1987–1990: Breakthrough

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Promotional copy of Green in a cloth case with a debossed cover

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Posted on Mon, 02/02/2015 - 4:22pm
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Don Gehman was unable to produce R.E.M.'s fifth album, so he suggested the group work with Scott Litt. Litt would be the producer for the band's next five albums. Document (1987) featured some of Stipe's most openly political lyrics, particularly on "Welcome to the Occupation" and "Exhuming McCarthy", which were reactions to the conservative political environment of the 1980s under American President Ronald Reagan. Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote in his review of the album, " '​Document '​ is both confident and defiant; if R.E.M. is about to move from cult-band status to mass popularity, the album decrees that the band will get there on its own terms." Document was R.E.M.'s breakthrough album, and the first single "The One I Love" charted in the Top 20 in the US, UK, and Canada. By January 1988, Document had become the group's first album to sell a million copies. In light of the band's breakthrough, the December 1987 cover of Rolling Stone declared R.E.M. "America's Best Rock & Roll Band".

Frustrated that its records did not see satisfactory overseas distribution, R.E.M. left I.R.S. when its contract expired and signed with the major label Warner Bros. Records. Though other labels offered more money, R.E.M. ultimately signed with Warner Bros.—reportedly for an amount between $6 million and $12 million—due to the company's assurance of total creative freedom. In the aftermath of the group's departure, I.R.S. released the 1988 "best of" compilation Eponymous (assembled with input from the band members) to capitalize on assets the company still possessed. The band's 1988 Warner Bros. debut, Green, was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and showcased the group experimenting with its sound. The record's tracks ranged from the upbeat first single "Stand" (a hit in the United States), to more political material, like the rock-oriented "Orange Crush" and "World Leader Pretend", which address the Vietnam War and the Cold War, respectively. Green has gone on to sell four million copies worldwide. The band supported the album with its biggest and most visually developed tour to date, featuring back-projections and art films playing on the stage. After the Green tour, the band members unofficially decided to take the following year off, the first extended break in the band's career. In 1990 Warner Bros. issued the music video compilation Pop Screen to collect clips from the Document and Green albums, followed a few months later by the video album Tourfilm featuring live performances filmed during the Green World Tour.

 

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