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File:R.E.M..jpg
"Take what you see on TV, mix in a guy who's turned 30 and still doesn't have a job, throw in some Uncle Remus stories and add a few flies in amber and you have America."
—Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

R.E.M. was an Alternative Rock band from Athens, Georgia, the same city from where The B-52's came a few years before. They were formed in 1980 when University of Georgia student Michael Stipe (vocals) met Peter Buck (guitar), who worked at a record store. They discovered that they shared a similar taste for "art-punk" acts such as Television, Patti Smith, and the Velvet Underground. This led them to form a band with two other U of G students, Mike Mills (bass) and Bill Berry (drums). Under the name R.E.M., the band recorded the only single ever released on Hib-Tone Records, "Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still." "Radio Free Europe's" combination of punk attitude and folk-rock guitars influenced by Power Pop (especially Big Star) pretty much invented a specific form of Alternative Rock named "jangle pop", and led to them being picked up by I.R.S. Records.

The band initially played with a "murky" style -- their early albums were produced so that no one instrument was more or less prominent than any of the others - but starting with Lifes Rich Pageant, Michael Stipe began enunciating his once-mumbled lyrics more clearly, and Peter Buck's guitar parts became more prominent. Shortly after this, the band, who had previously seen high levels of critical acclaim and a lot of popularity on college radio but never really had a hit, became hugely popular. Document contained the major hits "The One I Love" and the well-tossed word salad "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." And the hits kept coming.

1991's Out of Time and 1992's Automatic for the People turned the group into one of the most popular bands of the early '90s, featuring no less than seven hit singles ("Shiny Happy People," the megahit "Losing My Religion," "Man on the Moon," "Everybody Hurts," "Nightswimming," "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite," and "Drive") between them. However, many older fans detested the band's movement towards a more mainstream sound. The two albums are dominated by keyboards and strings, which very rarely appeared on their earlier albums. Perhaps as a result of this, they released the grunge-glam hybrid Monster. It was touted as the band's "Return to rock," but despite the success and acclaim of first single "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", the album was not as popular as their earlier albums and killed R.E.M.'s momentum.

Subsequent releases never had anywhere near the same staying power as the first five albums, and the band were plagued by personal disaster - most prominently, longtime drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm onstage and retired - but the band still continued on. It seems their career came and went in full circle: they began as a cult band, saw massive success, and eventually dwindled to being a cult band again. Their first five albums - Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Lifes Rich Pageant, and Document, as well as Automatic for the People, are still considered among the best albums ever, though, so it's not as though they've been forgotten.

One notable aspect of R.E.M. was their approach to making music. Whereas most bands have a clear leader, the band was a purely democratic entity. They never did anything unless all members agreed on it unanimously, and every member contributed something to the songwriting.

Just when they had begun to return to form, the band announced on 21 September 2011 that they had broken up. It should be kept in mind that unlike most band break-ups where the musicians ended things on bad terms, it seems like the members still have a healthy relationship and are instead ending things on good terms.

The band:

  • Michael Stipe: Vocals (1980-2011)
  • Peter Buck: Guitar, mandolin (1980-2011)
  • Mike Mills: Bass, backing vocals, keyboards (1980-2011)
  • Bill Berry: Drums (1980-1997)

Studio albums:

  • Chronic Town EP (1982)
  • Murmur (1983)
  • Reckoning (1984)
  • Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
  • Lifes 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)
  • Collapse Into Now (2011)

Other releases:

  • Dead Letter Office rarities compilation (1987)
  • Eponymous best-of compilation (1988)
  • Not Bad for No Tour promotional EP (2001)
  • In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 best-of compilation (2003)
  • And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S Years 1982-1987 best-of compilation (2006)
  • R.E.M. Live (2007)
  • Live at the Olympia (2009)
  • Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011 retrospective best-of compilation (2011)

R.E.M. is the Trope Namer for:

The band also provides examples of:

