Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday (1983) – R.E.M. “MURMUR”

It’s Forty Year Friday again. For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured Never Surrender by Triumph.

R.E.M. - Murmur

Posted on my Facebook page Mar. 7, 2013:

This week’s Thirty-Year Thursday album is REM’s “MURMUR,” one of only a handful of debut albums that blew me away in 1983. Although they released an EP the previous year (the great Chronic Town), this was their first release to get mainstream exposure & radio play, and from the first time I heard “Catapult” and then “Radio Free Europe” I was hooked. I think I like the follow-up album a little more, but this is definitely one of the best debuts of the ’80s and possibly all time. Since I was 16 at the time I didn’t have tons of disposable income, so I was very particular about the music I spent my money on. I made a wise decision parting with the $7-$8 it probably cost for the LP. In addition to the songs I already mentioned, other highlights for me are “Moral Kiosk,” “Talk About The Passion” and this one, “Sitting Still.” Hard to believe this album is 30 years old (or will be a month from now). I’m glad I got to see them open for The Police at Shea Stadium that year, even though the band acknowledges that playing stadiums was a miserable experience for them.

I’m not quite sure why Murmur didn’t get its own feature in the Great Out Of The Gate series, instead merely referenced as an “honorable mention” in the final post, since it remains a classic album…not just as a debut or an ’80s release but an all-time great record that has held up remarkably well after four decades. The ’80s will always be my favorite decade in R.E.M.’s career, especially the early recordings when Michael Stipe murmured his vocals (hence the album’s title, perhaps?), and this is where it all started for me.

Forty Year Friday will return in two weeks.


25 comments on “Forty Year Friday (1983) – R.E.M. “MURMUR”

  1. Aphoristical
    March 3, 2023

    A lot of my REM affection is centered on their first four albums. They kept doing good stuff, mostly, but it was their most consistent era.


  2. michellenielsen98
    March 3, 2023

    Hello, hope I got this right.
    1. REM’s “MURMUR” was very popular in the early 1980s, and it’s still enjoyed by many today.
    2. REM has released a few new albums since 1983, but “MURMUR” is the definitive version of the album.
    Thanks so much!


    • Hi Michelle. Not sure about your second point. I just think this album, and the few that followed, are part of the definitive era of REM’s career for me.


  3. Rob Nelson
    March 4, 2023

    I love “Murmur”. It was from a world I could relate to and join. For one thing, Stipe was a singer I could sing along with, range wise (unlike, say Led Zeppelin) – and I loved the lyrics hinting at something that was never very clear, but still had a definite feeling. A sort of poetic, southern dream-world. That seemed to evoke history and childhood and lost stories. I don’t know

    I also loved the simple, playable guitar of Pete Buck – and beautiful bass and harmonies of Mike Mills. I still enjoy “9-9”, “Laughing”, “Pilgrimage” and “Perfect Circle” too. I liked a lot they did over the next 10 years, maybe even some better, but Murmur has a definite thing none of their other albums have


    • I’m glad we share another great band in common, Rob. I like your description of them inhabiting “a sort of poetic, southern dream-world.” If I had to sum up their first few albums in one sentence, that would be it. Not sure I have a favorite REM album, but it’s probably a toss-up between Reckoning and Fables Of The Reconstruction (I especially love “Wendell Gee”), with Murmur being right behind. I also think Out Of Time is their strongest Warners-era album.


  4. Rob Nelson
    March 4, 2023

    Yeah – Fables of the Reconstruction is a great record. A little too much chorus on the guitar, and reverb on the drums (maybe?) – is my only complaint. I wish they’d have recorded it at the settings of Life’s Rich Pageant – “Life and How to Live it” could have hit just as hard as “These Days” or “Just a Touch”

    Reckoning is great, Out of Time is a classic – there are a lot of songs I love on Automatic For the People too. I always felt like they never quite made a perfect record. Hardly anyone does. I’m still a big fan though


    • For some reason, Automatic For The People and New Adventures In Hi-Fi left me cold when they were released (although I liked Monster at the time), but over the last decade or so I’ve come around to them. I agree that they never made a perfect album but they did come very close a few times.


  5. christiansmusicmusings
    March 4, 2023

    R.E.M. really only got on my radar screen with their 1991 album “Out of Time”. While I feel I know a good amount of their songs, I haven’t really explored their albums in greater depth.

    From “Murmur”, I knew “Radio Free Europe” and “Talk About the Passion”, both great tunes. The song you highlighted in the clip was new to me. I like it as well! I bet if I listened to the entire album I would dig it!


    • Since you enjoyed those songs, I’m guessing you would really like the first two albums, if/when you decide to give them a listen. Their sound changed with each album after that, so your appreciation would vary. Out Of Time is a classic. When I played it recently for the first time in years, it held up extremely well for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Vinyl Connection
    March 5, 2023

    What a fabulous debut. Love your retrospective puzzlement as to why it missed the cut on ‘Great out of the Gate’!


