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Members include BillBerry (born William Thomas Berry, July 31, 1958, Duluth, MN), 1980-97, drums; PeterBuck (born Peter Lawrence Buck, December 6, 1956,Berkeley, CA), guitar; MikeMills (born Michael Edward Mills, December 17, 1958,Orange, CA), bass, vocals; MichaelStipe (born John Michael Stipe, January 4, 1960,vDecatur, GA), vocals. Addresses: Record company-Warner Brothers, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
When four college guys started a garage band together in Athens, Georgia in 1980, they had no idea they'd go on to sign a historically lucrative record deal, see the end of their band as they knew it, and reign as one of the most influential bands of their era. University of Georgia students drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and vocalist Michael Stipe formed R.E.M. When they started, punk rock was mostly what was being played in garages by angst-ridden youth across America, but R.E.M. (named for the "rapid eye movement" phase of sleep) was busy making catchy guitar pop. R.E.M. signify the point at which all that misdirected, avant-garde, "alternative" music was driven out of the garage and into heady commercial success.
At the start R.E.M. was a driven college rock band, often playing two or three shows a night, five nights a week, three weeks a month. They applied the post-punk D.I.Y. (do it yourself) mentality to what they were doing and just played tirelessly. All the experience and exposure showed up well on their first single, "Radio Free Europe" and "Sitting Still," which was released on their local Hib-Tone record label in 1981. "Radio Free Europe" earned them a cult following which led to their first EP, Chronic Town, on IRS records in 1982.
It wasn't until 1983 and the release of Murmur that anyone besides critics-and those hip to the Georgia underground-took to R.E.M. But because R.E.M.'s haunting style of folk and rock clashed with the synthetic early '80s new-wave sound, more people sat up and listened. Murmur peaked at number 136 on the album charts, but Rolling Stone selected it as album of the year and R.E.M. as band of the year. With their 1984 release, Reckoning, the sound was still unlike anything else being played at the time and the push behind R.E.M. became even stronger, as did record sales. With at least one release per year on IRS from 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction to 1988's greatest hits collection Eponymous, the band gained more and more critical acclaim, fans, and record sales. Their 1987 release Documentdid the unthinkable, reaching the top ten, and produced a hit single, the anti-love song called "The One I Love." But in 1988, R.E.M. grew up.
In 1988, R.E.M. officially earned the right to be called "sell-outs" by their purist fans. After R.E.M. signed a five-record, ten-million-dollar deal with Warner Bros., people could call them whatever they wanted to, but they had to acknowledge the band as a commercial success. Once they were on top, though, R.E.M. did not fail to look back down and got involved with grassroots political and environmental causes. Stipe spoke out on behalf of Greenpeace, animal rights, and the homeless. After their first release for Warner Bros., Green, R.E.M. had become the world's most popular band.
After an exhaustive tour to support the release of Green-during which Stipe cursed Green's hit single "Stand," which had the entire country humming it, as the worst song they'd ever written-the band went on a touring hiatus. They hibernated up for three years until the much-anticipated release of Out of Time in 1991. R.E.M. blossomed on Out of Time, both instrumentally and commercially. They used a more exotic selection of instruments, including horns and mandolins. The release sped to number one on the album charts, and went quadruple platinum. Its hit singles "Losing My Religion" and "Shiny Happy People," a duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52's, were the summer anthems of 1991. On 1992's Automatic for the People, R.E.M. dug deep inside and pulled out a somber, introspective collection of songs. Its hits were "Drive," "Man on the Moon," and "Everybody Hurts."
When Monster was released in 1994, it seemed geared to be played loudly. R.E.M. rocked harder on this record than on any before. Monster included rockers with reverb-laded guitars and distorted vocals alongside more trademark-sounding songs. The album hit number one almost immediately although it produced a lukewarm first single, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" which peaked at number 28. To support Monster, the band geared up for its first tour in five years, but canceled it after a few weeks in March 1995 when drummer Bill Berry suffered a near-fatal double brain aneurysm in Switzerland.
The small-town boys from Georgia made music-industry history in 1996, signing a five-record, $80 million deal with Warner Music, the largest record contract ever awarded at the time. The deal came at the end of a bidding war, with DreamWorks, Sony, Capitol and MCA offering $35 to $50 million. "R.E.M. embodies everything important about this company," Warner Bros. president Steven Baker told the Los Angeles Times. "They are a tremendously hard-working, successful band with integrity and vision."Two weeks later, the band released New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which, although it debuted at number two, wasn't very well received and enjoyed only lukewarm sales.
