Great Rock Albums of 1986: R.E.M.- Life’s Rich Pageant


First of all I can confirm the intellectual rock label given to bands like The Smiths, The Cure and R.E.M. My sister, who was attending Rutgers University at this time, said that all of her fellow students were very heavily into all three bands, especially The Cure. But because my sister was and still is the ultimate metal maiden, she hated The Cure’s “The Head at the Door” album and didn’t think much of the other two bands.

As for me, I never really paid much attention to R.E.M. back in the 1980s and they really didn’t come onto my radar until the 1990s. Even then, I basically know them from some of their more famous singles. “Man on the Moon” is my favourite R.E.M. song but that’s irrelevant. Subsequently, their 1986 album, “Life’s Rich Pageant” passed me by and this is a bit of a shame because now that I’m listening to it, I like it!

While some filed R.E.M. into the ‘intellectual rock’ category, does such a genre exist? I have to actually agree with Wikipedia’s label of ‘alternative rock.’ See back in 1986, people were putting all forms of music into nice neat little categories, people still do, and R.E.M. didn’t fit into any of the ones that were around at the time. Although the guitar is the chief weapon of their musical arsenal, it’s not hard enough to be considered metal. With the absence of synths, one can’t call them synth pop nor could they call them progressive rock or alternative pop. Since the only single from the album,  “Fall on Me” only got to 94 on the charts, they were definitely not a top 40 band at the time. So by default, alternative rock is the best way to describe the band and “Life’s Rich Pageant.”

I won’t be equating guitarist Peter Buck with greats like Blackmore, Malmesteen and Van Halen etc.,  but he does produce some interesting guitar hooks on a lot of the songs. It’s his work on the opening song, “Begin the Begin” which immediately turns my attention to the album and the intro notes on the follow up, “These Days,” is probably his best efforts. However, the one thing I can say about the album is that most of the other songs could have been released as a single and probably wouldn’t have broken the nineties in the billboard top 100 charts. While there are differences in each and every song, R.E.M. don’t stray too far from their basic formula. Saying that, Buck’s banjo intro on “I Believe” is quite good and the song particular reminds me most of the sound I would later would associate with R.E.M.

Of course, I don’t want to let the side down and there is a hidden gem on the album, which if it was up to me, would have been released as a single. “Cuyahoga” is about a river which flows from Cleveland, Ohio into Lake Erie and became so polluted that it actually caught fire in 1969. In the song, singer Michael Stipe laments on how the river was a great place to spend a day but became so polluted that it was no longer possible to do so. Back in 1986, this would have been especially significant with me because at the time, the US had a president who didn’t give a flying f*ck about the environment, much like the clown they have in the White House right now.

Track Listing:

  1. Begin the Begin
  2. These Days
  3. Fall on Me
  4. Cuyahoga
  5. Hyena
  6. Underneath the Bunker
  7. The Flowers of Guatemala
  8. I Believe
  9. What If We Give it Away
  10. Just a Touch
  11. Swan Swan Away
  12. Superman



Michael Stipe- lead vocals, backing vocals on “Superman”

Peter Buck- guitar, banjo

Mike Mills- bass, backing vocals, piano, organ, lead vocal on “Superman”

Bill Berry- drums, backing vocals

Of the three albums from so-called intellectual rock I have reviewed, I have to say I like R.E.M.’s “Life’s Rich Pageant” the most. Had I listened to it when it first came out, the alternative rock would have been more to my liking then as it is now.

Next post: Kim Mitchell- Shakin’ Like a Human Being





















































































11 Responses to “Great Rock Albums of 1986: R.E.M.- Life’s Rich Pageant”

  1. Back in the 80’s and being from Atlanta, GA…REM were huge, but they were not hair metal so I ignored them. Years later, I mean years later, I finally started to get it and now anything 80’s and early 90’s from them I think is fantastic.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is my favourite REM record. So many great songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a good one, though my go-to is Monster. Considered one of their worst for a long time, I’ve noticed people starting to come around to it recently.

    Liked by 1 person

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