Like many rock stars from the States, R.E.M. planned their trajectory to stardom through the usual route: making a name for themselves in their town, then state, then moving into the national consciousness. But jumping international is always a little more difficult. Meanwhile, in the UK, the rush for a new sound had already begun.
Having made a ripple of acclaim flow out across the Pond, a new American band were given their first UK television appearance on the acclaimed music show ‘The Tube’—that band was Michael Stipe’s R.E.M and they would go on to give a career-defining performance.
Having formed in Athens, Georgia, a few years prior to this appearance, R.E.M. were beginning to find more robust fame by the time The Tube came calling. Michael Stipe met Peter Buck in Wuxtry Records, the Athens record store where Buck worked, and the pair discovered their shared tastes in music. With artists such as Patti Smith, Television, and the Velvet Underground among the favourites, Stipe later said: “It turns out that I was buying all the records that [Buck] was saving for himself.”
Through the pair’s mutual friend, Kathleen O’Brien, Stipe and Buck would then meet fellow University of Georgia students Mike Mills and Bill Berry, who had been playing music together since high school and lived together in Georgia. The quartet quickly got to work and were soon signed up by I.R.S records.
With their EP, Chronic Town found a swell of underground support, and the band were quickly moving on a full-length record. They would soon deliver the critically-acclaimed Murmur in 1983 and rise as the cream of the new alternative rock crop. The album would reach number 36 on the Billboard chart and rank among the year’s best records. Though it only sold 200,000 records, the album was a mark of the future of R.E.M as the newly re-recorded ‘Radio Free Europe’ became an alt-anthem.
While the band would make their TV debut on The David Letterman show in October 1983, it would take another month before the band landed on the shores of Blighty. There could be only one destination for R.E.M when looking across the Atlantic for a home on the airwaves—The Tube.
The Tube was an iconic British music television programme, one which ran for five series all in all, from 5th November 1982 to 26th April 1987. Produced by Channel 4, the series was a move-on from a similar style show, ‘Alright Now’. It was an attempt to capitalise on the growing youth audience.
The show was iconic not only for the plethora of artists featured but also for the hosts. With legendary Squeeze member Jools Holland, the late Paula Yates, the show had its diamond duo. However, Leslie Ash, Muriel Gray, Gary James, Michel Cremona, Felix Howard, Tony Fletcher, Nick Laird-Clowes and Mike Everitt also enjoyed roles during the show’s run.
R.E.M. were ready to make the newly found glistening stage their own when they were invited for a three-song slot in 1983. The band would take two numbers from their Murmu album, ‘Radio Free Europe’ and ‘Talk About The Passion’, Stipe and co. would also give a sneak peek of the upcoming 1984 album Reckoning with new track ‘So. Central Rain’.
It culminated in an extraordinary performance in the bubbling creativity of Britain. In 1983, the nation was still reeling from the dissolution of punk and was struggling to find their new sound. R.E.M’s arrival alongside indie acts like The Cure and The Smiths would herald a new age of alternative rock and roll. No longer flash and fashion orientated—R.E.M offered something new and heartfelt.
Watch below as R.E.M. make their British TV debut on The Tube in 1983.