Murmur is the debut studio album by American alternative rock band R.E.M., released on April 12, 1983, by I.R.S. Records. The album was recorded at Reflection Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina, with musicians Don Dixon and Mitch Easter serving as producers. Murmur drew critical acclaim upon its release for its unusual sound, defined by lead singer Michael Stipe's cryptic lyrics, guitarist Peter Buck's jangly guitar style, and bass guitarist Mike Mills's melodic basslines. In 2003, the album was ranked number 197 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[6] It retained the position in the 2012 list and was raised to number 165 in the 2020 revision.[7]

A train trestle covered in thick kudzu with "R.E.M. / MURMUR" written in blue
Studio album by
ReleasedApril 12, 1983 (1983-04-12)
RecordedJanuary 6 – February 23, 1983
StudioReflection, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States
R.E.M. chronology
Chronic Town
Singles from Murmur
  1. "Radio Free Europe"
    Released: June 8, 1983
  2. "Talk About the Passion"
    Released: November 1983



R.E.M. started preparing for their 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.[8] 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.[9] Unsatisfied, the band members asked the label to let them record with Easter.[10] 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.[11]

On January 6, 1983, R.E.M. entered Reflection Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina, 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, to give its music a timeless feel.[11] Berry specifically 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.[12] 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 lead singer Michael Stipe to re-record a vocal if it was very substandard.[13] "Being both musicians, our approach was to leave as little imprint as possible," Dixon said in 1994, referring to himself and Easter. "We felt like our job was to, as cheaply as possible, reproduce what appeared to be just them playing live."[14]

Due to Peter Buck's Fender Twin Reverb being "dead", every song except 'Pilgrimage' featured Easter's Ampeg Gemini II. Mike Mills's Dan Armstrong bass guitar was set aside in favor of a Rickenbacker 4001, owned by Easter's girlfriend.[15]

Recording was completed on February 23, 1983.

In a rare instance of R.E.M. co-writing, Stipe asked friend Neil Bogan to contribute lyrics to "West of the Fields".[16]


The train trestle from the cover has become a tourist destination, even in its dilapidated state

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 by completely 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.[17] In 2012, the local government said it cannot afford to keep it and declared in 2016 that it would likely come down.[18] Later that year, the Athens-Clarke County Commission suggested that a trail tax could fund its existence.[19] The Murmur Trestle was approved for demolition in 2019, and work began in 2020 to destroy it. The replacement bridge, part of the Firefly Trail, is composed of three sections: a replica of the original wooden trestle design and two sections of new weathered steel arches.[20] The bridge was opened to the public in April 2023.[21]

Copies of the initial tape edition—catalogue number CS 70604—list The Velvet Underground cover "There She Goes Again" as the final track, but it is not present. This mistake was fixed with subsequent printings. The track was rumored to be intended for Murmur, but removed so that all the tracks would be original and the group would not have to take a royalty cut.[citation needed] The band later distanced itself from this rumor.[22] It was, however, re-recorded and included as a b-side to the IRS issue of "Radio Free Europe" instead.[23]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [24]
Blender     [25]
Chicago Tribune    [26]
Entertainment WeeklyA[27]
Q     [29]
Rolling Stone     [30]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [31]
Uncut     [32]
The Village VoiceA−[33]

Murmur was released in April 1983. The record reached number 36 on the Billboard album chart.[34] 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.[35] Murmur was eventually certified gold (500,000 units shipped) by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1991.[36]

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."[30] Jonathan Gregg of Record described Murmur as "a splendid little film noir of an album, austere but rich in implication." He particularly praised the band's distinctive "twitchy, restless dance beat" and the incomprehensibility of the album's meaning, noting that Stipe's already enigmatic lyrics are often hard to make out due to being sung with a deliberate slur, lost in a muddy mix, and/or drowned out by the instrumental work, resulting in an impressive sense of meaning even as the meaning itself is not understood.[37] It was Rolling Stone's Best Album of 1983, beating Michael Jackson's Thriller, The 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.[38]

A 2023 listing of the best debut albums by Paste included Murmur at sixth place, stating that "the way Buck’s guitar and Mike Mills’ bass busily bounced around otherwise simple choruses created something entirely new".[39]



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.[40] In 2003, the TV network VH1 named Murmur the 92nd greatest album of all time.[citation needed] Some of the more prominent of these lists to feature Murmur are shown below. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[41]

Accolades for Murmur
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Rolling Stone US Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years[42] 1987 #58
Spin US 100 Alternative Albums[43] 1995 #8
Pitchfork Media US Top 100 Albums of the 1980s[44] 2002 #5
Rolling Stone US The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[45][46][47] 2012 #197
2020 #165
Blender US 500 CDs You Must Own Before You Die[48] 2003
Q UK The 40 Best Records of the 80s[citation needed] 2006 #6
Mojo UK The 100 Records That Changed the World[citation needed] 2007 #75
Slant Magazine US Best Albums of the 1980s[49] 2012 #13
Rolling Stone US The 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time[50] 2013 #18