  • Album Title Drop:
    • The title to the EP Chronic Town is found in the song "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)".
    • The same happens with "Circus Envy" on Monster.
    • Stipe wonders "Have I missed the big reveal?" from Reveal's "I've Been High".
    • Also, "Begin the Begin" from Lifes Rich Pageant comes very close to doing so, mentioning "Life's rich demands." No pageants, though.
    • Collapse Into Now gets its title drop amidst all of Stipe's mumblings in the closing track, "Blue".
    • Around the Sun and Accelerate both have an actual title track.
  • Alliterative Name: Mike Mills, Bill Berry.
    • The song "Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter".
  • Alternative Rock: One of the Trope Makers.
  • An Aesop: The message of "Everybody Hurts" is "Don't kill yourself."
  • Anti-Love Song: "The One I Love". Many people take it as a straightforward love song, despite the aggressive music and such decidedly non-romantic sentiments as "A simple prop to occupy my time."
  • Audience Participation Song: "The One I Love," "Man on the Moon," "Everybody Hurts," "Drive," and "Losing My Religion" all qualify.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: The song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" was named after the phrase that an attacker of news anchor Dan Rather repeatedly screamed while attacking him. However, what the attacker (later identified to be William Tager, who thought that the media were beaming signals into his mind and that if he could find the right frequency he could block the signals) actually said was "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" according to Dan Rather himself.
  • Big Applesauce: "Leaving New York", kind of. Michael Stipe considers New York his "adopted hometown".
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Bill Berry sports an impressive pair.
  • Black Sheep Hit: See the note on Creator Backlash and "Shiny Happy People" below.
  • Book Ends: "Monty Got A Raw Deal" begins and ends with the line "Monty, this seems strange to me".
    • Collapse into Now ends with a reprise of its opening song, "Discoverer".
  • Call to Agriculture: Bill Berry quit the band to become a farmer.
  • Canon Dis Continuity: While they still play material from the two albums live, Peter Buck has disowned both Fables of the Reconstruction and Around the Sun. Also, it's probably a good idea not to bring up "Shiny Happy People" around Michael Stipe.
    • He hasn't disowned Fables, he was just disappointed in it. He's reevaluated it in recent years, most notably for its deluxe edition. However the whole band disowns Around the Sun.
      • They haven't as they've spoken kindly of it in later interviews and enjoy playing songs from it live. It's more of a case of "good songs but we killed them in the studio".
  • Censored Title: "Star Me Kitten". The song actually says "Fuck Me Kitten".
  • Chorus-Only Song: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Michael Stipe.
    • Bill Berry was implied to be this in the early years, mainly because of his monobrow.
  • Corpsing: In "Voice of Harold", Stipe stifles his laughter after reading the line "J. Elmo Fagg" for obvious reasons.
  • Creator Backlash: The band hates "Shiny Happy People" (especially Stipe) and refuses to play it in concerts. They originally refused to add it to compilation albums. Though the song was announced to be apart of the tracklist of their career-spanning greatest hits release, Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011, most likely being the "Part Garbage" mentioned in the title.
    • Though in the booklet that accompanied Part Lies..., Peter Buck mentions that, despite how much the other members regret the song, as well as how dumb and silly he thinks the song is, he has come to appreciate it. Just below Buck's comment, Stipe mentions that despite his feelings about the song, he does realize that the fans do enjoy it which ultimately led to him finally including it in a compilation album.
    • They also have a similar opinion of their album Around the Sun.
  • Creator Breakdown: Fables of the Reconstruction and Up were recorded on two separate occasions that the band was on the verge of breaking up -- the former because of intolerable conditions in Britain general in 1985; the latter because of the fallout from Bill Berry's retirement.
  • Darker and Edgier: Fables of the Reconstruction, Automatic for the People, Accelerate.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The other three have/had their moments (especially Bill Berry), but Peter Buck takes the cake.
  • Development Hell: Just A Touch, the first song the band ever wrote, turned up on their fourth album.
    • Romance was written and performed before the band's first album and recorded for it but would not be released until a movie soundtrack in 1987.
    • All The Right Friends was one of the band's earliest songs and was performed as early as 1980 and recorded in 1983 for their first album, but would not be released until 1993 when it appeared as a bonus track on the CD version of Dead Letter Office. However, the band rerecorded it in 2001 due to the producer of Vanilla Sky wanting an old style R.E.M. track and the band having revisited it live around that time. So the old version was remastered a few years later.
    • Pretty Persuasion and Don't Go Back To Rockville both originate from 1980 but would not appear on an album until their second in 1984.
    • Get On Their Way (AKA What If We Give It Away?) was performed in 1981 but would not appear on an album until their fourth in 1986.
    • The fantitled Ha (We Still Get Paid For It) from 1981 would not be developed until a full song until part of it turned into Burning Hell in 1984 and the other half formed the basis for Oddfellows Local 151 in 1987.
    • Hyena was recorded for the band's second and third albums but wasn't released till it appeared on their fourth.
    • When We Were Young aka (Throw Those Trolls Away) was recorded for the band's third album, and the title was even written on the inner sleeve. It was performed live around the time. The band decided not to include it at the last minute. It was reworked into I Believe which was recorded for their fourth album.
    • The band's cover of The Lion Sleeps Tonight was recorded in studio 10 years after they had started performing it live.
    • Bad Day, which was recorded in 1986 but not released because Michael Stipe thought it was too personal.(instead they wrote It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) around it. They eventually rerecorded it in 2003 and only after that was the original version released.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: While it's often averted, subverted, inverted, or downright ignored, Murmur could've hardly been a more apt title given Stipe's infamous vocal performances.
    • Accelerate is a much faster and aggressive album than its predecessor Around The Sun.
  • Expy: Subverted with Photograph. It sounds to most listeners like Natalie Merchant is an expy for Kate Pierson due to her similar vocal style, but she actually co-wrote the song.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: The band members met as students of the University of Georgia in Athens.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: R.E.M. is the acronym for "Rapid Eye Movement", a phase of sleep; the band sometimes refers to it being "Rapid Ear Movement".
    • The band have mentioned that it's not intended to stand for anything and just pulled it out of a dictionary at random.
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Yes, that is Patti Smith singing the chorus of "E-Bow the Letter."
    • And KRS-One on "Radio Song."
    • Thurston Moore is a backing vocalist on "Crush With Eyeliner."
    • Kate Pierson performed the back up vocals for "Shiny Happy People" and "Me In Honey."
    • Q-Tip performs a rap at the end of "The Outsiders."
    • On Collapse Into Now, Peaches shares lead vocals on "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter", Patti Smith sings on "Blue" and "Discoverer", Eddie Vedder and Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras harmonize on "It Happened Today".
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Good luck understanding a word Michael's saying on Murmur!
    • Or anything pre-Fables, for that matter.
    • The chorus to "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" since Stipe manages to compress the entire sentence into one second.

