Happy Birthday to a Jangle Pioneer!


If the music of R.E.M. can be broken down into its most immediately recognizable traits (in other words, the R.E.M.-est aspect of R.E.M.), you’d probably have Michael Stipe’s vocals on one side and Peter Buck’s guitar on the other. No offense to Mike Mills and Bill Berry, who comprise one of the most unbeatable rhythm sections in rock, but Stipe and Buck’s respective contributions tend to immediately stick out as characteristic of the group as a whole.

Buck’s ringing, treble-y guitar helped usher in the catch-all term “jangle pop,” which sounded totally unlike the hardcore music of the time. Buck and guitarists of his ilk swapped crunchy distortion for shimmery arpeggios, reached back to the Beatles and Byrds for influence, and ended up paving the way for what we now know as “alternative rock.” R.E.M, during their early 80’s beginnings, managed to keep the devotion to rhythm and immediacy of punk while exploring gentler, more textured areas of the spectrum. During Peter Buck’s time with the group, he was as interesting a guitarist as any number of flashier folks. R.E.M.’s work during their halcyon years as a foursome (early-80’s to late 90’s) was so immensely influential that I don’t even think we are able to see the scope of it.

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Maybe in 20 years they’ll have as much distance behind them as the Velvet Underground do now and we’ll have a clearer picture. In any event, happy 60th birthday to Peter Buck, and maybe go ahead and get the group back together with Bill Berry and play Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, just like your legendary show that was packaged with reissues of Reckoning.

Come on, I’ve earned this.

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