For many, the group REM represents an idea of the counterculture.
The band rose to fame in the 1990s through methods outside of mainstream channels. Word of mouth, college radios and pirated tapes were the basis of their success. Not the traditional methods like labels and large frames.
Today, with great songs like “Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts”, the group retains a large market share in the hearts and minds of music fans. But where does their name come from? What do the letters R, E and M mean?
That’s exactly what we’re going to dive into here. So, without further ado, let’s jump into the story.
REM is an American rock band from Athens, Georgia. The band, which officially formed in 1980, consisted of drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Millks and vocalist Michael Stipe. All of these scholarship recipients were students at the time at the University of Georgia.
The band is one of the first “alternative rock bands”. In their early days, REM were known for Buck’s guitar playing and Stipe’s thoughtful vocals and lyrics. They were the heroes of the bands that followed them, including Nirvana. To date, the band, which amicably parted ways in 2011, have sold over 85 million albums worldwide.
In early 1980, Buck met Stipe at an Athens record store, Wuxtry Records. This is where Buck worked. The two found they shared similar musical tastes and loved punk rock and artists like Patti Smith, Television and the Velvet Underground.
Said Stipe at that time, “Turns out I was buying all the records that [Buck] was saving for himself. The two, through a mutual friend, later met Berry and Mills, who had both been playing music together since high school. The four started playing together. But it wasn’t out of fame seeking. Said Stipe, “There was never a grand plan behind anything.”
At that time, the group still had no name.
They would rehearse in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Oconee Street in Athens. They played their first show on April 5, 1980, performing a mix of originals and covers from the 1960s and 1970s. At first, the band considered a slew of names, including Cans of Piss, Negro Eyes and Twisted Kites. Eventually, however, they settled on REM
Stipe had found and chosen the name at random from a dictionary. To many, the initials are known as shorthand for “rapid eye movement,” which is the dream phase of sleep in which the eyes move under their eyelids.
Sleep researcher Dr. Rafael Pelayo said that when his colleague Dr. William Dement, the sleep scientist who coined the term “REM”, contacted the group, Dr. Dement learned that the group was named “not after REM sleep”. (Today, one can imagine Stipe smiling on the other end of the phone as this was relayed.)
REM released their first single, “Radio Free Europe”, in 1981. And in 1983, the group released their first LP, Murmur, and went on to become famous. In 1987, the band released one of their biggest hits, “The One I Love”, which cemented their status. In 1988, the band signed with Warner Bros. Records. And in 1991, the band released their most successful album, Out of time. In 1994 they released the LP, Freakto continued success.
Today, despite being separated for over a decade, they remain one of the biggest rock bands in the world.