Chronic Town album cover
Murmur album cover
Reckoning album cover

Origins

In the spring of 1980 the four members of R.E.M., Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry, held their first practice in a deconsecrated church-turned-house where Stipe and Buck were living at the time.

Stipe and Buck had met each other at a record store in Athens where Buck worked, and the two bonded over their common musical tastes. Mills and Berry both knew each other from attending high school together in Macon, Ga. and the two groups were introduced by a mutual friend at a party in Athens one night.

After only about a month of rehearsing together, the new band was asked to perform at their friend’s birthday party, to which they hesitantly complied.

Under the name Twisted Kites, the band played a mixture of original songs and rock and punk covers including The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”

R.E.M.’s early original songs, which were not recorded for a studio release, drew more heavily from pre-punk groups like The Velvet Underground and early punk groups like Television than the songs they would later write for their first few releases.

Below is an excerpt of Peter Buck talking about The Velvet Underground and an R.E.M. cover of The Velvet Underground song, "Pale Blue Eyes."

After considering several other band names, which included Cans of Piss and Slut Bank, the young band finally settled on R.E.M. because they felt like it was vague enough so they would not be limited to any particular genre of music.

The band began touring throughout the South and Southeast in the early ‘80s and signed to the independent label, I.R.S. Records.

“Chronic Town,” the band’s first release, a five-song EP, came out in 1982, and was followed in 1983 by their first full-length, “Murmur.” The album was well-received by critics and was voted the best rock album of 1983 by Rolling Stone magazine.

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Below is R.E.M.'s first television appearance, performing "Radio Free Europe" from “Murmur” on "Late Night with David Letterman."