January 1980 at the University of Georgia, Athens
- Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960 in Decatur, Georgia) - Lead vocals, primary lyricist
- Peter Buck (born December 6, 1956 in Berkeley, California) - Guitar
- Mike Mills (born December 17, 1958 in Orange County, California) - Bass, backing/harmony vocals
- Bill Berry (born July 31, 1958 in Duluth, Minnesota) - Drums
Interesting R.E.M. Facts:
- Originally called themselves the Twisted Kites before deciding on the name R.E.M. while flipping through a dictionary.
- Named "Best Band in America" by Rolling Stone in 1987.
- Disgusted with an early video, Stipe swore off lip-synching in videos for the duration of the '80s.
While students at the University of Georgia, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck found they shared an affinity for punk rock and the indie D.I.Y. aesthetic. After meeting up with the like-minded Mike Mills and Bill Berry, the quartet began to rehearse and perform punk and garage band covers in and around Athens. Soon after, the band began to produce original tunes, mixing them with covers on extensive tours around the South, playing wherever and whenever they could.
Indie Debut Single & Emerging Style:
Determined to forge its own path, R.E.M. released its first single, "Radio Free Europe," on local independent label Hib-Tone. By this time the band had created its own distinctive post-punk sound, combining folk-rock leanings with jagged jangle pop guitars and Stipe's mumbled singing of his often impenetrable lyrics. Soon after, success on college rock radio led to the band signing with larger independent label I.R.S. Records in 1982.
College Rock Darlings:
By the time R.E.M. released its first full-length album, Murmur, in 1983, the band had already been christened superstars in the college rock scene. And while that didn't translate to mainstream success or airplay, the band and its fans seemed perfectly happy with that, as devotion to the band was a certain way to earn cool points. The group itself continued to tour heavily and churned out three more acclaimed albums, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction and Life's Rich Pageant.
R.E.M.'s Move Toward the Mainstream:
Purposefully or not, R.E.M.'s sound became a bit more straightforward and accessible on 1986's Document, the band's first album to spawn hit singles on the pop charts. Even so, many misinterpreted "The One I Love" to be a straight-ahead love song, and many of the references in "It's the End of the World (As We Know It)" remained typically obscure and Stipesque if somewhat less so than usual. No matter what, it couldn't have been much of a surprise that this would be the band's final indie album.
Selling Out, Buying In or Just Moving On?:
The band's first release after signing with Warner Bros., 1988's Green, generated much controversy and squabbling between fans of the band's indie sound and admirers of its new, much more mainstream rock sound. In fact, the former tended to view the latter as wannabes who weren't true fans of the "real" R.E.M. Nonetheless, the album sold quite well and introduced the band to a much wider audience, a group of fans that would help usher the quartet into its next stage and a new decade.
Alternative Rock Superstardom:
Before the end of the '80s, the term "college rock" began to be replaced somewhat by the slightly more descriptive and more marketable label "alternative." R.E.M. carried the flag for this shift, but although some may charge the band with selling out, its '90s output arguably showed more eclecticism than its somewhat narrow early sound ever did. For better or worse, the little band from Athens had become big-time rock stars, a fact that the world had little trouble accepting.