Track listing


All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike 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, Neil Bogan) – 3:17




Production and additional musicians

Chart performance

Murmur chart performance
Year Chart Position
1983 US Billboard 200 36[34]
1994 UK Albums Chart 100[34]
1996 111[34]
2009 199 (Deluxe Edition)[52]


Murmur's singles chart performance
Year Single Chart Position
1983 "Radio Free Europe" Billboard Mainstream Rock 25
1983 "Radio Free Europe" Billboard Pop Singles 78


Sales certifications for Murmur
Organization Level Date
RIAA – US Gold October 10, 1991

Release history


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. This set was recorded by Blair Packham, who'd later find fame as lead singer of The Jitters.[53]

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.[54] The release also includes a fold-out poster insert, featuring exclusive essays by producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, as well as former I.R.S. executives Jay Boberg, Sig Sigworth, and art designer Carl Grasso.[55]

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

See also



  1. ^ "A Brief History of Jangle Pop". Retrieved May 3, 2022.
  2. ^ "R.E.M.'s legacy: 6 ways the band changed American music". The Week. September 22, 2011. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  3. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "R.E.M. - Reckoning review". Allmusic. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  4. ^ Sheffield, Rob (December 6, 2001). "Automatic For The People : R.E.M. : Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  5. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002). All Music Guide to Rock (3rd ed.). p. 930. ISBN 0-87930-653-X.
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  8. ^ Buckley, p. 71
  9. ^ Black, p. 72
  10. ^ Buckley, p. 72
  11. ^ a b Buckley, p. 78
  12. ^ Buckley, p. 79
  13. ^ Buckley, p. 89
  14. ^ Hogan, Peter (1995). The Complete Guide to the Music of R.E.M. Omnibus Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-7119-4901-8.
  15. ^ Rod Brakes (2021-06-03). "Producer Mitch Easter shares the inside story of R.E.M.'s early recording sessions: "It was glorious. They rehearsed a lot just because they liked to play together"". MusicRadar. Retrieved 2023-03-22.
  16. ^ R.E.M. (April 12, 1983). Murmur (liner notes). I.R.S. Records.
  17. ^ "Murmur Trestle Information". Archived from the original on February 21, 2001. Retrieved 2005-04-27., Athens-Clarke County Online. Retrieved August 17, 2006.
  18. ^ Thompson, Jim (July 9, 2016). "'Murmur' trestle likely to come down someday, commissioner says". Athens Online.
  19. ^ Thompson, Jim (August 18, 2016). "Transportation tax could fund work at 'Murmur' trestle in Athens". Athens Online.
  20. ^ Allen, Stephanie (July 9, 2021). "Athens' 'Murmur Trestle' being removed, replaced as part of Firefly Trail construction". Athens Online.
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  22. ^ Satzberg, Steve (February 16, 2024). "Live Review: Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy Play REM's Murmur @ Black Cat — 2/10/24". Parklife DC.
  23. ^ Hogan, Peter (1995). The Complete Guide to the Music of R.E.M. Omnibus Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-7119-4901-8.
  24. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Murmur – R.E.M." AllMusic. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  25. ^ Dolan, Jon (March 2008). "R.E.M.". Blender. Vol. 7, no. 2. pp. 106–107.
  26. ^ Kot, Greg (March 24, 1991). "Traveling Through The Years With R.E.M." Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 10, 2021.
  27. ^ Browne, David (March 22, 1991). "An R.E.M. discography". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  28. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (November 24, 2008). "R.E.M.: Murmur [Deluxe Edition]". Pitchfork. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  29. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (February 2009). "R.E.M.: Murmur". Q. No. 271. p. 120.
  30. ^ a b Pond, Steve (May 26, 1983). "Murmur". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 10, 2021.
  31. ^ Nawrocki, Tom (2004). "R.E.M.". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 685–687. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  32. ^ Mueller, Andrew (January 12, 2009). "Album review: R.E.M. – Murmur". Uncut. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved December 10, 2021.
  33. ^ Christgau, Robert (May 31, 1983). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  34. ^ a b c d Buckley, p. 357–358
  35. ^ Buckley, p. 95
  36. ^ Search for R.E.M.: Gold and Platinum data. Retrieved on May 12, 2008.
  37. ^ Gregg, Jonathan (June 1983). "Murmur review". Record. 2 (8): 22.
  38. ^ Buckley, p. 77–78
  39. ^ "The 100 Greatest Debut Albums of All Time". Music > Lists > Debut Albums. Paste. 2023-11-06. ISSN 1540-3106. Retrieved 2023-11-12.
  40. ^ " Rolling Stone Lists - Main Page". 2002-10-17. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
  41. ^ Thompson, Gareth (2006). "R.E.M.: Murmur". In Dimery, Robert (ed.). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Universe Publishing. p. 505. ISBN 978-0-7893-1371-3.
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  53. ^ "Blair Packham: Toronto Mike'd Podcast Episode 1053". 20 May 2022.
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Further reading