In December 1987, North America’s most prestigious rock publication, Rolling Stone, granted R.E.M. the front cover and proclaimed them to be “America’s Best Rock & Roll Band.” Just four and a half years after the release of their debut album, Murmur, the band’s dynamic fifth album, Document, had zoomed up to No.10 on the Billboard 200. Within another five years, they would be one of the biggest bands on the planet.
R.E.M.’s gradual, but surefooted rise to global stardom has been well-documented, but like their arena-rock contemporaries The Cure and Simple Minds, the Athens, Georgia-based quartet were first galvanized into action by punk’s lo-fi, DIY philosophy. A mutual appreciation of stellar punk and post-punk-era acts, including Patti Smith and Television, first firmed up the bond of friendship between vocalist Michael Stipe and guitarist Peter Buck, who put R.E.M. together with the addition of bassist Mike Mills and Bill Berry.
The band’s early recordings
The embryonic band made their live debut at a friend’s birthday party in a converted Episcopal church in Athens, on April 5, 1980. The foursome then spent much of the next 18 months building a following the old-fashioned way, crisscrossing the southern US playing grassroots-level shows and feverishly writing strings of songs.