The rise of R.E.M. from cult heroes to superstars during the New Wave era proved that deserving, non-gimmicky American rock bands could still make it on their own terms. R.E.M.’s example of inspiration, hard work and self-belief served as a beacon that illuminated an alternative path for many musicians in the Eighties and Nineties. Without R.E.M., it’s hard to imagine the alt-rock, indie-rock and college-rock movements of the last two decades. The patient, deliberate way in which R.E.M.’s career unfolded could serve as a textbook example on balancing art and commerce without compromise. As David Fricke wrote in Rolling Stone, “R.E.M.’s success has proven to America’s post-punk generation the power of underground virtues in the overground world.” In 2003 Buck told the New York Times, “For us it was always about the music, our music.”
R.E.M. formed in Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia, where all four studied (though none graduated). Bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry were best friends who’d met in Macon, where they’d played in bands during their high-school years. Guitarist Peter Buck was a California emigre whose family settled in Atlanta when he was in his mid-teens. Singer Michael Stipe was born in Decatur, an Atlanta suburb, though he lived in many other places because of his father’s military career.
The group made its debut in 1981 with “Radio Free Europe,” released on the tiny Hib-Tone label. The single became a critics’ favorite, and the group signed with I.R.S., an independent label whose roster featured several bands on the cutting edge of New Wave. The mini-album Chronic Town (1982) and the full-length Murmur (1983) and Reckoning (1984) were all produced in North Carolina by Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, like-minded Southerners who were also musicians. These three releases announced R.E.M. as a band with one foot in the Sixties (the Byrds and Velvet Underground) being principal touchstones) and the other planted in more modern territory. Buck described the material on those early albums as being “uptempo folk songs” in which familiar strains of Byrdsy folk-rock were suffused with nervous energy and murky mystique.
Fables of the Reconstruction (1985) was cut in England with British folk producer Joe Boyd (who’d worked with the likes of Fairport Convention and Nick Drake). It was R.E.M.’s most varied and ambitious work up to that point. Next they teamed up with producer Don Gehman (John Mellencamp) for Lifes Rich Pageant (1986), which brimmed with confidence and flirted with accessibility while still maintaining an aura of uniqueness and inscrutability. This paved the way for R.E.M.’s breakthrough with Document (1987), a powerful and coherent musical statement that moved the group to rock’s forefront. Both the album and single “The One I Love” made the Top 10.
At this point, a Rolling Stone cover line proclaimed R.E.M. “America’s Best Rock & Roll Band.” As a group that opened many mainstream ears to alternative music, R.E.M. represented, in Buck’s sly phraseology, “the acceptable edge of the unacceptable stuff.” Document marked the end of R.E.M.’s contract with I.R.S., triggering a bidding war for the group’s services. Yet success can have its drawbacks in the alternative realm. R.E.M.’s stature as indie-rock standard-bearers was sorely tested when they signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Warner Bros. Still, Peter Buck’s production of numerous left-field artists and R.E.M.’s penchant for edgy, hand-picked opening acts—including the Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth—helped maintain credibility.
Ironically, R.E.M.’s first album for Warner Bros., Green, failed to chart as high as Document. Still, the album produced another smash single, “Stand” (Number Six). The group undertook a nearly year-long arena tour that raised its profile substantially.
What happened next, however, was surprising even for a band as unpredictable as R.E.M. The group withdrew from the road for five years and became studio hermits, cutting a pair of carefully nuanced and introspective recordings: Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992). Despite their reduced visibility, R.E.M.’s popularity scaled new heights when “Losing My Religion,” a mandolin-tinged plaint about spiritual disenchantment, reached Number Four. “Shiny Happy People,” also from Out of Time, followed it into the Top 10, and Automatic for the People yielded a trio of Top 30 hits. Both albums sold more than 4 million copies in the U.S. alone, ushering R.E.M. into rock’s upper echelon.
The logical next step was a loud, rocking album and a return to the road.Monster was, according to writer Anthony DeCurtis, “a noisy, abrasive, postmodern, sexually charged maelstrom.” During the world tour that followed, R.E.M. decided to work on new material at soundchecks, in effect readying their next album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, while touring the current one. The tour was not without mishap, as drummer Bill Berry suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm, and other maladies—an intestinal tumor for Mills and a hernia for Stipe, both necessitating surgery— afflicted the band.
Drummer Berry dropped a bombshell in 1997 with the announcement that he would be leaving the band. The group briefly considered disbanding, but the three remaining members decided to continue. They cut Up (1998) as a three-piece, and the results were unsurprisingly atmospheric and understated. “We literally had to reinvent how we made records,” noted bassist Mills of the painstakingly assembled, keyboard-dominated album.
