KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – R.E.M. “LIFES RICH PAGEANT”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: R.E.M.
Album: LIFES RICH PAGEANT

R.E.M. - Lifes Rich PageantI fell in love with R.E.M. the first time I heard “Catapult,” from their debut album Murmur, on the radio in 1983. They were one of the first independent, “alternative” bands to receive exposure on FM stations that were playing what is now known as classic rock. It didn’t initially sound like they were doing anything groundbreaking, but there was something special in the combination of Michael Stipe’s semi-mumbled vocal delivery & cryptic lyrics, Peter Buck’s jangly-yet-aggressive guitar attack, Bill Berry’s deceptively impressive drumming and Mike Mills’ sympathetic bass playing & backing vocals. After two albums highlighted by the punchy production of Don Dixon & Mitch Easter, and a third release overseen by British folk legend Joe Boyd (all of which are in my R.E.M. Top 5), they turned to producer Don Gehman, who was best known for his work with John Cougar Mellencamp, for Lifes Rich Pageant (the apostrophe purposely omitted from the first word).

For some reason this record never had the same impact on me as its three predecessors, although more than half of its songs are as good as anything in their discography. “Fall On Me” was their biggest hit to date, highlighted by that amazing chorus with Mills’ counter-melody. “Superman” is a cover of an obscure 1969 b-side by The Clique that R.E.M. made their own, featuring Mills on lead vocals for the first time. Album opener “Begin The Begin” is a driving rocker with a cool Peter Buck guitar figure and that memorable recurring stop-start motif. “I Believe” starts with banjo picking before morphing into a driving, jangly rocker with an uplifting chorus. Counting Crows, who burst onto the scene the following decade, were clearly listening & taking notes. “Cuyahoga” is a standout track, with that pulsing bass intro, moody verses & soaring choruses. “Swan Swan H” is another favorite, with its beautiful melody & waltz tempo. Clearly I’m a big fan of many of these songs, but what’s kept me from fully embracing it is that many of the uptempo rockers (like “These Days,” “Hyena” and “Just A Touch”) sound like retreads of stronger tracks from previous albums. I’m sure there are plenty of fans who feel differently, and if Lifes Rich Pageant was your first exposure to R.E.M. you probably love those songs more than I do. It’s my wife’s favorite R.E.M. album and I know she’s not the only one. I’m sure all R.E.M. fans will agree that it hasn’t aged a day over the last thirty years, and it will still sound fresh three decades from now.

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49 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – R.E.M. “LIFES RICH PAGEANT”

  1. jcbradleyjr
    March 24, 2016

    I was actually listening to this CD when I received this post (One of my listening “resolutions” this year was to spend time with each REM record chronologically and I’ve just made it up to this one). Anyway, too funny. Felt it was karma and I had to reply. This was not the first REM album I bought. I was in college here in South Carolina when Murmur came out and a friend recommended it to me. I bought it, and enjoyed it, but it did not resonate with me. I don’t think I bought Reckoning, but did buy Fables of the Reconstruction. Again, I liked it, but it did not elevate REM beyond one of the many bands I liked.

    All that changed with this record. I don’t know if it was the “punch” that Don Gehman gave them (always wished he’d produced another record for them) or the songs themselves, but this was the record that elevated REM from a (very) good band I appreciated to probably my favorite band – for many years to come. “Fall on Me” and “Begin the Begin” are great songs, but some of the “deeper cuts,” “These Days,” “I Believe” and “Swan Swan H,” are on my all time favorite REM songs list.

    Its not my favorite REM record – Life’s Rich Pageant is that – but this record runs a close second.

    Like

    • Wow, that was perfect timing between your resolution & this post. Obviously our feelings about their early discography aren’t quite the same but we seem to love many of the same songs on this record. I think their first three albums struck a chord with me because they were so different from anything else I was listening to. When Murmur was released I was still in high school so I guess R.E.M. was my first exposure to “college rock.”

      In the last sentence you mentioned that Lifes Rich Pageant was your favorite, but I’m guessing that was a typo. I’m wondering which of their albums is actually your favorite. If I had to pick one it would probably be Reckoning.