 Callmewhenytryawakerup!

  • Intercourse with You: "Strange Currencies," "Tongue," "Crush with Eyeliner..." Yeah, a lot of Monster is like this.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: The opening lines from "New Test Leper" would seem to fit:

 I can't say that I love Jesus

That would be a hollow claim

He did make some observations

And I'm quoting them today

"Judge not lest ye be judged"

What a beautiful refrain

The studio audience disagrees

Have his lambs all gone astray?

    • Voice Of Harold's lyrics are the liner notes from a gospel LP called "The Joy Of Knowing Jesus", so naturally they fit this as well.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: From "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite:" "tell her she can kiss my ass, then laugh and say that you were only kidding, that way she'll know that it's really really really really me, me."
  • Lighter and Softer: "Shiny Happy People" -- it's worth noting the instrumental backing was originally written with a darker theme in mind. Around the Sun album-wise, if not necessarily the subject matter.
    • Reveal.
    • Even Reckoning is this, it is much more jangly and upbeat than its predecessor Murmur, with only a couple of tracks that break from that format ("Time After Time" and "Camera").
  • List Song: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". "Imitation of Life" to a degree.
    • "Country Feedback", as well. "Self hurt, plastics, collections. Self help, self pain, EST, psychics, fuck all."
  • Long Runner Lineup: 17 years with Bill Berry (Type 1) and 13 years without (Type 2).
  • Long Title: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" is the most well-known example.
    • Collapse into Now gives us "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando, and I", and one sure to cause awkward line-breaking situations on computer screens, "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter".
    • Plus Reveal had "All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star)," and then of course there's "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
  • Loudness War: Monster, In Time, Accelerate and Collapse Into Now seem to be the worst offenders. Monster's distorted mastering was rare in its time but has since become more common.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite." It seems like a fun song, but it's actually about dying in your sleep. Or suicide, depending on who you ask.
    • "Hollow Man", at least in the chorus and bridge.
    • "7 Chinese Bros" sounds like quite a jolly song. Then you find out it is about an affair Michael had, in which he split up a man and a woman and he went out with both of them behind each other's back. It's wrapped in the guise of a Chinese folk tale called the "Five Chinese Brothers" which is also pretty dark and is basically a metaphor for selfishness. So the song essentially is about Michael's guilt at having being part of said affair, despite having a jolly tune.
      • "Fretless" (an Out of Time out-take that was featured on the Until the End of the World soundtrack in 1991 and later the In Time rarities disk) is about this as well. "He has got his work and she comes easy, they each come around when the other is gone. Me, I think I got stuck somewhere inbetween..." Not jolly, though.
    • For that matter, its demo version Voice Of Harold which parlays the most redundant information from the liner notes to a Gospel LP.
  • Military Brat: Michael Stipe.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Up to around a 4.
    • Has been known to go up to 6 on tracks like the stuff from Monster and Revolution from its session. Also, Departure from New Adventures In Hi Fi and several tracks from Accelerate.
    • And then there's Burning Hell which is quite a riff driven, downtuned rock song that is as close to metal as the band got at the time without being sufficiently distorted.
    • Humorously the band describe the early version of Don't Go Back To Rockville as being 'Punk thrash'. If it ever gets released it might be one of their heaviest songs.
      • They also recorded an instrumental called Speed Metal during the Out Of Time sessions, which is decidedly not speed metal.
  • New Sound Album: Actually, most of their catalog, but the most drastic departure was the techno-flavored Up, largely as a result of Berry's departure.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite," though it comes close twice. "Drive" may or may not be an example since it's not clear whether he's saying "tried to get off" or "drive to get off," and REM don't include lyrics in the liner notes for "Automatic for the People."
    • The official lyric book for Automatic features both "drive" and "tried" in certain parts.
    • "New Test Leper" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, "Texarkana" from Out of Time and "Good Advices" from Fables also count. "Feeling Gravitys Pull" from the latter album comes close in the chorus.
