Monday, April 11, 1983

R.E.M. released its debut album, Murmur



Released: April 11, 1983

Peak: 36 US, 100 UK, -- CN, -- AU, 9 DF

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, 0.1 UK, 2.0 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: college rock


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.

  1. Radio Free Europe [4:06] (7/8/81, 78 US, 25 AR, 1 CO, 1 DF)
  2. Pilgrimage [4:30] (21 CO)
  3. Laughing [3:57]
  4. Talk about the Passion [3:23] (11/83, 36 CO, 9 DF)
  5. Moral Kiosk [3:31]
  6. Perfect Circle [3:29] (11/86, B-side of “Superman,” 7 DF)
  7. Catapult [3:55] (10/16/84: B-side of “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” 10 CO, 35 DF)
  8. Sitting Still [3:17]
  9. 9-9 [3:03]
  10. Shaking Through [4:30]
  11. We Walk [3:02] (33 DF)
  12. West of the Fields (Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe, and Neil Bogan) [3:17] (35 DF)

Songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe unless noted otherwise.

Total Running Time: 44:11

The Players:

  • Bill Berry (drums, percussion)
  • Peter Buck (guitar.)
  • Mike Mills (bass, piano, keyboards)
  • Michael Stipe (vocals)


4.566 out of 5.00 (average of 40 ratings)


(Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“Athens, Ga., was as unlikely a birthplace for a nationally renowned music scene…But there’s something about a college town nestled in some small corner of rural America that ignites creativity in kids who grow up and discover that there actually are others out there who share their passion for music, film or art. In 1983, the spotlight was on Athens, thanks to R.E.M.’s full-length debut, Murmur. All four of the band’s members spent part of their lives far from Georgia, but Murmur became indelibly tied to its city of origin because it sounded unlike anything from anywhere else.” PM

The Members

Michael Stipe, the band’s leader singer, has said the title “was chosen because it’s one of the easiest words to pronounce in the English language.” JD Ironically, it is also an apt description of his singing style; he “unspooled his lyrics as if they constituted some new secret language.” 500 However, at the same time “his smooth pop vocal mannerisms sweeten the enigmatic poetry.” AZ The band’s “cryptic lyrics” EW’93 “and the melodies seem buried, almost subliminal, and even the hookiest songs…resist clarity.” 500

“His voice works more as a fourth instrument, complementing the band musically.” PK “Stipe knew that words chosen merely for the way they sound and phrases that suggest something without actually saying anything can be much more powerful than lyrics that try to tell a story, because the listener is free to fill in the blanks with his or her imagination.” JD

“Like all great bands, R.E.M.’s individual parts…are as interesting as the collective sound.” AZ Peter Buck’s guitar playing draws “heavily on the trademark Rickenbackers of the early Byrds, with the occasional burst of Velvets-style feedback and garage-rock fuzz thrown in for emphasis.” JD Mike Mills provides “melodic counterpoints with his ultra-musical bass parts, and [drummer Bill] Berry shows considerable imagination in varying his propulsive backbeats with deft and colorful use of elaborate patterns on the tom-toms. Both also add beautiful harmony vocals.” JD

Their Backgrounds

R.E.M. developed from “local heroes to college-radio staples” EW’93 and, a half decade later were poised to become the biggest band in the world. Interestingly, though, prior to Murmur “the members of R.E.M. never planned on being professional musicians. None of them considered themselves more than mediocre talents, none of them had written songs before, and even after making a splash on the American underground with their first few albums, they wondered aloud what kinds of jobs they would have five years down the line.” CS They formed in 1980 to play at a birthday party for a friend, then toured the south for months, and finally dropped out of the University of Georgia to pursue their music.

“The band made its recorded debut in the summer of 1981 with a song that paid homage to the spirit of the young, independent broadcasters…The tiny Hib-Tone label only pressed 1,000 copies of Radio Free Europe, but the single topped the Village Voice’s year-end critics' poll, and the attention helped the band land its deal with I.R.S.” JD From there, they record the E.P. Chronic Town in 1982. However, by the time of their debut album, R.E.M. left “behind the garagey jangle pop of their first recordings,” AM “de-emphasizing the backbeat and accentuating the ambience of the ringing guitar.” AM

Recording Murmur

“The production, by then-college radio stalwarts Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, is shimmering but never slick, making this rise above the early DIY indie rock dustheap without falling prey to the new wave excesses of the early ‘80s scene.” PK “Throughout the sessions, there was pressure from I.R.S. to produce a hit, but…the band say they tuned the company out and proceeded to craft the sort of finely textured cult album they adored” – Big Star’s Third/Sister Lover, Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album, Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, and Wire’s Pink Flag. JD

Buck, “a rock scholar who had worked in a record store,” 500 said, “We wanted to have this kind of timeless record.” 500 Indeed, “the songs on Murmur sound as if they’ve existed forever, yet they subvert folk and pop conventions by taking unpredictable twists and turns into melodic, evocative territory, whether it’s the measured riffs of Pilgrimage, the melancholic Talk About the Passion, or the winding guitars and pianos of Perfect Circle.” AM We also get ““the amusing perplexity of 9-9 and Moral Kiosk; the soothing wisdom of Stipe’s voice in Shaking Through.” SL “Nearly every song is an unforgettable gem.” PK

The Album’s Legacy

The “result should have been a complete mess” PK but R.E.M.’s “simple, stripped down songs merging Byrds-like jangly guitars with Velvet Underground-ish drony melodicism” PK pushed R.E.M. to the forefront of “the alternative rock movement in the mid-1980s, providing an escape from post-punk depression, new-wave ennui, and the shallow glitter of corporate rock and pop metal.” CS

Murmur “marked the point at which the punk legacy made peace with rock history, and a new U.S. folk music was born.” BL After the rise of punk rock in the ‘70s, the early ‘80s gave birth to “a strong network of small, independent labels and a string of clubs, fanzines and college radio stations to support them. R.E.M. tapped into this scene, took full advantage of it and arguably became its biggest cheerleader.” JD

“Though critics swamped R.E.M.’s 1983 full-length debut with country-rock comparisons to the Byrds, Murmur sounds like no one else.” AZ While “firmly in the tradition of American folk-rock, post-punk, and garage rock, Murmur sounds as if it appeared out of nowhere, without any ties to the past, present, or future.” AM It sounded like that because R.E.M. didn’t have “a clearly discernable set of easily classified influences.” CS Even Stipe said, “It’s not that we’re so original. We’re not doing anything new…The closest that any of us have come [to describing it] is ‘folk rock,’ and that’s o undefineable in 1982 that it probably works.” CS

It became “one of the most remarkable, near-perfect debut albums of the rock era” PK and “a founding document of alternative rock, released just as Gen X was starting to go to college.” 500 “Truly a must-own album.” PK


The 1992 IRS Vintage Years edition added R.E.M.’s cover of the Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again” as well as live versions of “9-9,” “Gardening at Night,” and “Catapult.” The 2008 Deluxe Edition added a second disc of a live performance from Larry’s Hideaway in Toronto on July 9, 1983.

Resources and Related Links:

Other Related DMDB Pages:

First posted 3/23/2008; last updated 6/18/2024.

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