      Like

    • jcbradleyjr
      March 24, 2016

      Oops. Sorry about the typo. Automatic for the People is my hands down favorite REM record and one of my all time records as well. My love for that record has no limits. LRP would be second followed closely by Murmur. My appreciation/love for that record has grown steadily through the years.

      Like

      • That makes sense since a lot of people rate Automatic at or near the top of their R.E.M. favorites list. I, however, am not one of them. Just like with Lifes Rich Pageant, there are a lot of songs I love on that record but it doesn’t hold together as a complete work for me. I realize I’m in a minority with that opinion. Glad we agree on the greatness of Murmur.

        One of these days, when I eventually get back to writing series on complete artist discographies, I will tackle R.E.M. to see if my feelings have changed about any of their later albums.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. R.E.M. lyrics
    March 24, 2016

    R.E.M. best American band.

    Like

  3. Hank Wirtz
    March 24, 2016

    By a wide, wide margin, my favorite REM album. That title has moved around over the years – when Automatic came out, I thought it was the best by anyone ever, but a couple decades on (I think I first heard this one around ’92 or so) this has settled in as my clear #1.

    Like

    • That’s really interesting, Hank. Were you already a fan when LRP was released? I knew there would be a lot of people who considered it their favorite REM album so I’m curious about how you were initially exposed to their music. Automatic was never close to the top of the list for me. I guess we gravitate toward different aspects of their music. Thanks for the feedback.

      Like

  4. Hank Wirtz
    March 24, 2016

    My first exposure was the two big singles from Document. First album I heard was Green. I then heard the rest of Document. A year later, I bought Out Of Time upon release. A couple years later, my brother gave me a copy of Fables, then I bought LRP. Maybe 6 months after that, Automatic came out, and I picked up Murmur and Reckoning around the same time. After that, I bought on release day.

    Let me shock your sensibilities and state that I actively dislike the first two albums. They have just never connected with me at all in any way. For me, REM begins with Driver 8.

    Like

    • Very little shocks me or my sensibilities, so I’ll be okay with this info.
      I’m always amazed when two people can like the same artist for completely different reasons. I feel the same way when discussing Seinfeld. I was already a fan of Jerry’s standup throughout the ’80s so the early seasons of Seinfeld are my favorites, but a lot of people who got into the show after it became popular find those episodes boring. Neither of us is right, of course, but I think I’m closer to “right” than anyone else. 😀

      Like

  5. J.
    March 24, 2016

    Great post, Rich. Although not my favourite R.E.M. album, I still have a lot of time for it. I dare say it’s still better than the Warner Bros. era (other than Green, of course) – still sound vital and spirited even when the songs don’t always click.

    For clarity, the WB stuff was my ‘in’, but working back I gravitated to Murmur and Then Reckoning. Those albums are great. Of the WB stuff I only listen to Green (it has the IRS urgency and spirit) and Monster these days, but those early albums are utterly brilliant.

    Unrelated, but related (?) what’s your thoughts on American Music Club?

    Like

    • Thanks, J. I’m not as down on the WB years but there’s a spark that was there during the IRS years that was often lacking on later albums. I know a lot of fans felt that they “sold out” (which, technically they did with that big contract), but there’s a lot of that classic R.E.M weirdness on Green and Out Of Time…and even Monster. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’ve never connected with Automatic For The People like so many other fans, but even that one has a number of classic songs.

      But getting back to the early years, I’m glad we agree about Murmur and Reckoning. They still thrill me after all these years.

      I never spent much time with American Music Club even though they’re a band I had been curious about. I think I had one of their albums years ago but didn’t keep it. Are you a fan?

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      • J.
        March 25, 2016

        I think the WB stuff tended to be a bit inconsistent. Some great songs, but some of it was a tad lazy.

        American Music Club were / are a favourite of mine. Definitely more cynical than R.E.M. but I remember reading a fair few years ago how there was a feeling back in the 80s that they were on a similar trajectory. Obviously not, but I tend to think that they’re the band R.E.M. could have been 🙂

        Like

      • jcbradleyjr
        March 25, 2016

        I’ve been thinking about this thread since I posted yesterday. I agree on the inconsistency. Other than Automatic I rarely listen to any of the Warners studio albums. I’ve probably logged more hours listening to the greatest hits CD and playlists I’ve made. Some of my all time favorite songs are on those records but I find the Warners records other than Automatic and maybe Green hit or miss.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        March 25, 2016

        I have a similar playlist in my iTunes – ‘the WB years’. I listen to that more than any of those albums. A great band. Loafs of great songs. No doubt about it.

