It's still weird to think how R.E.M., this super-liberal little outfit from Athens, Georgia with a mumbling lead singer and a guitarist into twelve-strings and mandolins, spent a healthy chunk of their thirty-year career as one of the world's biggest rock bands. But at the peak of their popularity—from their crossover breakout with Document in 1987 to their retreat from the mainstream in the late '90s—the band was a true mainstream force, selling millions, winning Grammys and VMAs, and influencing countless bands in their wake. Having officially disassembled today—R.E.M. leave the game as one of the best, biggest and most important bands of the post-punk era.
But it wasn't just music that they had an effect on. R.E.M. and their music has impacted all of pop culture, either through their songs being used in big moments of TV shows and movies, through the band making unexpected and delightful cameos in the shows and movies themselves, or through other artists taking their music and going in vastly different directions with it. Here's our list of the top ten such ways that R.E.M. has left their stamp on pop culture in their 30 years of plangent rocking.
10. Pavement - "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence"
One of R.E.M.'s greatest acolytes, '90s indie heroes Pavement wrote "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," their contribution to the No Alternative compilation, as a tribute to their musical heroes. Lead singer Stephen Malkmus breaks down the R.E.M. lineup with trademark understated aplomb: "The singer, he had long hair / And the drummer, he knew restraint / And the bass man, he had all the right moves / And the guitar player was no saint."
9. Appearance on The Simpsons
R.E.M. made a guest appearance on The Simpsons as a band that Homer books to play his makeshift bar while he's feuding with Moe. It's not the most dynamic Simpsons cameo—U2's was way better, and it seems sorta unlikely that Homer would even know who R.E.M. are—but they get a couple nice R.E.M. Are Lefty Suckers jokes out of it. ("I told them it was a benefit—they think they're saving the rain forest!" Homer boasts mockingly.)
8. "Drive" Ripped Off By Eminem's "Space Bound"
"Drive," the opening track to R.E.M.'s classic Automatic for the People, had its guitar line lifted by Eminem for the intro to his recent single "Space Bound." Unfortunately, Em didn't follow through with the rest of the song, which sounds way more like Everlast's "What It's Like," but it's still a nice little callback to one of R.E.M.'s best '90s songs.
7. "Stand" on Get a Life
The opening credits to the absurd '90s Chris Elliott sitcom Get a Life came soundtracked by R.E.M.'s all-time most purposefully stoopid single, "Stand"—a match made in alternative-meets-mainstream heaven. "Stand" was a song absolutely destined to be used for credit sequences—incredibly catchy, and totally insufferable after about a minute.
6. Weird Al Yankovic, "Spam" and Alternative Polka
As one of the nerdier rock bands to get mainstream attention, Weird Al just had to take a couple shots at R.E.M. over the course of the late '80s and '90s. He turned "Stand" into "Spam" (sample lyric: "Spam on the table at home (ham and pork) / Think about selection, are there different flavors now (let's eat)") and featured the band in two of his timeless polka medleys, "Losing My Religion" in "Polka Your Eyes Out" and "Bang and Blame" in "Alternative Polka."
For lots more R.E.M. moments in pop culture, from Sesame Street to My So-Called Life, click NEXT.
5. "Man on the Moon" and "The Great Beyond" in Man on the Moon
Obviously, the Jim Carrey-starring biopic of comedic great Andy Kaufman featured R.E.M.'s 1993 hit "Man on the Moon," the band's song about Andy that the movie was named after—though the filmmakers had the decency at least to hold off until the end credits. Even cooler, though, was new song "The Great Beyond," featured on the movie's soundtrack—one of the last songs of any degree of inspiration that R.E.M. would ever write.
4. "It's the End of the World as We Know It" in Tommy Boy
One of the all-time great car singalong scenes in pop culture history, Chris Farley and David Spade sing along to numerous radio classics over the course of Tommy Boy, but none as memorable as R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." They can do the chorus OK, but as has happened to so many of us, they lose track a little after the "6:00 / TV hour" part of the second verse. (Tragically, this scene is not available on YouTube or anywhere else on the internet, though you can at least listen to it here.)
3. "Everybody Hurts" in My So-Called Life
As R.E.M.'s most shamelessly simple and accessible ballad, "Everybody Hurts" has been used for a variety of (mostly humorous) purposes in numerous TV shows and movies, from Peter Griffin singing it karaoke in Family Guy to Dwight Schrute using it as a self-pity soundtrack in The Office. But the best was probably Angela Chase returning home from a disastrous night out with Rayanne in My So-Called Life, with its comfortingly cascading guitar riff and annoyingly relatable lyrics soundtracking the all-too-poignant moment.
2. "Losing My Religion" in Beverly Hills, 90210
Beverly Hills, 90210 was ahead of the curve in the R.E.M. usage department, getting to signature hit "Losing My Religion" at the apex of its popularity in 1991. The song was featured in the second-season premiere "Beach Blanket Brandon," playing on the car radio during a pivotal scene when Brenda broke up with Dylan. It was a scene and episode that helped launch 90210 to cultural phenomenon status during the summer of '91, and R.E.M. would be featured on the show a half-dozen more times over the course of the show's run.
1. "Furry Happy Monsters" on Sesame Street
In one of the strangest segments to ever be featured on daytime television, R.E.M. showed up on Sesame Street for a jam session to their hit 'Shiny Happy People," adapted thematically to "Furry Happy Monsters." The band spends three minutes bopping along with a number of monster muppets (as well as a human one, supposed to represent backing vocalist Kate Pierson of the B-52s), performing the song confusedly while bassist Mike Mills plots his escape from all the ridiculousness. Sublime and ridiculous as all the best R.E.M. moments from that period, "Furry Happy Monsters" remains the absolute must-watch in the band's non-MTV filmography.
Did we miss anything? Should Weird Al have been higher? Do you have a version of that Tommy Boy scene you could upload for us? Let us know about it in the comments section!