Here’s a hypothetical, posed the other day by a friend who thought he was onto something: If The Cure didn’t wear silly hats and dress like they were at a really fun funeral, wouldn’t they be remembered a lot like the Beatles?
There was a two-year timespan where they consistently churned out era-defining, catchy pop-rock songs. Three months wouldn’t go by where they didn’t have something both new and good on the radio. People started dressing like idiots because they didn’t know how to deal with how good they are.
Wouldn’t they be exactly like the Beatles? That was the question.
And the answer was no. They’d be exactly like R.E.M. Except R.E.M. did it for much longer.
Hulu launched R.E.M.’s special section today. There are dozens of videos and a bunch of concerts on there. I didn’t really consider myself a fan until today, when I realized I knew almost every song on these concert videos, and I liked almost all of them.
Of course, we remember The Beatles more (because they were the first and the best), and maybe even The Cure, too (must’ve been the hats). But R.E.M. is the best possible example of this weird phenomenon, and maybe the first true victims of greatness lost in the very noisy, media-saturated age we live in today.
They’re not forgotten bands, by any means. But they are bands that were underrated in their pervasiveness, and R.E.M. is probably the best example.
Of course, who knows if bands like this can even exist anymore. We’re not talking about Justin Biebers and Miley Cyruses—creations that have catchy songs attached to them by very mathematical producers. (Those will exist as long as we still have teenagers—which should be for a very long time, barring some fun Children of Men sort of situation.) We’re talking about genuine rock bands churning out albums with four legit singles on them.
If we’re talking about pure rock influence, too, Michael Stipe & Co. probably set the tone for current radio alt-rock. Not that anybody would remember.