        Like

      • I made a 100-minute R.E.M. compilation tape in the early 90s, which probably included songs up to Monster. I think about 60-70%% of the songs were from the IRS albums, but there were plenty of songs from the WB years that held their own against their early classics.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        March 25, 2016

        100 minutes! That’s some serious R.E.M. listening going on there! 🙂

        Like

      • Those 100-minute Maxell XLII-S tapes were a godsend when albums started surpassing the 45-minute mark. Sure, they were only 5 minutes longer per side than the standard 90-minute tape, but it’s like the Nigel Tufnel “these go to eleven” concept. Give me a little more time and I’ll add a little more music.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I guess they became like most bands by the WB years, where each album had enough songs to add to a career-spanning anthology (or homemade compilation or playlist) but none of them hold up as complete works. I don’t think that’s the case with most of the IRS albums.

        Like

      • Sounds like we’re pretty much in agreement about the WB albums. None of them are bad but there are no top-to-bottom classics like they had during the IRS years.

        What would be a good starting point with American Music Club?

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      • J.
        March 25, 2016

        I don’t think they had a bad album, Rich, but I would recommend California, Everclear, and Mercury as good entry points. Good luck!

        Like

      • Thanks. I remember “Mercury” getting a lot of coverage in the music press at the time. I’ll definitely check it out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        March 25, 2016

        I think it suffered from ‘good critical response but underwhelming commercial response’ syndrome, but a winner for sure.

        Like

      • I’ve got hundreds of albums that suffered a similar fate. After 30+ years in the music industry I’ve learned that talent & quality don’t always find a large audience, and that’s gotten worse over the years.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. dah_sab
    March 24, 2016

    My “cool” friend loaned me Murmur not long after it came out (same friend who excitedly took me into his car so I could hear the Eddie Van Halen solo on Beat It for the first time — strange days!) I was a fan right away, even if it sounded like nothing I’d heard before in my high school days. I was fortunate to see them on the Reckoning tour, and several tours after.

    But LRP holds a special place, the way some albums do because they’re associated with particularly wonderful or intense times of our lives. Late summer in Indiana, just transferred to a new college, living with a girlfriend for the first time, making new friends. What a time to be alive. When I listen to LRP I’m there again. I can feel it, smell it, the nostalgia is almost painful, feeling like life will never be that good again (it has, on occasion.)

    Not sure I can “blame” it all on REM, but nothing else takes me back quite like this album, I Believe & Superman especially. Thanks for the reminder!

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing your history with R.E.M.’s music. I especially love the juxtaposition of Murmur and “Beat It.” Consider yourself fortunate to have seen them on the Reckoning tour. Sadly I never saw them in concert, even though they played at my college around the time of Lifes Rich Pageant. Not sure why I passed up that opportunity since I was a big fan.

      I completely understand why LRP has such significance for you. There are plenty of albums like that in my collection which I probably wouldn’t rate as highly without the emotional connections I had with them at the time. I still don’t think it’s as strong as the first three albums, song-for-song but, as I discussed in the post, there are at least 5-6 amazing songs.

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the feedback.

      Like

  7. Daddydinorawk
    March 25, 2016

    LRP seems transitional to me, perhaps thats because its the first album where they embraced a really big, arena rock type sound, while still holding on to their weirdness as it was so elegantly put. ;). Perhaps also because , for me, it falls chronologically between my two favorite REM albums.

    I may well add that for my hard earned $$ the only other one from the WB period aside from Green that does anything for me at all is New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

    Like

    • I completely agree about the transitional nature of LRP. So your two favorite R.E.M. albums are Fables Of The Reconstruction and Document? Excellent choices, especially the former. “Wendell Gee” is in my Top 5 REM songs. As for New Adventures…, that album never made much of an impact on me. I just remember it being way too long and feeling exhausted when it was over.

