Murmur is the debut album by the American alternative rock band R.E.M., released in 1983 on I.R.S. RecordsMurmur drew critical acclaim upon its release for its sound, defined by singer Michael Stipe's cryptic lyrics, guitarist Peter Buck's jangly guitar style, and bassist Mike Mills' melodic basslines.

Contents[edit | edit source]

 [hide*1 Recording

Recording[edit][edit | edit source]

R.E.M. started recording its debut album in December 1982. I.R.S. paired R.E.M. with producer Stephen Hague, who had a higher profile than the band's previous producer Mitch Easter.[1] Hague's emphasis on technical perfection did not suit the band; the producer made the group perform multiple takes of the song "Catapult", which demoralized drummer Bill Berry. Also, Hague took the completed track to Synchro Sound studios in Boston and added keyboard parts to the track without the band's permission and to their dismay.[2] Unsatisfied, the band members asked the label to let them record with Easter.[3] I.R.S. agreed to a "tryout" session, allowing the band to travel 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.[4]

R.E.M. entered Reflection Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina in January 1983 to begin recording sessions with Easter and Dixon. Much of the band's material for the album had been tested on preceding tours. 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.[4] Berry in particular was resistant to "odd" musical suggestions, insisting that his drums be recorded in a drummer's booth, a practice that was antiquated at the time.[5] Dixon and Easter took a hands-off approach to much of the recording process. The pair would only fix up a vocal track or ask singer Michael Stipe to re-record a vocal if it was very substandard.[6]

Music[edit][edit | edit source]

Murmur's sound characterized the quieter, introverted side of the first wave of alternative rock in the United States. The sound was new at the time, though not stepping beyond the constructs of traditional rock music. The guitars have a bright, ring-like chime that brought on comparisons to The Byrds, and the bass guitar has the bright punchy sound of the Rickenbacker favored by Mike Mills. Mills carries much of the melodic element of the music on the bass, contributing to the moody sound of early R.E.M. albums. Also contributing to this sound is the distant singing of Michael Stipe whose obscure lyrics, sung indistinctly, lend to the mystery and depth of the music.

In a rare instance of R.E.M. co-writing, Stipe asked friend Neil Bogan to contribute lyrics to "West of the Fields."

Packaging[edit][edit | edit source]

The front cover features an image of a large quantity of the noxious weed kudzu, which grows so rapidly that it overtakes the landscape and kills other plants due to totally shading them. The trestle featured on the back cover of the original vinyl LP release, originally part of the Georgia Railroad line into downtown Athens, has become something of a local landmark. Plans to demolish the trestle, now commonly referred to as the "Murmur Trestle," met with public outcry. On October 2, 2000, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission voted to save the trestle.[7] In 2012, the local government said it can't afford to keep it and called the wooden edifice unsafe.[8]

Copies of the initial tape edition—catalogue number CS 70604—list "There She Goes Again" as the final track, but it is not present. This mistake was fixed with subsequent printings.

Reception[edit][edit | edit source]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic [9]
Drowned in Sound 10/10[10]
Pitchfork Media 10/10[11]
PopMatters 10/10[12]
Robert Christgau A−[13]
Rolling Stone [14]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide [15]
Slant Magazine [16]

Murmur was released in April 1983. The record reached number 36 on the Billboard album chart.[17] A re-recorded version of "Radio Free Europe" was the album's lead single and reached number 78 on the Billboard singles chart that year. Despite the acclaim awarded the album, by the end of 1983 Murmur had only sold about 200,000 copies, which I.R.S.'s Jay Boberg felt was below expectations.[18] Murmur was eventually certified gold (500,000 units shipped) by theRecording Industry Association of America in 1991.[19]

The album drew substantial critical acclaim. Rolling Stone gave the album four out of five stars. Reviewer Steve Pond felt the album fulfilled the promise the band showed on Chronic Town. He wrote, "Murmur is the record on which [R.E.M.] trade that potential for results: an intelligent, enigmatic, deeply involving album, it reveals a depth and cohesiveness to R.E.M. that the EP could only suggest." He concluded, "R.E.M. is clearly the important Athens band."[14] It wasRolling Stone's Best Album of 1983, beating Michael Jackson's ThrillerThe Police's Synchronicity and U2's War. Buck noted in 2002 that I.R.S. was "mind-boggled" by the album's positive reviews, especially in the British press, since R.E.M. had not yet toured that country.[20]

Accolades[edit][edit | edit source]

Since its release, Murmur has featured heavily in various "must have" lists compiled by the music media. In 1989, it was rated number eight on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.[21] In 2003, the TV network VH1 named Murmur the 92nd greatest album of all time. Some of the more prominent of these lists to feature Murmur are shown below; this information is adapted from

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Rolling Stone U.S. Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years[22] 1987 #58
Spin U.S. 100 Alternative Albums[23] 1995 #8
Pitchfork Media U.S. Top 100 Albums of the 1980s[24] 2002 #5
Rolling Stone U.S. The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[25] 2003 #197
Blender U.S. 500 CDs You Must Own Before You Die[26] 2003
Q U.K. The 40 Best Records of the 80s[27] 2006 #6
Mojo U.K. The 100 Records That Changed the World[28] 2007 #75
Slant Magazine US Best Albums of the 1980s[29] 2012 #13
Rolling Stone US The 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time[30] 2013 #18

