Personalities | R.E.M. | Nineties | Rock
Michael Stipe (born 4 January 1960, vocals) met Peter Buck (born 6 December 1956, guitar) in the Wuxtry record store in Athens, Georgia, in 1978. Two years later they met Bill Berry (born 31 July 1958, drums) and Mike Mills (born 17 December 1958, bass) at a party and Rapid Eye Movement – R.E.M. – was formed.
A demo secured the release of ‘Radio Free Europe’/‘Sitting Still’ on the Hib-Tone label, which, in turn, led a long-term deal with Miles Copeland’s IRS label. Mini-album Chronic Town (1982) was critically received. On debut album Murmur (1983) Stipe’s sometimes slurred, allusive vocals were a texture of the rich melodic music rather than a dominant force. Fans were not helped by song titles deliberately listed in the wrong order on the Stipe-designed album sleeve; a habit continued on early IRS albums like Fables Of The Reconstruction (1985) recorded in London with legendary 1960s producer Joe Boyd.
By Document (1987) – their fifth album – R.E.M. were the biggest and most imitated band on the American alternative college circuit receiving critical acclaim for their intelligent mixture of rock, pop and harmony drawing on influences as diverse as British new wave, The Byrds, The Velvet Underground and Stipe’s extensive reading material. The mountain moved to them in 1987 when ‘The One I Love’ became their first US hit single. The frantic ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ also entered the US and UK charts.
Out Of Time
Outgrowing IRS, R.E.M. signed to Warners in 1987. Produced by Scott Litt, Green (1988) retained artistic integrity, a commercial edge on singles like ‘Stand’ and the first wielding of Buck’s mandolin on ‘You Are The Everything’. After a globe-trotting tour the band took time out before returning with Out Of Time (1991). Adding strings to a startling set of folk, rock and country-tinged songs this watershed album sounded like a modern Forever Changes and catapulted R.E.M. to the very top of the big league.
As well as topping the US and UK album charts, addictive singles like ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘Shiny Happy People’ and ‘Near Wild Heaven’ became anthems at the height of the Nirvana-led grunge boom. With Stipe refusing all promotional interviews the eagerly awaited follow-up Automatic For The People (1992) was another classic, yielding an astonishing five hit singles, including ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight’, ‘Nightswimming’, ‘Everybody Hurts’ and a tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman, ‘Man On The Moon’. Even with the band not touring the album went multi-platinum.
The shaven-headed, erudite and sexually ambiguous Stipe stamped out a new template of the aware, enigmatic, literate lead singer and generational spokesman on political and social matters. Musically, Monster (1994) returned to the guitar-heavy early days and kicked off R.E.M.’s first international tour in five years. Recorded during sound checks and stolen moments on a grinding 132-date schedule, New Adventures In Hi Fi (1996) was a brave departure, although apart from...
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