      Like

  8. Nate
    March 25, 2016

    Rich, I loved those 100-minute blank cassettes also! “Lifes Rich Pageant” is what I consider to be my favorite REM album, though it’s tough to choose amongst the first four.
    I became a fanatic right near the start of the band’s career, after hearing “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)” on my college radio station. I was fortunate to see them supporting the “Chronic Town” EP in a small converted disco, still with mirror ball hanging overhead. Have seen REM more than 20 times in concert, up through the 00’s, but the 80s shows were the best. I feel they started to lose their path a little when they expanded their sound beyond the original four-piece combo, as they added guest musicians on record and supplementing on stage, it lost some of the immediacy and intimacy that made them so special.
    I still listen to all their records on occasion, and have made a few of my own compilations, but rarely hear those, because I prefer the full album experience in their case. I do like “Automatic”, but dont rate it as highly as most people. The WB years have many great highlights, but the band grew as did I.
    If you dont already own the REMTV 6-dvd set, go order it immediately. It showcases the great live presence of the band, always their greatest strength.
    You’ve inspired me to go spin LRP right now, to hear the fantastic opening one-two punch that starts Side One. I quite enjoy your blog!

    Like

    • Thanks for stopping by, Nate. I knew a lot of people loved Lifes Rich Pageant more than I do but I’m surprised at how many fans consider it their favorite. I’m glad we agree about the strength of their early albums as well as the greatness of 100-minute blank tapes. Consider yourself fortunate to have seen R.E.M. at the beginning of their recording career. Is there a particular show of the 20 you’ve seen that stands out as your favorite.

      I’ve had my eye on that REMTV set but I haven’t had much time for video watching recently. I won’t have a media room until I buy a new house, but once that’s set up I’ll look for an affordable copy. Thanks for the recommendation…and for the kind words about my blog. Hope you’re having a great weekend.

      Rich

      Like

  9. Murphy's Law
    March 25, 2016

    My first exposure to REM was hearing “Radio Free Europe” on American Bandstand’s Rate-a-Record (I think it lost to Lipps Inc). The first record I bought was Reckoning. I absolutely love Lifes Rich Pageant. They combination of REM’s signature sound with a more mainstream rock sound was really great. Still one of my favorites (along with Murmur and Automatic…)

    Like

    • Wow, it’s hard to imagine “Radio Free Europe” appearing on Rate-A-Record, and I’m not surprised that it would have lost to something more “pop” and radio-friendly.

      I continue to be amazed at how many people love Lifes Rich Pageant, rating it among their 2 or 3 best. I guess I’m in more of a minority than I originally thought.

      Like

      • Murphy's Law
        March 26, 2016

        It makes sense. Amongst the people I knew at the time, the bigger fans of the first 3 seemed to be less enthused about the change in direction.

        Like

      • Good point, although I didn’t see Lifes Rich Pageant as a change in direction for them. The songs just weren’t as consistently interesting for me like they were on the previous albums. I felt like the jump from LRP to Document was much more drastic in both the production and songwriting.

        Like

  10. Vinyl Connection
    March 26, 2016

    Have a few of these songs on a comp of early REM. Just love ‘Fall on me’ – a perfect piece of power pop.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I figured you would like a lot of these songs, Bruce. Do you own any of their individual albums or is that early-years comp enough for you? Couldn’t agree more about your “perfect piece of power pop” assessment. It doesn’t get much better than “Fall On Me.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vinyl Connection
        March 26, 2016

        I have that early ‘Best of’ with the Easter Island masks on the cover, Rich. An excellent selection from the first few REM albums that will probably do me. Came on board with ‘Out of time’ and stayed the distance (though never with massive commitment — kept hoping for another ‘Fall on me’!).

        Like

  11. Alan K.
    March 26, 2016

    I absolutely cannot believe that this album is 30 years old! I loved R.E.M. for the first 2/3 of their career, and this was absolutely my favorite album of their’s. The post above called “Fall on Me ” a perfect piece of power pop – and but for the fade-out ending, I would have to agree…Did you know that the video for the song is subtitled because the band wanted to give a jab to critics who complained that you could never understand what Michael Stipe was saying? That’s what I remember hearing, anyway. You might be giving “These Days” short shrift; I think it’s an album highlight and a very powerful song. And Bill Berry’s drumming never better than it is on “Begin the Begin”. Did you know that the cover of the album is a play on words – top half is Bill Berry, bottom half is a Buffalo (“Buffalo Bill”).