Track listing[edit][edit | edit source]

All songs written by Bill BerryPeter BuckMike Mills, and Michael Stipe, except where noted

Side one
  1. "Radio Free Europe" – 4:06
  2. "Pilgrimage" – 4:30
  3. "Laughing" – 3:57
  4. "Talk About the Passion" – 3:23
  5. "Moral Kiosk" – 3:31
  6. "Perfect Circle" – 3:29
Side two
  1. "Catapult" – 3:55
  2. "Sitting Still" – 3:17
  3. "9–9" – 3:03
  4. "Shaking Through" – 4:30
  5. "We Walk" – 3:02
  6. "West of the Fields" (Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe, and Neil Bogan) – 3:17
1992 The IRS Vintage Years edition bonus tracks
  1. "There She Goes Again" (Lou Reed) – 2:48
  2. "9–9" (Live in BostonMassachusettsUnited States, July 13, 1983) – 3:04
  3. "Gardening at Night" (Live in Boston) – 3:47
  4. "Catapult" (Live in SeattleWashington, United States, June 27, 1984) – 4:03
2008 Deluxe Edition bonus disc (Live at Larry's Hideaway in Toronto, July 9, 1983)
  1. "Laughing" – 3:51
  2. "Pilgrimage" – 4:08
  3. "There She Goes Again" (Reed) – 2:43
  4. "Seven Chinese Brothers" – 4:15
  5. "Talk About the Passion" – 3:02
  6. "Sitting Still" – 4:11
  7. "Harborcoat" – 3:45
  8. "Catapult" – 3:51
  9. "Gardening at Night" – 3:33
  10. "9-9" – 3:16
  11. "Just a Touch" – 2:27
  12. "West of the Fields" (Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe, and Bogan) – 3:06
  13. "Radio Free Europe" – 4:57
  14. "We Walk" – 2:55
  15. "1,000,000" – 3:05
  16. "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)" – 3:58

A vintage radio promo for the album is hidden in the pregap of the bonus disc.

Personnel[edit][edit | edit source]

Production and additional musicians

Chart performance[edit][edit | edit source]

Year Chart Position
1983 US Billboard 200 36[17]
1994 UK Albums Chart 100[17]
1996 111[17]
2009 199 (Deluxe Edition)[31]
Year Single Chart Position
1983 "Radio Free Europe" Billboard Mainstream Rock 25[citation needed]
1983 "Radio Free Europe" Billboard Pop Singles 78[citation needed]

Sales certifications[edit][edit | edit source]

Organization Level Date
RIAA – U.S. Gold October 10, 1991[citation needed]

Release history[edit][edit | edit source]

Murmur was bundled together with Chronic Town and Reckoning in the United Kingdom as The Originals in 1993.

On November 25, 2008, I.R.S. Records, A&M, and Universal Music released a 25th anniversary edition two-disc reissue of Murmur. Disc one features the standard 12-track album, digitally remastered, and disc two contains a previously unreleased live concert the band played at Larry's Hideaway, Toronto, Canada, on July 9, 1983. In addition to Murmur songs, the set includes tunes from the Chronic Town EP, a Velvet Underground cover, and early versions of songs from Reckoning and Lifes Rich Pageant.[32] The release also includes a fold-out poster insert, featuring exclusive essays by producers Don Dixonand Mitch Easter, as well as former I.R.S. executives Jay Boberg, Sig Sigworth, and art designer Carl Grasso.[33]

Region Date Label Format Catalog
United States April 12, 1983 I.R.S. vinyl LP SP 70604
Compact Disc 44797-0014-2
cassette tape 44797-0014-4
CS 70604
United Kingdom August 29, 1983 I.R.S. LP 70014
United States 1983 I.R.S./A&M Compact Disc 70014
The Netherlands 1983 Illegal LP 25433
South Africa 1983 I.R.S./CBS LP ASF-2886
Worldwide 1990 A&M Compact Disc 70014
Worldwide 1991 A&M Compact Disc 129
The Netherlands July 31, 1992 EMI Compact Disc 7 13158 2†
The Netherlands 1992 I.R.S. LP 4653781
United States 1995 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab LP 231‡
Compact Disc 642‡
Europe 1999 EMI Compact Disc 13158†
Europe 2000 I.R.S. Compact Disc 7131582†
Asia 2007 Toshiba/EMI Compact Disc 53571
United States November 25, 2008 I.R.S./Universal Music Group Compact Disc B0012251-02•

†I.R.S. Vintage Years edition, with bonus tracks ‡Remastered edition on 180-gram vinyl and gold Compact Disc •Remastered Deluxe Edition, with Live at Larry's Hide-Away bonus disc

The Originals
Region Date Label Format Catalog
United Kingdom 1995 I.R.S./EMI CD box set 7243 8 35088 2 2
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