In early October of 1997, on the first day of rehearsals for their new album, drummer Berry decided to leave the band. "Rock drummers are like car tires: they're regularly replaced, but you don't get far if you're missing one," wrote Time in 1998. And if that was the case for any band, it was especially true for R.E.M. The band was always known for working as a democracy-every decision in their 17 years together had been made unanimously. All members received songwriting credit on their albums, drummer Berry included. "I put it to the guys," Berry told Rolling Stone. "I don't want to do this anymore." "I was just consumed by Bill's departure," Michael Stipe told Rolling Stone in 1998.
For the band's first release after Berry's departure, 1998's Up, all ears were tuned to hear the sound of a new R.E.M. "The pulsing drum machine that opens Uphints at what skeptics may have feared: The Berry-less (but not drummerless) R.E.M. may have bought a floor ticket to music's latest overplayed trend, electronica," Ann Powers wrote in Rolling Stone in 1998. "But the mellotron, harpsichord and other groovy effects on Up never overwhelm the band's mighty sense of self." Or as David Fricke wrote in Rolling Stone, "Up is the record that Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills would have made with or without departed drummer Bill Berry."
Up also was a first for Stipe as lyricist: for the first time, his enigmatic song lyrics were printed on the CD's insert. Stereo Review noted in a 1998 review of Up that Stipe, known for mumbling his often cryptic verse, seemed to be trying to make himself a little clearer. "The most interesting aspect [of Up] is Michael Stipe's lyrical openness; he has never been more nakedly self revelatory, nor has he enunciated his lyrics with such deliberate precision." The reviews for Up were wildly mixed, from speculation that it was the group's best record ever, to Billboard's 1998 review of it as a "record that sounds as if the group was sulking all the way through it." In a year-end interview with Rolling Stone in 1998, Stipe had this response: "If this record dropped out of the sky by a three-piece band that nobody had heard of, people would be in the street shouting at the top of their lungs, naked, about it."
by Brenna Sanchez
Group formed in Athens, Georgia, 1980; signed to IRS Records, 1982; released debut EP Chronic Town,1982; released Murmur, 1983; released Reckoning, 1984; released Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985; released Life's Rich Pageant, 1986; released Document, 1987; signed a five-record, $10-million record deal with Warner Brothers, 1988; released Green, 1988; released Out of Time, 1991; released Automatic for the People, 1992; released Monster, 1994; signed a five-record, $80-million record deal with Warner Brothers, 1996; released New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996; drummer Bill Berry left band, October, 1997; released Up, 1998.
Four Grammy awards.
- Selected discography
- Chronic Town , IRS, 1982.
- Murmur , IRS, 1983.
- Reckoning , IRS, 1984.
- Fables of the Reconstruction , IRS, 1985.
- Life's Rich Pageant , IRS, 1986.
- Document , IRS, 1987.
- Dead Letter Office , IRS, 1987.
- Green , IRS, 1988.
- Out of Time , Warner Brothers, 1991.
- Automatic for the People , Warner Brothers, 1992.
- Monster , Warner Brothers, 1994.
- New Adventures in Hi-Fi , Warner Brothers, 1996.
- Up , Warner Brothers, 1998.
April 5, 2005: R.E.M.'s album, Electron Blue (CD's #1 and #2), was released in the United Kingdom only. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/index.jsp, April 7, 2005.
- Gary Graff and Daniel Durcholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide , Visible Ink Press, 1998.
- Romanowski, Patricia and Warren, Holly George, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll , Fireside/Simon & Shuster, 1995.
- Billboard , October 30, 1998.
- Newsweek , October 26, 1998.
- New York Times , October 28, 1998.
- Rolling Stone , December 11, 1997; September 3, 1998; November 12, 1998; December 24, 1998
- Stereo Review , December 1998.
- Time , October 26, 1998.
- Village Voice , November 3, 1998.
- "R.E.M.," All-Media Guide , http://www.allmusic.com (January 5, 1999).
- SVS Internet Services , http://www.svs.com/rem/news/wb.text (January 5, 1999).
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