    Like

    • Hi Alan. As I’ve mentioned in several other comments, I continue to be amazed at how many fans consider Lifes Rich Pageant their favorite R.E.M. album, or at least in their top 2 or 3. I’m not sure why it didn’t have the same kind of impact on me, but I stand by my appraisal of it as a great-but-flawed album. I just think the first three albums are close to perfect and this one has a few throwaways & retreads. I don’t dislike “These Days” but I think they’ve done that sound better.

      Thanks for all the facts about the album. I remember reading that about the lyric video years ago but had forgotten about it. It took a long time for me to figure out what was happening on the album cover, but now it makes sense. Ahh, the strength of those Bill Berry eyebrows.

      Like

  12. sourgirlohio
    March 28, 2016

    Great album. But I prefer Reckoning. Nice post.

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback. I’m thrilled to know you also prefer Reckoning to Lifes Rich Pageant. We seem to be in the minority…but we’re right, of course.

      Like

  13. yeahanotherblogger
    March 31, 2016

    I’m not too familiar with this album.
    I guess that Monster is my fave record by REM.
    I came across a very good interview with Buck recently. Here’s the link:
    http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/peter-buck-on-life-after-r-e-m-i-hate-the-business-20160314

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing that Peter Buck interview, Neil. He seems to be a lot happier with his life now than he was during the REM days, but I guess that’s not surprising considering he’s a multi-millionaire who can do basically anything he wants to do. I have one of his solo LPs and it’s really good.

      You’re the first person I’ve met who considers Monster their favorite REM album. Is there anything in particular you like about it more than their other albums?

      Like

      • yeahanotherblogger
        March 31, 2016

        You know, I haven’t heard it in a long time. But I remember it being real loud and wild and thrashing. Which I like(d).

        Like

      • That’s a great description of Monster. “Loud, wild & thrashing” were relatively new sounds for them so that album gets mixed reactions from fans. I can totally understand it being your favorite REM record. Not sure if you’re familiar with Document, but that was their “loudest” album prior to Monster. Well worth checking out.

        Like

  14. Kevin
    November 3, 2016

    I couldn’t get on board with your Queensryche post so I went back to see what else I missed. I have to admit, I didn’t peg you as an R.E.M. fan, and I do not underestimate the scope of your taste. This is my favorite R.E.M album by the slimmest of margins (their first 4 are indispensable). It bridges the gap nicely between the murky early years and the clarity of the big successful years. I haven’t loved anything by them since. Document was ok. Green and Monster did very little for me. Out Of Time and Automatic have some wonderful moments but everything since just went in one ear and out the other. Those first 4 albums, special. Check out my cover of “Green Grow The Rushes” if you get the chance.

    Like

    • Hi Kevin. Not sure why you didn’t expect me to be an REM fan but I’m glad we found another band in common. I was surprised to find so many people who consider this their favorite REM album. I really like it and agree that it bridges the gap between the earlier material and the WB years, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the previous three albums for me.

      Really nice version of “Green Grow The Rushes.” Thanks for letting me know about that. Great choice of a cover tune.

      Like

      • Kevin
        November 4, 2016

        Thank you, Rich.

        Now that I’m in an REM mood, are there any post-1992 albums that you think are worth revisiting?

        Like

      • I continued buying their albums even as I was losing interest in them, but Monster was the last one I really enjoyed when it came out. Not sure how it would hold up more than 20 years later, though. I know a lot of fans rank New Adventures In Hi-Fi as one of their best but, in spite of some really good songs, I never got into it. One of the problems is the running time of more than an hour. Of their later studio albums, I think their swan song, Collapse Into Now, sounds most like classic REM. I also highly recommend Live At The Olympia, a 39-song collection where more than half the songs are from the IRS years.

        Happy listening. 😀

        Like

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