R.E.M.'s debut album, Murmur, was Rolling Stone's 8th best album of the 80's, just behind Michael Jackson's Thriller, and was RS's best album of 1983. No wonder its Deluxe Edition release was so highly anticipated last year, and with its rousing live bonus disc, it earned a 10.0 on the notoriously stingy Pitchfork. Their sophomore record, Reckoning, was released as double disc Deluxe Edition last week, quiet as a murmur. If not Murmur's equivalent (Pitchfork will probably give this deluxe treatment a nine-point-something), Reckoning was still critically acclaimed, with the Washington Post declaring that the songwriting even exceeded that on Murmur, and its release was an affirmation that the band was far from a fluke. Some of R.E.M.'s most endearing and enduring songs are on Reckoning, including So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry), which was their first performance on national television, on Letterman, prior to the release of the album (see the video below), and (Don't Go Back To) Rockville, Mike Mills' plea to girlfriend Ingrid Schorr, of Rockville, Maryland.
As good as the early studio albums were, R.E.M. fans know that if you haven't seen them live, you don't know R.E.M. The second disc in Reckoning Deluxe is a live show from the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, in 1984, broadcast on Chicago radio station WXRT. Like the extra disc accompanying Murmur Deluxe, it's a revelation of the band in action in its earliest years. This is a live version of the second song on Reckoning.
R.E.M. - 7 Chinese Brothers (Live, Chicago, 1984)(mp3)
*update, 11:32 AM 7-2-2009: Fluxblog has the Deluxe disc version of Letter Never Sent, and a good paragraph about it. Also, Pitchfork's review just went up today. I was wrong. The reviewer gave Reckoning a 10.0, and flirted with calling it R.E.M.'s "best" album.