R.E.M. formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980 with a lineup composed of singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, Mike Mills on bass, keyboards, and backing vocals, and drummer Bill Berry.
Considered by many to be one of the first “alternative” rock bands, R.E.M.‘s early music was characterized by Stipe’s distinctive vocal quality that often found the lyrics buried in the mix, Buck’s Byrds-like jangly arpeggiated guitar playing, Mills’s melodic bass lines, and distinctive backing vocals; and Berry’s tight drumming.
They released their first single “Radio Free Europe” on a small independent label before signing with I.R.S. Records which put out the band’s first EP Chronic Town in 1981 and 1982 respectively.
With each subsequent release, R.E.M. experimented with different sounds and styles, bringing Stipe’s lyrics more into the forefront and adding different instruments not necessarily associated with rock, like a mandolin on “Losing My Religion.” Former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones was brought in to add orchestration to some of the tracks.
Their videos were all over MTV, and they managed to continue to garner both critical and commercial success, which they held on to even after signing with Warner Brothers Records.
After a few years of giving hints that they might be finished, the band ultimately called it a day in 2011 following the release of Collapse Into Now.
Though the four original members stand firm in their decision to not perform again as R.E.M., there have been some reissues that they have all been a part of.
Mike Mills and Peter Buck occasionally record and perform together with The Baseball Project. Bill Berry has done a few music projects since leaving the group following an onstage collapse in 1995 due to a ruptured brain aneurysm but is for the most part retired. Michael Stipe is involved in film production and has released a few solo singles.
R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
From start to finish, here are R.E.M.’s five career-defining moments.