre, R.E.M. tested out new material for its most recent studio release, Accelerate. And it represented its back catalog with some of its least obvious tunes, including some of its earliest material. Thirty-nine selections from those shows appear on a new double album, Live at the Olympia.

Host Guy Raz recently tracked down frontman Michael Stipe in New York City.

"We were trying to rehearse songs that we had never recorded," Stipe says. "And we kind of — we went back to a template from the 1980s, when we toured nonstop for the entire decade, of writing a song, kind of trying it out live onstage before actually going into the studio and recording it. And so with our last record, we tried to do the same thing with [these] five nights at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. ... A lot of the songs wound up to be, I think, fan favorites, or songs that we had not heard nor even thought of ... in 25 years."

At the Olympia, the band held open performance rehearsals for its fans. But Stipe says the goal was less to measure what the audience thought than to see how he and his bandmates would respond.

"You know, we recorded everything, not with the idea of putting it out now," he says. "But when we heard how great it sounded, [we thought] 'To hell with it, it's really worth making it public.' And so we did."

In listening to some of his earliest material, Stipe recalls how he began changing from a writer of nonsense lyrics to a coherent storyteller. He says it was a response to the pressures of being recording artists.

"What happened was, as a band, we never intended to record our music," Stipe says. "We just wanted to perform live. We hit a wall with that when clubs refused to book us unless we had a record or a single."

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