Monday, October 17, 2011


R.E.M. needs no introduction.  With over 70 million records sold and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they are one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands in the world over the last 30 years.  The B-52’s put Athens on the musical map, but R.E.M. made the town legend. 

In contrast to the B-52s immediate success, success for R.E.M. came slowly.  Eschewing the Athens tradition of playing New York clubs, the band spent their early years relentlessly touring the Southeast, playing in any dive that would have them and living on a $2 a day food allowance.  Their reputation grew steadily, but they didn't achieve a platinum-selling album until 1987's Document, their fifth LP.

What endears me most to R.E.M. is that, in spite of incredible fame and fortune, R.E.M. never strayed far from Athens.  During most of their career, the band members all lived there, and two members still do.  They’re also very active in the Athens community.  They play at Athfest, the annual arts and music festival.  They often show up to play with local acts.  Singer Michael Stipe was instrumental in the opening of The Grit, Athens' first and only vegetarian-only restaurant (he owns the building where it’s located).  Guitarist Peter Buck and his wife owned the 40 Watt Club for a time until their divorce in 1994; now she is sole owner.  Drummer Bill Berry owns a farm in nearby Watkinsville.  Good examples of how you can get hooked on Athens.

Below are some of my favorite R.E.M. songs from their early years.

This is R.E.M.’s very first recording, released on 45 rpm vinyl in 1981, about a year before their first album.  One of these days I’m gonna dig through my records and see if I still have my copy…

This from their 1982 5-track EP Chronic Town:
Gardening At Night

From their first LP, Murmur, released in 1983:
Shaking Through

From the 1984 LP Reckoning:
Pretty Persuasion

1 comment:

  1. My band Actuals played with REM a couple of times in 1980. They had been together just a few months and were pretty rough but had good energy. Both times were at a small club in Nashville called Phrank 'n Steins. Actuals was a Nashville band so we played there a lot and out of town a good bit. Anyway, great memories from those days. In 1982 I formed band Actuel, with most success in Europe.