Michael, Peter, Bill and Mike were four kids in their twenties chasing a dream. They were traveling the roads in an old blue van: “we wanted to do something original…not the shit that was on the radio at the time”. Night after night they went out to play “for very few people” because they wanted to show they had something to offer. They knew they were “pretty good”. They didn’t know how much. On April 12, 1983, it was more than obvious. With their first album, ‘Murmur’, REM made the world realize what they offer: a different, original and timeless sound.

his early days

In 1980, four students from the University of Georgia got together and formed one of the first alternative rock bands. They were between 20 and 24 years old, but looked much younger. Mike Mills, the bassist, looked no older than 13. The guitarist, Peter Buck, was a lanky boy with a commanding presence over the rest of the members. Bill Berry, drummer, hid as much behind his drums as under a cap. At that time, the lead singer, Michael Stipe, showed no shyness. In reverse it was captivating and funny, dancing and even speaking to the public.

his first concert

A friend’s birthday in an abandoned church in Athens. The quartet went there on April 5, 1980. They had been invited to play and it was there where REM made its live premiere and offered its first concert: a repertoire of covers from the 60s and 70s and some original rough tunes. There were about 300 people. Needless to say it was a success. Over the next year, the band befriended their manager, Jefferson Holt, a record store salesman.

Your first van trip

They dropped out of college and they started playing around Athens and along highways in the southern United States. In a few months, they consolidated a legion of followers which gradually grew. For months they traveled tirelessly in an old blue van driven by Holt.. They lived on alimony of $2 a day. It was a difficult task because, at that time, the circuit of alternative rock groups did not exist.

Mike Mills recalled on Pitchfork: “At the time, we were living the dream: four guys in a van on the road clubbing night after night. It was just that team and group. The first thing we had to do was to show that we had something to offerso, those first tours were limited to that, we go out and play for very few people. But every time we came back to town, we had more followers. did not fail. We knew we were pretty good. But we didn’t know how many.”.

your first session

On February 8, 1981, REM recorded its first session at Bombay Studios, in Smyrna (Georgia). He did it by the hand of the owner, as well as the producer and engineer, Joe Perry. In an interview on Online Athens, he recalls: “They wanted to record eight songscomplete with multiple layers of audio, vocals, mixes and tape copies, which was really ambitious. I probably charged them $12-15 an hour and they were all very involved. They were very serious.” Of the eight songs they recorded during this first session, two were included on Murmur. And one of them Radio Free Europe, would become the lead single.

His first record

1983 was the year of Michael’s Thriller, David Bowie’s Let’s dance, Police’s Every breath you take, crowded stadiums with Bruce Springsteen or Tina Turner. And that was REM’s Murmur year It was released on April 12. Much of the material had already been tested by the band in front of a wide variety of audiences. And it was different. “Some musicians need to let go of the past to do what they want, but we weren’t trying to create anything new. We just wanted to do something original. we playedthe music that made us happyat any rate. We just knew we didn’t want to do the shit that was on the radio at the time.“, recognized Mike Mills.

Although they came under some pressure from the label – IRS Records – when producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon wanted to incorporate that contemporary sound of the early 80s, they held on. “No way”, they said. “And in the end, basically, We got what we wanted.” And what the band wanted was “making timeless records”.

The group REM during a break from their ‘Murmur Tour’ / Getty Images/Joel Selvin

Murmur was an enigmatic and rhythmic disc. According to the band’s bassist: “There is a mystery because of the cover and because Michael’s words are indecipherable. But, musically, almost entirely, he has a lot of rhythm. That’s what people wanted. You went to parties and you jumped“.

Its first 200,000 copies

The whisper remains one of the most impactful debut albums in rock history. It received critical acclaim and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as its ‘disc of the year’. However, it only sold 200,000 copies, well below its label’s expectations record company. Barely five years after its debut, REM they went from being a local band playing on college stations to competing with U2 for the title of “Best Band in the World”.

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