  • One Steve Limit: Possibly the reason why Michael Mills goes by "Mike." Ironically, Michael Stipe's real first name is John.
  • Precision F-Strike. Their lyrics very seldom include profanity, but there are a few cases - aside from the aforementioned "Star Me Kitten", "What's The Frequency, Kenneth", "Ignoreland", and "Horse to Water" all drop the f bomb. "Kenneth" used to slip by on the radio uncensored, presumably due to Indecipherable Lyrics.
    • "Bad Day" features the line "save my own ass, screw these guys," which predictably is censored on radio -- and video -- playings.
    • "Bad Day" also features the line "Shit so thick you could stir it with a stick" which is one of the few lines to remain identical in both versions of the song (the first was recorded in 1986 as a demo, the second was recorded in 2003 and released as a single). Naturally the first word is censored on radio.
    • The 'Fuck all' in Country Feedback and it fits the melancholy stream of conciousness perfectly...
    • "Departure"'s excited Word Salad Lyrics include "What a fuck-up, what a fighter."
  • Protest Song: Lots of these -- "Fall on Me", "The Flowers of Guatemala", "Welcome to the Occupation", "Exhuming McCarthy", "Disturbance at the Heron House" (at least according to Word of God), "Orange Crush", "Cuyahoga", most of the albums Around the Sun and Accelerate (particularly "Final Straw" and "Mr. Richards").
    • "Ignoreland" was a Take That aimed at the Reagan administration.
  • Sesame Street Cred: "Furry Happy Monsters", possibly the band's only usage of "Shiny Happy People" since it was disowned.
  • Shout-Out: James Dean, Martin Sheen, and Steve McQueen get name-checked on "Electrolite," and "Man on the Moon" was written in memory of Andy Kaufman (and became so associated with him that... well, see Titled After the Song below).
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: The Trope Namer is "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".
  • Spoken Word in Music: Several examples.
    • "Voice of Harold" has Stipe listing the address of the United Music World Recording Studios, Inc., among other items.
    • "Belong" from Out of Time and "Chance" from the Automatic for the People sessions consist of Stipe reading song lyrics to the music track.
    • "Blue" from Collapse Into Now features a distorted Stipe reading a poem while Patti Smith sings sporadically.
  • Stealth Pun: Lifes Rich Pageant has a collage of Bill Berry and some bison as the cover, as a Visual Pun on Buffalo Bill.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Mike Mills sings lead on their cover of the Clique's "Superman" from Lifes Rich Pageant, as well as "Near Wild Heaven" and "Texarkana" from Out of Time. In concert, Mills also performed lead vocals on more recent performances of "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville".
  • Straight Gay / Bi the Way - Michael Stipe.
    • He's fairly hesitant about declaring his sexuality one way or another, preferring to call himself "queer".
  • Talk About the Weather: "Pop Song 89". The song itself is a jab at the triviality of pop music.
    • So. Central Rain mentions rain and Fall On Me is supposedly about acid rain.
    • "Find The River" is most hardcore fans' favorite REM song for this reason. The song seems to be the last words of a dying person who is at peace with their life and is telling their relatives not to worry. The music fits this, not being sad but being wistful and bittersweet. Essentially then the song is relaxing with a hint of melancholy, but is a tearjerker because it's so beautiful.
  • Titled After the Song: "Man on the Moon" not only became the title of, and was used in, an Andy Kaufman Biopic, but R.E.M. provided the movie's instrumental underscore and a new song, "The Great Beyond".
  • The Something Song: "Radio Song" and "Pop Song 89".
  • Vocal Tag Team: Between Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Kate Pierson in the chorus of "Shiny Happy People", Stipe and Mills in one brief instance on "Mine Smell Like Honey," and Stipe and Peaches on "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter." Stipe's "duet" with Patti Smith on "Blue" could also possibly qualify.
  • Harborcoat, Hyena, Letter Never Sent, Fall On Me, etc. The list goes on and on, Mike Mills' vocals are a key part of most the band's songs.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Chronic Town and Murmur especially, but just about every album has an example of this.

 Peter Buck: (on the song "Orange Crush") I must have played this song like 3000 times in concert and after all this time I still have no idea what the fuck it's about.

 So if you feel like you're alone... No. No. No. You are not alone.


So hold on. Hold on...

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