R.E.M. was an American rock band from Athens, Georgia, formed in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry. One of the first popular alternative rock bands, R.E.M. gained early attention because of Buck's ringing, arpeggiated guitar style and Stipe's unclear vocals. R.E.M. released its first single, "Radio Free Europe", in 1981 on the independent record label Hib-Tone. The single was followed by the Chronic Town EP in 1982, the band's first release on I.R.S. Records. In 1983, the group released its critically acclaimed debut album, Murmur, and built its reputation over the next few years through subsequent releases, constant touring, and the support of college radio. Following years of underground success, R.E.M. achieved a mainstream hit in 1987 with the single "The One I Love". The group signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1988, and began to espouse political and environmental concerns while playing large arenas worldwide.
By the early 1990s, when alternative rock began to experience broad mainstream success, R.E.M. was viewed by subsequent acts such as Nirvana and Pavement as a pioneer of the genre and released its two most commercially successful albums, catapulting them to international fame, Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), which veered from the band's established sound. R.E.M.'s 1994 release, Monster, was a return to a more rock-oriented sound, but still continued their run of success. The band began its first tour in six years to support the album; the tour was marred by medical emergencies suffered by three band members. In 1996, R.E.M. re-signed with Warner Bros. for a reported US$80 million, at the time the most expensive recording contract in history. Their 1996 release, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, though critically acclaimed, fared worse commercially than expected. The following year, Bill Berry left the band, while Buck, Mills, and Stipe continued the group as a trio. Through