1980, Athens, Georgia
Michael Stipe - born John Michael Stipe, Jan. 4, 1960,
Decatur, Ga. - vocals.
Peter Buck - born Peter Lawrence Buck, Dec. 6, 1956,
Berkeley, Calif. - guitars.
Mike Mills - born Michael Edward Mills, Dec. 17, 1958,
Orange, Calif. - bassist, vocals.
Bill Berry - born William Thomas Berry, Jul. 31, 1958,
Duluth, Minn. - drums.
The most popular college-rock band of the Eighties, R.E.M.
underwent a steady, decade-long rise from underground
heroes to bona fide superstars. The quartetís arty mix
of punk energy, folky instrumental textures, muffled
vocals, and introspective, often oblique lyrics influenced
a generation of alternative-rock bands. By the time of its
$10-million, five-record deal with Warner Bros. in 1988,
the band had gone from playing hole-in-the-wall pizza
parlors to major arenas. In 1989 Rolling Stone named R.E.M.
"Americaís Hippest Band."
Stipe, raised by nonmusical parents in a military family
that moved constantly, was an introverted child who spent
much of his time hanging out with sisters Lynda and Cyndy.
By 1975 he had begun reading articles about Patti Smith
and the burgeoning New York punk scene and eventually
bought three albums that would change his life: Smithís Horses,
Televisionís Marquee Moon, and Wireís Pink
Flag. While in high school in St. Louis, he joined a
short-lived punk-rock cover band.
Stipe enrolled in the art department at the University of
Georgia at Athens, where he majored in painting and
photography and developed an interest in surrealism and
medieval manuscripts. While shopping at the local Wuxtry
record shop, he met store manager Peter Buck, a native
Californian and avid pop fan who shared Stipeís interest
in adventurous music. The two decided to form a band.
Within a year, they connected with fellow students Bill
Berry and Mike Mills, childhood friends from nearby Macon
who had played together in various Southern rock groups.
In April 1980 the four formed R.E.M. (named for the dream
state "rapid eye movement") and began rehearsing
in a converted Episcopal church. In July the group played
their first out-of-state gig in Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, where they met future manager and confidant,
influenced by punk and the D.I.Y. aesthetic, R.E.M.
developed their own energetic folk-rock style over the
next year. Buckís chiming, Byrds-like guitar playing,
together with Stipeís cryptic vocal style, became the
groupís signature sound. In 1981 they recorded a demo
tape of original music at Mitch Easterís Drive-In Studio
in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Two songs from those
sessions, "Radio Free Europe" and "Sitting
Still," were released as a seven-inch single in July
on the homegrown Hib-Tone label. The driving "Radio
Free Europe" attracted positive notices, and in
October the band returned to Easterís studio to record
its first EP. R.E.M. signed with I.R.S. in 1982 and
released Chronic Town to overwhelming critical
bandís first full-length album, Murmur (#36,
1983), was an instant classic, containing everything its
supporters had hoped for: more layers of ringing guitar,
more passionately vague vocals, more atmospheric melodies,
and more seductive pop hooks. It also included a new,
tighter version of "Radio Free Europe." The
group followed up with Reckoning which failed to
break new ground but managed to reach #27, spawning the
minor hit "So. Central Rain (Iím Sorry)," and
garnering favorable reviews. The group enlisted
London-based folk producer Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention,
Richard Thompson) for Fables of the Reconstruction (#28,
1985), which featured a hazy, psychedelic musical setting.
Lifes Rich Pageant (#21, 1986) took that experiment
further, but with more of a sheen, courtesy of producer
Don Gehman (John Mellencamp), who encouraged Stipe to sing
more clearly; its single was "Fall on Me," whose
video was directed by Stipe.
Stipe had begun pulling out of his enigmatic shell with
more intelligible vocals, his lyrics continued to
confound. R.E.M.ís first major hit, "The One I
Love" (#9, 1987), from the bandís first Top Ten
album, Document (#10, 1987), was a song of betrayal
that was almost universally misinterpreted as a love song.
Then, on the bandís major-label debut, Green (#12,
1988), Stipe alluded to the ambiguous nature of his lyrics
in "World Leader Pretend," acknowledging,
"Itís high time I razed the walls that Iíve
constructed." The albumís hit single,
"Stand" (#6, 1988), was the simplest, most
hummable song of R.E.M.ís career; the albumís other
single, "Pop Song 89" (#86, 1988), was a minor
hit that made fun of the music business. Dead Letter
Office (#52, 1987) is a collection of B sides and
outtakes, and Eponymous (#44, 1988) is a
greatest-hits album. R.E.M. went on a touring hiatus
three years for the band to return with the highly
anticipated Out of Time, which rocketed to #1, went
quadruple platinum, and included "Losing My
Religion" (#4, 1991) and "Shiny Happy
People" (#10, 1991). The video for the former was
banned in Ireland for allegedly homoerotic imagery; the
latter was a duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52ís. Out
of Time also featured an expanded instrumental palette
of horns and mandolins. Automatic for the People (#2,
1992) was a somber album containing some meditations on
mortality, and string arrangements by former Led Zeppelin
bassist John Paul Jones. Its hits were "Drive"
(#28, 1992), "Man on the Moon" (#30, 1993), and
"Everybody Hurts" (#29, 1993).
the latter part of the Eighties, R.E.M. became activists,
inviting Greenpeace to set up booths at their shows and
becoming involved in local Athens politics. On his own,
Stipe spoke out on such issues as the environment, animal
rights, and the plight of the homeless. He also ushered
other artists into the public eye, including folk painter
the Reverend Howard Finster, filmmaker Jim McKay (with
whom he set up the film company C-OO, noted for its series
of public service announcements), and folksinger Vic
Chesnutt. Stipe also worked with rapper KRS-One of Boogie
Down Productions and Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs.
Meanwhile, Buck produced music by such artists as Kevn
Kinney of Driviní Ní Cryiní and Charlie Pickett. In
1990 Buck, Berry, Mills, and singer/songwriter Warren
Zevon formed a side band, Hindu Love Gods, which put out a
self-titled album on Giant.
R.E.M. returned to the fore with Monster which
combined rockers featuring heavily reverbed guitars
(including that of Sonic Youthís Thurston Moore on one
track) and distorted or almost glam-sounding vocals, as
well as the bandís more traditional-sounding fare. Monster
shot to #1, though its first single, "Whatís
the Frequency, Kenneth?" only reached #21. Soon
after, the band commenced its first world tour in five
years. After a few weeks, the tour was canceled in March
1995 when Berry was stricken with a brain aneurysm.
Following surgery, Berryís prognosis was good, and the
band continued the tour in the U.S. later in the year.
1982 -- Chronic
Town EP (I.R.S.)
1983 -- Murmur
1984 -- Reckoning
1985 -- Fables of the Reconstruction
1986 -- Lifes Rich Pageant
1987 -- Document; Dead Letter Office
1988 -- Eponymous; Green (Warner Bros.)
1991 -- Out of Time
1992 -- Automatic for the People
1994 -- Monster