R.E.M.

  • Alternative rock band from Athens Georgia, formed in 1980. Members were Michael Stipe (frontman, lead vocals), Peter Buck (lead guitar, banjo), Mike Mills (bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, backing vocals). Berry left the band after 17 years to become a farmer – he was replaced by Joey Waronker.
  • In 1980, Stipe and Buck met at the record store where Buck worked. They found that they liked the same type of music, particularly punk rock. Soon after, they met Mills and Berry, fellow students at the University of Georgia, who had played music together since high school. They decided to work together on a few songs, and eventually played their first performance at a friend’s birthday party. Needing a name for the band, they considered Twisted Kites, Cans of Piss and Negro Wives, before settling on R.E.M. – chosen at random, the initials stand for the period of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement.
  • The band dropped out of college to focus on their music career. They quickly became popular in Athens and in the south. In 1981, they recorded an independent single, Radio Free Europe, which quickly sold out of its initial 1,000 copy pressing. Later that year, they released an EP, Chronic Town, after signing with a record label – it showed their signature musical style – jangling guitars, slurred vocals and odd lyrics.
  • In 1983, they released their first studio album, Murmur. Initially, the record producer chosen for the album wanted technical perfection and rock cliches. The band did not approve, and they moved to another producer. The album was well received – Rolling Stone chose it as its Record of the Year for 1983 (it ranks at #197 on their Greatest 500 Albums of All Time list). However, despite the acclaim, it only sold around 200,000 copies.
  • They released 3 more albums from 1984 to 1986. They were modestly successful, but there were no hits. Their 1987 album finally was their breakthrough – Document had a song break into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 – The One I Love. The album is #462 on the Rolling Stone list.
  • Document was the first of 6 consecutive albums that were certified platinum. Their best sellers were Out of Time (1991), Automatic For the People (1992 – #249 on the Rolling Stone list) and Monster (1994) – these each sold over 4 million copies in the U.S. Eight songs from these albums reached #1 or #2 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, and 3 songs – Stand, Losing My Religion, and Shiny Happy People cracked the top 10 on the Hot 100 chart. On these records, they wrote alternative rock songs for non-traditional instruments like the mandolin and organ.
  • They continued to release new music from 1996 to 2011 – six albums were released over this time. They continued to be popular on alternative radio, and in concert. In 2011, they simply decided that they had been together long enough, and they split up.
  • They won 3 Grammy awards – 2 for Losing My Religion, and 1 for Out of Time, the album that includes the song. Many consider R.E.M. as the creators of alternative rock music as a genre. In the early 90’s, they rivaled U2 as the biggest rock band in the world. Rolling Stone ranks them at #97 of the Greatest Artists of All Time. Their video for Losing My Religion won MTV’s Video of the Year Award for 1991. Let’s watch it! Definitely one of alternative music’s biggest and best songs of the 90s.

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