Origin: Athens, Georgia

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Genres: alternative rock, College rock, Folk rock, Jangle pop, Pop rock

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R.E.M. was an American rock band from Athens, Georgia  formed in 1980 by drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist/backing vocalist Mike Mills and lead vocalist Michael Stipe.  As one of the first alternative bands R.E.M. was noted for Buck’s ringing guitar style, Stipe’s distinctive vocal quality and obscure lyrics, Mills melodic bass lines and backing vocals, and Berry’s tight, economical style of drumming.  Alternative bands such as Nirvana, Pavement, Pearl Jam and Radiohead have drawn inspiration from R.E.M.’s music.  R.E.M. has sold more than 85 million albums worldwide.

R.E.M. released its first single, “Radio Free Europe” in 1981 followed by the Chronic Town EP in 1982.  In 1983 R.E.M. released its critically acclaimed debut album, Murmur, and built its reputation over the next few years through subsequent releases, constant touring and the support of college radio.  Following years of underground success, R.E.M. achieved mainstream breakthrough with 1987’s single “The One I Love.”

R.E.M. released its two most commercially successful albums, Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), that veered from the band’s established sound and catapulted them to worldwide fame.  By the time of 1994’s Monster album medical emergencies had impacted the band.

In 1996, R.E.M. signed an $80 million contract with Warner Brothers, which at the time was the most expensive recording contract in history.  The band’s 1996 release, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, though critically acclaimed failed to meet the sales of its predecessors.  The following year drummer Bill Berry left the band after suffering a brain aneurysm on stage, and the band continued as a trio for the rest of their career.  Through some changes in musical style, the band continued its career into the next decade with mixed critical and commercial success.  In 2007, R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.  R.E.M. disbanded amicably in 2011, announcing the split on their website.

R.E.M. origins date back to 1980 when Michael Stipe met Peter Buck in the Athens record store where Buck worked.  The pair shared similar tastes in music, particularly in punk rock and protopunk artists like Patti Smith, Television and the Velvet Underground.  Mutual friends introduced them to fellow University of Georgia student roommates Mike Mills and Bill Berry who had played music together since high school.  The quartet agreed to collaborate on several songs without any grand plan behind them.  The still unnamed band spent months rehearsing and needed to decide on a name.  After considering Twisted Kites, Cans of Piss, and Negro Eyes, they settled on “R.E.M.” (which is an acronym for rapid eye movement, the dream stage of sleep), which Stipe selected at random from a dictionary.

R.E.M.’s achieved almost immediate success drawing progressively larger crowds for shows, which caused some resentment in the Athens music scene.   Over the next year and a half, R.E.M. toured throughout the south.  Touring was arduous because a touring circuit for alternative rock bands did not then exist.  The group toured in an old blue van driven and lived on a food allowance of $2 each per day.

R.E.M.’s first single 1981’s “Radio Free Europe” originally pressed 1,000 copies which sold out quickly.  Despite its limited pressing, the single garnered critical acclaim, and was listed as one of the ten best singles of the year by the New York Times.

R.E.M.’s followed their debut single with their first album Murmur.  The band recorded the album via a process of negation, refusing to incorporate rock music cliches such as guitar solos or then-popular synthesizers, in order to give its music a timeless feel.  Murmur was greeted with critical acclaim upon its 1983 release, with Rolling Stone listing the album as its record of the year.  Despite the acclaim awarded the album, Murmur sold only about 200,000 copies.

R.E.M. made its first national television appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in October 1983,  performing a new, unnamed song which eventually they titled “South Central Rain.”  The song became the first single off their second album 1984’s critically acclaimed Reckoning.

On R.E.M.’s fourth album the band enlisted John Mellencamp’s producer.  The result, Life’s Rich Pageant (1986), featured Stipe’s vocals closer to the forefront of the music.  The single “Fall on Me”  garnered commercial radio plays and the album was the band’s first certified gold record with sales of more than 500,000.  While American college radio remained R.E.M.’s core support, the band was beginning to chart hits on mainstream rock formats.

R.E.M.’s fifth album Document (1987) featured some of Stipe’s most openly political lyrics, particularly on “Welcome to the Occupation” and “Exhuming McCarthy,” which were reactions to the conservative political environment of the 1980s.

Document was R.E.M.’s breakthrough album, and the first single “The One I Love” charted in the Top 20 in the US, UK, and Canada.  By January 1988, Document had become the group’s first million selling album.  In light of the band’s breakthrough, the December 1987 cover of Rolling Stone declared R.E.M. “America’s Best Rock & Roll Band.”

The band’s 1988 Warner Bros. debut, Green was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and showcased a group experimenting with its sound.  The record’s tracks ranged from the upbeat first single “Stand” to more political material, like the rock-oriented “Orange Crush” and “World Leader Pretend,” which addressed the Vietnam and Cold Wars, respectively.  Green eventually went on to sell more than four million copies worldwide.  The band supported the album with its biggest and most visually developed tour to date, featuring back-projections and art films playing on the stage.  After the Green tour, the band members unofficially decided to take the following year off, the first extended break in the band’s career.

