We all have a past. Back in the '80s, my favorite bands were the Cars, Boston, and Def Leppard. And while I still appreciate the Cars and Pyromania... Boston?! Like I said: We all have a past.
In 1983, when Def Leppard was releasing the aforementioned Pyromania and the Cars were dropping Heartbeat City, R.E.M. was making its long-form debut with Murmur. I wouldn't actually hear that album till 1993, at a time when grunge (Nirvana; Pearl Jam) and punk-pop (Green Day; Offspring) were dominating the American airwaves. Suffice it to say, I found myself smitten.
From there, I set about exploring the entire R.E.M. catalogue, from 1982's Chronic Town to 1992's Automatic for the People. With each release, I found treasures aplenty. And even on later, lesser efforts - Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi - there were genuine pleasures to be had.
The times they were a'changin', however, when drummer Bill Berry retired in 1997. Both Up and Reveal sounded slow and insulated - and far too tricked-up with cheap-sounding synthesizers. The final straw came with last year's Around the Sun, which sounded like Michael Stipe singing in front of a wall of anonymous session musicians. Somehow, gradually, R.E.M. had ceased to be a "band" in the studio. This was not only disheartening but deeply frustrating, as these guys are still capable of putting on a fairly rocking live show.
For the first seven years of their existence, R.E.M. put on a lot of rocking live shows and released a series of not-quite-traditionally rocking albums on the I.R.S. label. While I am not one of those purists (or "snobs," depending on your point of view) who thinks that R.E.M. sold out or went to shit after signing with big, bad Warner Brothers in 1988, I do find it enjoyable and enlightening - every now and again - to return to R.E.M.'s IRS days and immerse myself in the always slightly off-kilter wonder of it all. This was a band trying hard not to try too hard, and the music was all the better for it. Feel free to disagree...
"Radio Free Europe" [Hibtone single]/R.E.M. 
Radio Free Europe-mp3 [left-click]
"Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)"/R.E.M. [from the EP Chronic Town, 1982]
Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)-mp3 [left-click]
"Pretty Persuasion"/R.E.M. [from the LP Reckoning, 1984]
Pretty Persuasion-mp3 [left-click]
"Wendell Gee"/R.E.M. [from the LP Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985]
Wendell Gee-mp3 [left-click]
"I Believe"/R.E.M. [from the LP Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986]
I Believe-mp3 [left-click]
"Welcome to the Occupation"/R.E.M. [from the LP Document, 1987]
Welcome to the Occupation-mp3 [left-click]