Published Sep 21, 2011When R.E.M. announced their breakup earlier today (September 21), it signalled the end of one of the most celebrated bands in music history. After forming in the early 1980s, they became the cutting edge of cool, defining underground indie rock before going on to conquer the mainstream in the '90s.
And even if their recent work isn't quite as beloved as their early highlights, there's no denying that R.E.M. continued to win fans and make headlines, even after three decades and 15 albums.
In honour of this legacy, we look back on the 10 moments that defined R.E.M.'s career, making them one of the most enduring band's of their generation. These notable moments are listed by importance, emphasizing those that kept us listening all the way to the end.
10 Moments That Defined R.E.M.'s Career:
After 2004's maligned Around the Sun, it appeared that R.E.M. had hit a creative and commercial slump. Then, after a four-year break (the longest the band ever took between albums), they came back with this gritty rock juggernaut. With loud distortion and unfussy production, this 2008 album was rightly perceived as a return to form, proving that the band could still sound fresh and exciting a full 25 years after their debut LP (1983's Murmur).
9. Departure of Bill Berry
R.E.M. formed as a four-piece, with singer Michael Stipe, drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills. Berry left in 1997, citing the need for a change in his life. Rather than replace the timekeeper, however, the band opted to go ahead as a three-piece and use session musicians instead of finding a new member. Berry returned occasionally for several low-key reunions, reminding us that, even in retirement, R.E.M. was all about solidarity.
8. The many faces of Michael Stipe
Frontman Michael Stipe was easily the band's best-known member, not only for his vocals and lyrics, but because of his charisma and distinctive appearance. In some ways, his many looks mirrored the band's evolution over the years. In early band pictures, he looked downcast and mysterious, hiding behind his curly locks; he became more clean-cut during the band's mainstream explosion; he went bald and daubed himself in gaudy makeup as the band continued to stay youthful in middle age; and finally allowed a rugged beard to grow in the group's final chapter (let's not forget that hirsute dick pic).
7. "The One I Love"
R.E.M. were already cult stars by the time this 1987 single hit the charts. It was the success of this song, however, that made the group's leap to the mainstream inevitable. With its crunchy guitar licks and Michael Stipe's instantly memorable vocal hooks, the song was a significant departure from the cryptic mumbling that defined the band's early work. Another successful single, "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)," followed soon after, and guaranteed that R.E.M. would remain a pop culture fixture.
6. Political activism
They wrote outstanding pop rock songs, but R.E.M. were also a band with a conscience. Like so many rockers of their day (we're looking at you, U2), they were unafraid to delve into political issues. They spoke out on topics like animal rights, voter apathy, gun control, human rights issues in Burma, and sexuality. These political convictions meant that their influence extended beyond music alone. Their views inspired tracks like "Exhuming McCarthy" (about U.S. political oppression), "Orange Crush" (about the Vietnam War) and "Until the Day Is Done" (about war and the economy).