R.E.M. reconvened in mid-1990 to record its seventh album, Out of Time.  In a departure from it predecessor, the band members often wrote the music with non-traditional rock instrumentation including mandolin, organ and acoustic guitar instead of adding them as overdubs later in the creative process. Released in March 1991, Out of Time was the band’s first album to top both the US and UK charts going on to sell more than 12 million copies worldwide.  The album’s lead single “Losing My Religion” was a worldwide smash charting at number four on the Billboard singles charts.

The album’s second single, “Shiny Happy People” (one of three songs on the record to feature vocals from Kate Pierson  of fellow Athens band B-52’s ), was also a top ten hit.

Out of Time garnered R.E.M. seven Grammy Award nominations most than any of that year’s artists.  The band won three awards: one for Best Alternative Music Album and two for “Losing My Religion,” Best Short Form Music Video and Best Pop Performance by a Group of Duo with Vocal.

R.E.M. returned to the studio for 1992’s Automatic for the People.  Though the group had intended to produce a harder-rocking album after the softer textures of its predecessor, Automatic for the People took on a somber tone.  The album dealt with themes of loss and mourning.  Several songs featured string arrangements by former Led Zeppelin  bassist John Paul Jones.  Considered by a number of critics (as well as by Buck and Mills) to be the band’s best album, Automatic for the People topped the charts in America and Britain.  The album generated the American Top 40 hit singles “Drive,” “Man on the Moon” and “Everybody Hurts” going on to sell more than fifteen million copies worldwide.  As with Out of Time, there was no tour in support of the album.  The decision to forgo a tour, in conjunction with Stipe’s physical appearance, generated rumors that the singer was dying or HIV-positive, which were vehemently denied by the band.

After releasing two slower-paced albums in a row R.E.M. released Monster (1994).  In contrast to the sound of its predecessors, the music of Monster consisted of distorted guitar tones, minimal overdubs, and touches of 1970’s glam rock.  The album topped the charts going on to sell more than nine million copies worldwide.  The album’s singles “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” and “Bang and Blame” were the band’s last Top 40 American hits.

In January 1995, R.E.M. set out on its first tour in six years.  While the tour was a huge success health issues dogged the band.  On March 1, Berry collapsed on stage during a performance in Switzerland, having suffered a brain aneurysm.  He had immediate surgery and recovered within a month.  Bassist Mills had to undergo abdominal surgery to remove an intestinal adhesion in July; a month later Stipe had to have an emergency surgery to repair a hernia.

By 1997 R.E.M. reconvened in Hawaii to record demos for their next album.  The band sought to reinvent its sound and intended to incorporate drum loops and percussion experiments.  In October, after months of contemplation Berry announced that he was quitting the band.  R.E.M. cancelled their recording session but decided to continue as a three-piece unit.

Recording commenced on their next album 1998’s Up.  Led off by the top ten single “Daysleeper,” the album debuted in the top ten but failed to achieve the sales figures of its predecessors going on to sell more than two million albums worldwide.

A year after Up’s release, R.E.M. wrote the score for the Andy Kaufman biographical film Man on the Moon.  The film took its title from the Automatic for the People song of the same name.  The song “The Great Beyond” from the soundtrack album was released as a single.

In 2003, Warner Bros. released an R.E.M. compilation album and DVD featuring two new songs, “Bad Day,” and “Animal.”  At a 2003 concert in Raleigh, North Carolina Bill Berry made a surprise appearance performing backing vocals on “Radio Free Europe,” and remained behind the drum kit for another song.

In 2006, all four original band members performed during a ceremony inducting the band into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.  While rehearsing for the ceremony R.E.M. recorded a cover of John Lennon’s #9 Dream for a tribute album benefiting Amnesty International.  The song—released as a single for the album and the campaign—featured Bill Berry’s first studio recording with the band since his departure almost a decade earlier.

For the band’s 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction they performed three songs with Bill Berry; “Gardening at Night,” “Man on the Moon” and “Begin the Begin.”

In 2011, R.E.M. released its fifteenth and final studio album, Collapse into Now.  The album charted top five on the Billboard Album Charts and fulfilled their Warner Bros. recording contract.  The band then began recording material without a contract a few months later with the possible intention of self-releasing the work.

On September 11, 2011, R.E.M. announced via its website that it was “calling it a day as a band.”  The group discussed breaking up for several years, but was encouraged to continue after the lackluster critical and commercial performance of Around the Sun; according to Mills.

The band members finished their collaboration by assembling the compilation album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011, released in November 2011.  The compilation collected songs from all of the band’s history, as well as three new songs from its aborted Collapse into Now sessions.

For 2019’s Record Store Day R.E.M. contributed Live at the Borderline 1991 that includes several live takes from the Out of Time album.

Reference – https://www.remhq.com/


R.E.M. discography


Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays R.E.M.  All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/

Check out R.E.M. performing “Losing My Religion.”