When REM played their first concert in Athens, Georgia in 1980, their lineup consisted of four college dropouts -- Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry.
But without the charisma of Stipe and his eccentric onstage behaviour, hurling himself about with abandon in-between mumbling into the microphone, they could easily have been overlooked as just another bar band, relying on the harmonious guitar sound of the Byrds for their inspiration.
Beginning in July 1981, with Radio Free Europe on the small, independent Hib-Tone label, the Athens, Ga.-based R.E.M. established a name for itself almost immediately. At its core was the rhythm section of bassist Mills and drummer Berry, acquaintances since their days in their high school marching band. At its heart, former record store clerk, guitarist Buck, and the shy and mysterious singer Stipe.
With songs like Gardening At Night and Wolves, Lower, REM defined the sound of American college radio in the early '80s. As the band's career progressed, it managed to alter its sound to stay fresh and keep fans guessing. REM's audience grew far beyond the underground with such mainstream hits as The One I Love, Stand, Losing My Religion, and Everybody Hurts.
The band's impact hasn't just been limited to its own growing popularity. REM was a key component in a shift in American popular taste. The superstar attractions of the '70s and early '80s, such as REO Speedwagon and Styx, were replaced by a new generation of bands, led by REM and REM-influenced sound, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Gin Blossoms, and Live.
The critical praise heaped upon R.E.M. has been monumental, but despite all this attention they have remained painfully modest and reasonably unaffected, and, despite the loss of Berry, still appear united. They are one of the most important and popular bands to appear over the past three decades, and although their commercial heyday appears to have passed they still retain massive credibility and every new release is anticipated with great excitement.