As alternative became mainstream in the early to mid-’90s, thanks largely to grunge acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, R.E.M. likewise rode the wave, but with its more jangly-pop-leaning variation of the genre.
On the chart dated Oct. 15, 1994, the Athens, Georgia, band, then consisting of its original lineup – lead singer Michael Stipe, bassist Mike Mills, guitarist Peter Buck and drummer Bill Berry – notched its second Billboard 200 No. 1, and only No. 1 debut, as Monster roared in at the summit. Befitting its title, it sold 344,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Music.
The album’s success, and that of lead single “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?,” a five-week Alternative Songs No. 1, continued R.E.M.’s then-potent momentum, as 1991’s Out of Time became the act’s first No. 1 and 1992 follow-up Automatic for the People reached No. 2; those sets and Monster are the band’s three best-sellers, respectively, with a combined 10.9 million sold to date.
That growth also helped lead Warner Bros. to resign the band (which had joined the label for 1988’s Green) to a, well, monster, $80 million contract in August 1996. The deal signified just how high R.E.M. had risen since releasing its first single, the eventual college classic “Radio Free Europe,” on indie Hib-Tone in 1981. (The group signed with I.R.S. in 1982.)
In 1997, Berry left R.E.M., which continued as a trio. It notched five more top 10s between 1998 and 2011, when Stipe, Mills and Buck announced their amicable split on R.E.M.’s website. Since, Mills and Buck have performed together in the group the Baseball Project. In June 2014, Stipe released an instrumental piece that accompanied The Cold Lands, a film by longtime Stipe collaborator Tom Gilroy. “If there was a singer, it wouldn’t have been me,” Stipe explained. “It’s just that I don’t want to do [that] right now.”
Over five years later, Stipe has just released a new solo song featuring his vocals, “Your Capricious Soul.”