They followed Up with the pastoral, reflective Reveal (2001), which found them more comfortable with the trio format. “The whole experience has been very liberating,” Stipe noted. “We’ve become acclimated to new conditions and potentials.” On the road, R.E.M. expanded its lineup with outside musicians, including drummer Joey Waronker and guitarist Scott McCaughey.
The release of In Time: The Best of R.E.M., 1988-2003 gathered the high points from R.E.M.’s tenure on Warner Bros. The band’s early catalog was given a similar treatment on the 2006 release And I Feel Fine…The Best of the I.R.S. Years, 1982-1987. Both compilations were issued alone and as deluxe packages with a bonus disc of rarities. In 2004 R.E.M. released Around the Sun, its strongest album as a trio. It contained such pensive, arresting tracks as “Leaving New York.” Stipe noted that it covered “the usual R.E.M. territory of identity and memory and dreams and where the real world and the fantastic world come together and overlap.”
MY FAVOURITE SONGS
So I will add my favourites here either in audio or video format...
01. The Great Beyond
03. Imitation Of Life
04. Time After Time
Time After Time, Red Rain and So Central Rain. Originally released as B-side of Finest Worksong "12". Recorded live...
05. Fall On Me
06. What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
08. Perfect Circle
09. Country Feedback
10. Leaving New York
BBC ANNOUNCES THE BAND's RETIREMENT...
Members of legendary US rock band REM have announced they are splitting up after 31 years.
"We have decided to call it a day as a band," the band said. "To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening."
The group found fame with a string of albums, notably 90s hits Out of Time and Automatic for the People.
The band's website was briefly unavailable on Wednesday afternoon after the announcement was made.
1980: REM formed in Athens, Georgia, by Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Bill Berry
1988: Breakthrough album Green released
1991-94: Three biggest albums sell millions and make them international stars
1994: Tony Blair names REM as favourite band
1997: Berry quits
2002: Buck cleared of drunken air rage on British Airways flight
2011: Band's 15th and final album Collapse Into Now reaches number 5 on US Billboard
Four of REM's albums in the 1990s went platinum in the UK, peaking with Automatic For The People, which sold more than 1.8m copies.
In the States, three of the band's albums were certified quadruple platinum - representing sales of 4m - according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
The group was originally made up of singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, who left the band in 1997.
"I hope our fans realise this wasn't an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way," Stipe said as he announced the split.
Asked in a BBC 6 Music interview earlier this year whether every album felt like the band's last, Stipe had said: "I put so much into the work we do that, when I'm done, I feel like I'd never be able to do it again."
Singer Michael Stipe cut a distinctive figure on stage and had a unique vocal style. In the same interview he said the band had started off without any goals.
"The fact that we were making records and touring felt like this amazing adventure to us. We didn't necessarily want to conquer the world - but then we ended up doing exactly that in some small corner of the universe that belonged to pop music and us."
REM have often used their music and power as a band to carry a message.
Everybody Hurts from album Automatic for the People, started out as a song to comfort "younger people". Its "don't give up" message has most often been associated with suicide prevention but the song has also been used to mark the Dunblane massacre, Princess Diana's death and more recently the earthquake in Haiti.
In 2009, REM was one of a number of bands to form the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, referring to the US prison in Cuba.
Many of the artists who joined the campaign were angry that their music had reportedly been used as an interrogation tool in the jail.
In a statement, REM said: "We have spent the past 30 years supporting causes related to peace and justice. To now learn that some of our friends' music may have been used as part of the torture tactics without their consent or knowledge, is horrific. It's anti-American, period."
REM headlined the Glastonbury festival in 1999. Over the years, REM influenced and nurtured many other bands - giving exposure to alternative rock acts like Radiohead, Wilco and 10,000 Maniacs through support slots on their tours.
Among those mourning their demise were The Strokes and The Futureheads, both of whom simply posted the message "RIP REM" on Twitter.
US rock group One Republic paid tribute to "one of the best, most enduring bands of our lifetime", adding "you guys will be missed. Your music will keep on keepin' on".
BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe said the group had been "an integral part of the modern story of rock'n'roll".
"REM never dumbed down. Look at the bands they influenced... The Smiths, Radiohead, Nirvana and so on.
"And they end with dignity. Most won't."
REM won three Grammy awards in 1992, and the best international group trophy at the Brit awards in 1993 and 1995.
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Their fifteenth and final album, Collapse into Now, was released in March 2011. Record label Warner Bros is due to issue a career retrospective in November.