I remember watching that Saturday morning videos show on NBC (no, my family did not have cable or satellite, thus no MTV) and being shocked and attracted to the images and sounds of their video for "Losing My Religion" (even though I didn't understand what it was about at that age). The picture of R.E.M. I have (which is a pretty accurate picture, I think) is of a rock band that writes really catchy anthems that used vaguely alternative colorings in their pop songs (see: "Shiny Happy People", "Man on the Moon," "Everybody Hurts" and the already mentioned "Losing My Religion").
But the band I found on And I Feel Fine is quite different than that R.E.M. The band that you will find on And I Feel Fine is the band that inspired Jawbreaker to cover "Pretty Persuasion" and the band that inspired Pavement to cover "7 Chinese Bros." and the band that inspired countless collegiate recordphiles to start radio shows and start bands and start scenes! Is there a more exciting time in the American indie underground than the early 80s?
This is the sound of a time when only true outsiders listened to alternative music. This is the sound of a time when punks really were beat up in small, southern towns for the way they dresssed (so they had to create little safe havens like Athens, GA). Yes, R.E.M. has gone on to great fame with those anthemic radio-ready tunes (and you will find some of those songs on And I Feel Fine, too: "The End of the World..." and "The One I Love"), but And I Feel Fine is the story of the band before mainstream radio came sniffing for them.
The whole batch of 42 songs is great (yes, all 42), but if you are unsure about diving into the whole thing, some of the even brighter gems are "Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Single)", "Pretty Persuasion", "7 Chinese Bros." and "So. Central Train". My personal favorites include the lo-fi "Gardening at Night" (from the 2nd disc) and Michael Stipe's parable-like intro to the live "Life and How to Live It".
Michael Stipe recently said in Rolling Stone that R.E.M.'s goal is to write one of the best albums of all-time. I think that they can do it. They just need to sit down and listen to And I Feel Fine a few times before they head back into the studio.
And maybe invite Bill Berry back into the studio, too.