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R.E.M.’s 15 Greatest Music Videos

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Courtesy Youtube.com/Warner Bros. Records

R.E.M. embraced the music video form like few other bands in rock history. Over the course of three decades, the band released over 70 clips, ranging from arty short films to blockbuster videos that went into heavy rotation on MTV. Michael Stipe, a former art school student and avid photographer, was heavily involved in the band's visual representation and mainly relied on a stable of filmmakers including Peter Care, Jem Cohen, Jim McKay and James Herbert, his former art professor at the University of Georgia. This collection of videos highlights the best and most memorable clips in an outstanding body of work. 

– Matthew Perpetua

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‘Orange Crush’

R.E.M. made a point of retaining complete control over their music videos when they signed to Warner Bros. in 1988. "Orange Crush," the first video of their career as a major label act, makes this very clear by using the martial rhythms of the song as the soundtrack for a short film by Matt Mahurin that draws ambiguous parallels between images of a confused young boy and overtly homoerotic black and white footage of a buff man digging through soil and crawling through grass. 

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‘Pop Song 89’

Michael Stipe's clip for "Pop Song 89" was NSFW long before watching rock videos in a cubicle was a possibility. The singer dances awkwardly with a trio of topless girls. Stipe himself is topless, and when MTV insisted on black bars covering the girls' breasts, he edited in a black bar for his own chest as well. Solidarity!

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Peter Care shot the video for "Drive" in 1992, right around the time "moshing" became part of the national lexicon. While moshing, crowd surfing and stage diving are typically presented as acts of joyful aggression, this video, in which Michael Stipe is held up by a sea of hands, is somehow both meditative and oddly menacing.

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‘Everybody Hurts’

Jake Scott's iconic video for "Everybody Hurts" depicts lonely souls stuck in a traffic jam along I-10 in Texas. The director was inspired in large part by the traffic jam sequence in Federico Fellini's , but the mood of the piece is moving entirely on its own terms, particularly as Michael Stipe leads people out of their cars and out into freedom.

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Jem Cohen's video for "Nightswimming," one of the most beloved ballads in the R.E.M. discography, is just as simple and plaintive as the song itself. At some points, it's quite literal, but for the most part, this collection of quiet, emotionally loaded moments is ideally suited to Michael Stipe's intimate vocal performance and sentimental lyrics.

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‘What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?’

Peter Care's clip for "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" is notable for the first appearance of Michael Stipe's fully shaven head, but it's memorable for frenetic editing that shifts the camera off into corners and away from the band at some moments, and zooms in on Stipe's awkward dancing at others.

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Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' video for "Tongue" matches the song's odd balance of cuteness, sexiness and heartbreaking loneliness with images of awkward teenagers gazing longingly at footage of R.E.M. in concert in Seventies-style rec rooms. The attention to detail here is marvelous, but the clip isn't overly nostalgic.

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‘E-Bow the Letter’

Jem Cohen's dim, romantic clip for "E-Bow the Letter," R.E.M.'s 1996 collaboration with Patti Smith, is ideally suited to the sound and sentiment of the song, which remains one of the band's finest and most distinct compositions. Cohen's lonely street scenes are gorgeous, but the images of Stipe performing with the band in a room lit by hundreds of tiny white lights are among the most elegant and breathtaking shots in the band's filmography.

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Peter Care and Spike Jonze's video for "Electrolite" includes a few questionable visual ideas – the fisheye lens stuff is a bit much – but for the most part, its gentle surrealism is an inspired match for the sentiment of the song, which is a romantic lullaby for Los Angeles at the end of the 20th Century.

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The Snorri Brothers' visual interpretation of "Daysleeper," the first video from the band's 1998 album Up, complements the song's headache-addled daze and captures the depressed, disconnected feeling of its protagonist in shots of a shellshocked, bespectacled Michael Stipe working in a fluorescent-lit office building.

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‘Imitation of Life’

Garth Jennings' video for "Imitation of Life" was shot in just 20 seconds, but the footage was looped and edited in such a way that it zooms in on several small and strange moments at an elaborate pool party set in the Seventies.

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Michael Stipe teamed up with his sister Linda for "Discoverer," a triumphant number from R.E.M.'s final album, Collapse Into Now. The siblings made the video by messing around with the architectural design program AutoCAD, which is not intended for any sort of artistic utility. The result is fascinating in its use of text, bright color and jittery dynamics.

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