It came to my attention the other day that pop group R.E.M. have decided to call it a day and will be disbanding after their next album which is due imminently. This surprised me on two counts, firstly I didn’t really realise they were still going, and secondly, I didn’t realise they were actually a band from the Eighties!
Here in the UK I don’t think R.E.M. really made a big splash until the early Nineties, with the release of their album Out Of Time, which contained songs such as Shiny Happy People and Losing My Religion, and indeed I always thought that they were a new band at the time. How wrong I was though, as they actually formed right back in 1980!
In January 1980 lead singer Michael Stipe met guitarist Peter Buck in a record shop where Buck worked. They got chatting and discovered they shared similar tastes in music and became friends. Later they met up with bass guitarist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, fellow students from the University of Georgia, who had been playing music together for a while, and they decided to have a go at forming their own group.
Before long the band felt they had something good going and dropped out of school to go touring around the southern US. They became a bit of a local phenomenon but it wasn’t until the summer of 1981 that they finally recorded their first single, Radio Free Europe. Despite only limited distribution, this song went on to become one of the New York Times best 10 singles of the year!
In May 1982 they signed with I.R.S. records and got more and more popular, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the band really put their name on the map with the release of their album Document. This featured songs such as The One I Love and It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, which I have to admit I never knew were R.E.M. songs until writing this! It makes me wonder now whether I had actually heard of R.E.M. earlier than I thought I had without even knowing it!
This brings us nicely back to 1991 and the release of Out of Time. Both these albums were pivotal in garnering R.E.M. a worldwide audience, so that when album Automatic For The People came along in 1992 it became an automatic buy for many people (pardon the pun!). This album contained tracks such as The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Everybody Hurts and Man On The Moon.
Whilst R.E.M. have continued to tour and record since then (even after the departure of Bill Berry in 1997, when the band continued as a three piece) I think this period around the late Eighties and early Nineties was definitely the high point of their careers.
I’ll leave you then with the video for Shiny Happy People, which is my personal favourite R.E.M. song for several reasons. First, it reminds me of first getting satellite TV, as it was played constantly on MTV at the time. Secondly it guest features Kate Pierson from The B-52′s, and thirdly, I love the bit where the song goes all slow at the end and it’s revealed that an old feller on a bike has been making the brightly coloured scrolling background go round.