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10 Things You Didn’t Know About R.E.M.

Anton Corbijn

You probably know that R.E.M. signed one of the biggest record deals known to man when they jumped from indie label I.R.S. to major label Warner Bros. at the end of the ’80s. But did you know that Led Zeppelin‘s bassist helped shape one of their best albums? It’s one of the 10 Things You Didn’t Know About R.E.M.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

They were almost called Cans of Piss or Negro Wives



Before Michael Stipe randomly found “R.E.M.” in the dictionary, or so he says, the band were kicking around some other names, like Cans of Piss and Negro Wives. They made the right decision.


Two Dollars

Before they released their first single, their food budget on tour was $2 a day



Like most struggling bands, R.E.M. toured a lot in their early days. They got from show to show in an old van driven by their manager, who gave them $2 a day for food. Beer’s food, right?


Laura Levine
Laura Levine

Michael Stipe really was making up words early on



Remember how you couldn’t make out a single word Michael Stipe was singing on ‘Chronic Town’ or ‘Murmur’? Remember how you thought he was just making s–t up? Well, he admitted he was.



Their first TV appearance was on David Letterman’s old NBC show



In October 1983, the band made their TV debut on ‘Late Night With David Letterman,’ where they performed ‘Radio Free Europe’ and the brand-new ‘So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),’ which was still unnamed.


Replacements I Will Dare

Peter Buck plays guitar on the Replacements’ ‘I Will Dare’



There was some rivalry between college-rock giants R.E.M. and the Replacements in the early ’80s. But that didn’t stop Peter Buck from playing the jangly guitar riff that fuels the Replacements’ great 1984 single.


Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

They recorded their most Americana-sounding album in England



R.E.M. headed to London to work with producer Joe Boyd on their third album, ‘Fables of the Reconstruction,’ which is all about the Civil War and other southern-gothic themes.


Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images
Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images

Food Network’s Alton Brown was the cinematographer on ‘The One I Love’ video



The host of ‘Good Eats’ and ‘Iron Chef America’ was the director of photography on the music video for ‘The One I Love,’ the band’s breakthrough single and first Top 10 hit.



‘Losing My Religion’ was the first video in which Michael Stipe lip-synched



Up until the award-winning ‘Losing My Religion,’ Michael Stipe refused to lip-synch the band’s music videos. Many, in fact, were artsy black-and-white clips that rarely featured the band.


Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Led Zeppelin’s bass player arranged the strings on ‘Automatic for the People’



John Paul Jones, an in-demand session musician before he became a gazillionaire with Led Zeppelin, arranged the orchestral strings on R.E.M.’s somber 1992 album, one of their best.


REM Where's Captain Kirk

They released Christmas singles to fans until the year they broke up



From 1988 through 2011, the year they broke up, R.E.M. released an annual Christmas single to their fan club. The 24 singles range from covers to demos to live cuts to holiday classics.


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