R.E.M. is perhaps one of the most underrated names in the Alternative Rock music scene. Many people knew the band only for the hit singles “The One I Love” (1987) and “Losing My Religion” (1991), when in fact this American Postpunk-influenced band started producing music as early as 1981.
Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry formed R.E.M. in 1980 in Athens, Georgia. The quartet shared similar tastes in music, particularly of Punk Rock and Postpunk artists like Patti Smith, Television, and The Velvet Underground. They released their first album, Murmur, in 1983, which contains the song “Radio Free Europe,” which is a favorite among many enthusiasts of Postpunk music. The musical style of R.E.M. has elements of Folk, Rock, and Postpunk; and is best defined by the distinct voice of Stipe and the jangly guitar playing of Buck (achieved crisply by using also mandolin and 12-string guitar).
R.E.M.’s current presence in the international Rock scene may have gone a level below the commercial radar, but it is one of the most enduring, prolific, and consistently active bands in the Alternative Rock scene. The band’s 15-album discography proves this: Murmur (1983), Reckoning (1984), Fables of Reconstruction (1985), Life’s Rich Pageant (1986), Document (1987), Green (1988), Out of Time (1991), Automatic for the People (1992), Monster (1994), New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996), Up (1998), Reveal (2001), Around the Sun (2004), Accelerate (2008), and the latest, Collapse into Now (2011). My favorite song from each album: “Radio Free Europe,” “Harborcoat,” “Driver 8,” “Superman” (an original by the American band The Clique, released in 1969), “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” “Pop Song ’89,” “Shiny Happy People,” “Everybody Hurts,” “Bang and Blame,” “Electrolite,” “At My Most Beautiful,” “Imitation of Life,” “Aftermath,” “Living Well Is the Best Revenge,” and “That Someone Is You.”
Being an enthusiast of New Wave and Postpunk music since the early ’80s, I first discovered R.E.M. via the Philippine FM radio station DWXB 102.7, which heavily played the songs “Harborcoat” and “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” in 1986, during the heyday of the radio station and New Wave music in the Philippines.
The members of R.E.M. faced the toughest challenge of their career in 1997 when drummer Bill Berry decided to quit because “I was not as enthusiastic as I have been in the past about doing this anymore….” Despite this major blow to the band’s status, the remaining trio carried on, releasing subsequent albums. To this day, Stipe, Buck, and Mills continue to make music and stage concerts as R.E.M. Moreover, apart from being influential icons in the Alternative Rock music scene, they have been active also in using their band’s popularity to highlight their social and political causes.