Formed in 1980 by University of Georgia students Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe,
R.E.M. paved the way for the alt. music wave that would come much later. The rock band was one of the first to record what is considered alternative music and held their first recording session at Bombay Studios in Smyrna, Georgia, on Feb. 8, 1981.
Buck and Stipe met at Wuxtry Records, where Buck was an employee. They discovered their mutual love for punk and proto-punk music, like that of Patti Smith, Television, and the Velvet Underground. They would be introduced to fellow UGA students Berry and Mills, who had played music together since high school. With no immediate plans for anything significant, they played together with practices held at the deconsecrated St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Oconee Street in Athens, Georgia. Their first gig was in support of the Side Effects, another band in the indie music scene in Athens, held on April 5, 1980.
R.E.M.'s success stems from the unique sound of Stipes's vocals, backed by Buck's simple yet distinctive guitar playing. Add in the vocal harmonies and melodic bass playing of Mills with Berry's economical drumming style; R.E.M. is considered one of the best bands of all time.
R.E.M.'s first session would feature the songs "Sitting Still," "Gardening At Night," “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” and their first single, "Radio Free Europe," which was released in July 1981 by the independent record label Hib-Tone. The success of that song would lead to their first album, Murmur, which was released by I.R.S. Records and included a re-recording of "Radio Free Europe."
On March 12, 1991, R.E.M. released their seventh album, Out Of Time, which would introduce "Losing My Religion," the first single of the album. This would become the band's best single, built on a Manolin riff written and played by Buck. The song's critically acclaimed music video saw heavy airplay on MTV and VH1, and the song reached No. 4 on Billboard Hot 100, the band's highest charting single.
At the 1992 Grammy Awards, "Losing My Religion" won two awards, Best Short Form Music Video and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and in 2017, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
R.E.M. was a band that devoted themselves to activism causes, including climate change, poverty reduction, and hunger eradication, which was often reflected in their lyrics. But their activisim extended further than just lyrics in a song, the band would perform concerts supporting these causes.
In 2011, the band announced, via their website, that they were "calling it a day as a band." They would release Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions in 2014.