    • Glad you agree about this one, Bruce. As for my puzzlement, I was sure I had written about it at length in the previous series, so when I put together this post I was quite surprised to not find anything. At least now I’ve finally given it the spotlight it deserves.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jim S.
    March 8, 2023

    Funny thing. I absolutely love REM. One of my favorite bands. And yet they remained largely a radio band for me, which means I bought maybe one album. So while I know a lot of their songs, they are disconnected from any particular album. I think I may have started falling away from following bands and had slowed down on album purchases. But that was 40 years ago so who knows?


    • Hi Jim. Sorry for the delayed response. Just got back from several days in Iceland and slowly thawing out. It’s really interesting that REM is one of your favorite bands but you don’t have specific connections to any of their albums. I can’t think of any artists I like in that way. I’ll have to give it some thought. I’m glad you love these guys. Such a great band.


      • Jim S.
        March 14, 2023

        Iceland. My daughter and her friends went there about 6 or 7 years ago. Loved it. As to REM, I bet 90% of my albums are from the late 60s through maybe mid-70s. Don’t have any Tom Petty or Cars and precious little U2 but think they’re all great. Can’t remember the last time I bought any physical music media. The wonder and magic of an album cover got lost when we went to CD.


      • Jim, I’m curious how you listen to music that you don’t own. Do you use a streaming service, play videos via YouTube, or some other way? I’ve always been an album listener, and until the last few years I would only listen to physical product. Then a long-distance move, a long & expensive renovation and other factors moved me to Spotify for the majority of my listening when it comes to new (and new-to-me) artists, but it’s always full albums from start to finish. No playlists. The physical product I still buy is usually relegated to deluxe editions, box sets and DVD/blu-ray reissues of classic albums with surround sound mixes. It’s certainly saved me a lot of money.

        As for Iceland, what time of year did your daughter go there? It’s was every bit as frigid as I expected by going there in the winter, but my wife & I were prepared. We’ll probably go back at some point, but it would be in the summer and we would explore other parts of the country. It’s beautiful there, and I’m really thrilled that we got to see the Northern Lights.


      • Jim S.
        March 17, 2023

        Spotify, YouTube, Pandora. I have the paid version of Spotify and I can’t live without it. As to physical media, I don’t believe I even have a turntable to play my ancient Jethro Tull albums on. Likewise CD’s. I have a CD player at home but not in the car which is where I listen to the majority of my music.

        As to albums, unless there’s an album (Dark Side of the Moon, Exile on Main Street, Tubular Bells, e.g.) that I like to listen to start-to-finish, I just listen to tunes randomly. i must have a hundred playlists that I created and nothing gives me more joy than when I listen to a variety of great tunes back-to-back like in the good old days of radio. But my relatively brief (10 – a15 years) romance with physical product is over.

        My daughter went in September. In fact, she and her friends were somewhat pioneers. I don’t think Iceland was more than a blip in most people’s consciouness at the time.

        And even though it does neither you nor I any good, apparently the women of Iceland will sleep with men (if they want to) without the phony “I’m a good girl so I must get drunk first and blame it on the drink” baggage that American women carry around.


  8. Alyson
    March 16, 2023

    Last time you shared early REM I think I said the same as I’ll say now, I’m afraid they didn’t really cross my radar until the 90s. My first purchase was Automatic for the People and at least two of the songs from it have been written about over at my place.

    You have obviously been a fan from the beginning however so well done you, on getting ahead of the curve. You say you had to spend your money on albums wisely back then and I hear you. Scottish teenagers didn’t get much pocket money back in the 70s/80s so purchases were few and far between – birthday and Christmas money purchases usually. I’m still amazed at how many albums you have amassed in your collection and how many of them came from when you were young. That job taking tickets at the Ridgemont-style shopping mall cinema must have paid well!

    Listening to the clips they sound very much like the REM I know well so there is not doubt if I listened to the album often enough I would come to love it. 7.5/10 for now.

    I have seen clips of REM from early appearances on our Old Grey Whistle Show (on the BBC) – the Michael Stipe I know best had no hair, and was usually in a hat, so always weird to see him with all those curls. Same goes for many bands who have had longevity – the image may change totally but the sound never does.


    • Hi Alyson. It was fun to watch REM grow from an indie band (in every sense of the word) to one of the biggest bands in the world, over a relatively short span of time. I can understand that some fans who discovered them in the ’90s wouldn’t get the same thrill from the early material, since it’s the opposite for me. Critics tend to point to Automatic For The People as a definitive REM album, but it never did much for me…until recent years. I’ll never love it like I love those first 5-6 albums but it grows on me with each listen. Also, when I picture Michael Stipe it’s the young guy with the long curls, not the bald guy (even though I have the same look). Thanks for checking in, and for the very fair 7.5 score.


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