Ever since the word "alternative" came to represent a diverse collection of subgenres of music (by most accounts during the early '80s), nobody's ever been able to clearly delineate what makes a band alternative and what doesn't. But one thing has always been certain: If there is such a thing as an alternative band, R.E.M. were it.

Formed out of the burgeoning Athens, Ga., scene in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, R.E.M. made waves within the college radio crowd with a garage rock sound and the 1981 single, "Radio Free Europe." By the time they released their debut full-length, Murmur, in 1983, they had already achieved near-mythical status thanks to their intellectual blend of jangly, pop-laden guitar hooks; vaguely poetic lyrics; and post-punk, DIY ethos.

After a decade of tireless touring and releasing an album nearly every year, R.E.M. gradually built upon their mainstream success until 1991's Out of Time and the crossover hit, "Losing My Religion," shot them into the stratosphere of modern rock. They continued to experiment with their sound through the '90s until drummer Berry left the band in 1997 (two years after suffering a brain aneurysm onstage). The remaining members continued as a trio, using Berry's departure as an opportunity to explore more disparate sounds.

R.E.M. called it quits in 2011, but they're arguably the single most important band in whatever you define as alternative music. We rank all 15 of their studio albums (not including 1987's Dead Letter Office, which is a compilation of outtakes, and 1988's greatest hits collection, Eponymous). Since it's nearly impossible to come up with any one definitive ranking, let us know how you'd order their albums. Just keep in mind: Everybody really does hurt.

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