1982–1986: I.R.S. Records and Cult Success

You are here

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

 
 
Share
 
Angie Spray's picture
Posted on Mon, 02/02/2015 - 4:09pm
by Angie Spray

Member since: Sat, 01/03/2015

Rate this page

Total votes: 80
 
 

 

R.E.M. recorded the Chronic Town EP with Mitch Easter in October 1981, and planned to release it on a new indie label named Dasht Hopes. However, I.R.S. Records acquired a demo of the band's first recording session with Easter that had been circulating for months. The band turned down the advances of major label RCA Records in favor of I.R.S., with whom it signed a contract in May 1982. I.R.S. released Chronic Town that August as its first American release. A positive review of the EP by NME praised the songs' auras of mystery, and concluded, "R.E.M. ring true, and it's great to hear something as unforced and cunning as this."

I.R.S. first paired R.E.M. with producer Stephen Hague to record its debut album. Hague's emphasis on technical perfection left the band unsatisfied, and the band members asked the label to let them record with Easter. I.R.S. agreed to a "tryout" session, allowing the band to return to North Carolina and record the song "Pilgrimage" with Easter and producing partner Don Dixon. After hearing the track, I.R.S. permitted the group to record the album with Dixon and Easter. Because of its bad experience with Hague, the band recorded the album via a process of negation, refusing to incorporate rock music clichés such as guitar solos or then-popular synthesizers, in order to give its music a timeless feel. The completed album, Murmur, was greeted with critical acclaim upon its release in 1983, with Rolling Stone listing the album as its record of the year. The album reached number 36 on the Billboard album chart. A re-recorded version of "Radio Free Europe" was the album's lead single and reached number 78 on the Billboard singles chart in 1983. Despite the acclaim awarded the album, Murmur sold only about 200,000 copies, which I.R.S.'s Jay Boberg felt was below expectations.

R.E.M. made its first national television appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in October 1983, during which the group performed a new, unnamed song. The piece, eventually titled "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)", became the first single from the band's second album, Reckoning (1984), which was also recorded with Easter and Dixon. The album met with critical acclaim; NME '​s Mat Snow wrote that Reckoning "confirms R.E.M. as one of the most beautifully exciting groups on the planet". While Reckoning peaked at number 27 on the US album charts—an unusually high chart placing for a college rock band at the time—scant airplay and poor distribution overseas resulted in it charting no higher than number 91 in Britain.

The band's third album, Fables of the Reconstruction (1985), demonstrated a change in direction. Instead of Dixon and Easter, R.E.M. chose producer Joe Boyd, who had worked with Fairport Convention and Nick Drake, to record the album in England. The band members found the sessions unexpectedly difficult, and were miserable due to the cold winter weather and what they considered to be poor food; the situation brought the band to the verge of break-up. The gloominess surrounding the sessions ended up providing the context for the album itself. Lyrically, Stipe began to create storylines in the mode of Southern mythology, noting in a 1985 interview that he was inspired by "the whole idea of the old men sitting around the fire, passing on ... legends and fables to the grandchildren".

They toured in Canada in July and August 1985, and throughout Europe in October of that year, including in The Netherlands, England (one concert was held at the famous Hammersmith Palais in London), Ireland, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Belgium and West Germany. On October 2, 1985, the group played a concert in Bochum, West Germany, for the German TV show Rockpalast. Stipe had bleached his hair blond during this time. Fables of the Reconstruction performed poorly in Europe and its critical reception was mixed, with some critics regarding it as dreary and poorly recorded. As with the previous records, the singles from Fables of the Reconstruction were mostly ignored by mainstream radio. Meanwhile, I.R.S. was becoming frustrated with the band's reluctance to achieve mainstream success.

For its fourth album, R.E.M. enlisted John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman. The result, Lifes Rich Pageant (1986) featured Stipe's vocals closer to the forefront of the music. In a 1986 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Peter Buck related, "Michael is getting better at what he's doing, and he's getting more confident at it. And I think that shows up in the projection of his voice." The album improved markedly upon the sales of Fables of the Reconstruction and eventually peaked at number 21 on the Billboard album chart. The single "Fall on Me" also picked up support on commercial radio. The album was the band's first to be certified gold for selling 500,000 copies. While American college radio remained R.E.M.'s core support, the band was beginning to chart hits on mainstream rock formats; however, the music still encountered resistance from Top 40 radio. Following the success of Lifes Rich Pageant, I.R.S. issued Dead Letter Office, a compilation of tracks recorded by the band during their album sessions, many of which had either been issued as B-sides or left unreleased altogether. Shortly thereafter, I.R.S. compiled R.E.M.'s music video catalog (except "Wolves, Lower") as the band's first video release, Succumbs.

 

Attribution

R.E.M. - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia : taken from - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.E.M. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/