R. E. M.

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R. E. M.

R. E. M. , American rock band of the 1980s. Membership:Michael Stipe (John Michael Stipe), lead voc. (b. Decatur, Ga., Jan. 4, 1960); Peter Buck, lead gtr., mdln. (b. Berkeley, Calif., Dec. 6, 1956); Michael Mills, bs., kybd., harmony voc. (b. Orange, Calif., Dec. 17, 1958); Bill Berry, drm., harmony voc. (b. Duluth, Minn., July 31, 1958).

The first American rock band of the 1980s to prove the viability of both noncommercial college radio airplay and small, independent-label releases as means of popularizing a contemporary music group, R.E.M. was also an early favorite of rock critics. Maintaining both an anticommercial and anti—pop star stance in achieving their success, R.E.M. challenged listeners to comprehend their intelligent if surreal lyrics, written and initially sung in an almost unintelligible manner by lead vocalist Michael Stipe. Originally favoring a sound derived from 1960s folk-rock, R.E.M. expanded their college following through four years of constant touring, eventually breaking through into the mainstream with Document and its near-smash hit single “The One I Love.” Unable to extend their success on the I.R.S. label, R.E.M. switched to Warner Bros., scoring their biggest success with 1991’s Out of Time and the hit single “Losing My Religion.” R.E.M. eventually emphasized a harder-edged rock guitar sound with 1994’s Monster and resumed touring in 1995 after a five-year absence.

R.E.M. was formed in early 1980 in Athens, Ga., by four Univ. of Ga. students. Bassist Michael Mills and drummer Bill Berry had played together in various groups since high school. With Michael Stipe serving as primary lyricist and lead singer and Peter Buck providing guitar, the group gained a local following and subsequently undertook tours of the Southeast. Their first single, “Radio Free Europe,” was released on the small Hib-Tone label in 1981 and drew the attention of rock critics and college fans. Signed to the independent I.R.S. label, R.E.M. recorded a five-song EP, Chronic Town, in 1981. Murmur, their first full-length album, was released in 1982 and sold remarkably well, with A&M handling national distribution of the album. It contained “Radio Free Europe,” a minor hit when rer-eleased in 1983, and “Talk About the Passion.”

Quickly regarded as one of the more important purveyors of simple and unpretentious but effective and compelling rock music (at a time when the popularity of punk music was fading), R.E.M. conducted their first European tour in 1983 and soon recorded the exciting and engaging album Reckoning. It yielded a minor hit with “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” and included the wry “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.” R.E.M. undertook a massive tour to support the rather existential Fables of the Reconstruction/Reconstruction of the Fables, recorded in London with veteran producer Joe Boyd. The album featured “Can’t Get There from Here,” Driver 8,” and “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.” They next recorded Life’s Rich Pageant at John Mellencamp’s Ind. studio. It contained “These Days” and “Superman” and produced a minor hit with “Fall on Me.” Dead Letter Office compiled the Chronic Town EP and B-sides from their singles.

R.E.M. broke through into the pop mainstream with 1987’s Document. Michael Stipe was enunciating more clearly, and the assured, provocative album yielded the near-smash hit “The One I Love” and the minor hit “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”; the album also contained “Disturbance at the Heron House” and “Finest Worksong.” In 1988 R.E.M. switched to the major label Warner Bros. Their debut for the label, Green, produced a smash hit with “Stand” and a minor hit with “Pop Song 89” and included “Orange Crush” and “World Leader Pretend.”

R.E.M. subsequently suspended live performances after the tour in support of Green. In 1990 Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry recorded with singer-songwriter Warren Zevon as the Hindu Love Gods. R.E.M. reassembled for 1991’s gentle acoustic album Out of Time, essentially comprised of love songs. Perhaps the most accessible album of the group’s career, the album featured Buck on mandolin as well as a string section. It yielded a smash hit with the poignant “Losing My Religion” and the near-smash “Shiny Happy People” (with vocal backing by Kate Pierson of the B-52’s); it also included the country-style “Country Feedback,” Half a World Away,” and “Radio Song” (featuring rapper KRS-One). R.E.M. continued in an acoustic vein with the introspective Automatic for the People, which produced the three major hits “Drive,” Man on the Moon,” and “Everybody Hurts.”

R.E.M. returned to a brash, guitar-based rock sound for 1994’s Monster. Another bestseller, the album featured a wide variety of material, from the sad country song “You” to the psychedelic guitar of the major hit “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?,” from the imploring “Let Me In” and the anguished “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” to the raucous guitar duet with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore on “Circus Envy” and the radio favorite “Bang and Blame.” R.E.M. launched their first world tour in five years in 1995, but on March 1 drummer Bill Berry fell ill during a concert in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was operated on for a brain aneurysm and quickly recovered. Not to be outdone, Michael Stipe then underwent a hernia operation. Although their European tour was canceled, R.E.M. resumed their American tour in May.


R.E.M.: Chronic Town (mini) (1981); Murmur (1982); Reckoning (1984); Dead Letter Office (1987); Box Set (1992); Fables of the Reconstruction/Reconstruction of the Fables (1985); Life’s Rich Pageant (1986); R.E.M. No. 5: Document (1987); Eponymous (1988); Green (1988); Out of Time (1991); Automatic for the People (1992); Monster (1994). TRIBUTE ALBUM: Surprise Your Pig: A Tribute to R.E.M. (1992). HINDU LOVE GODS: Hindu Love Gods (1990).


M. Gary, An R.E.M. CompanionIt Crawled from the South (London, 1992).

—Brock Helander