It’s a sobering thought to consider that all of the surviving college radio disc jockeys of the early ’80s are a heck of a lot closer to their initial Medicare enrollment than they are to the release of R.E.M.’s debut EP. Chronic Town celebrates its 40th anniversary today (it was originally released on August 24, 1982). And if any of your gray-haired friends tell you they heard Chronic Town before seeing the band’s atomic bomb launch of the “Radio Free Europe” video on MTV in 1983, they are probably lying. The video finds Michael Stipe, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills fumbling around Rev. Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden. The video was also interlaced with fuzzy shots of roadside kudzu, that for anyone other than a bona fide Southeastener probably looked like some alien life form. Couple that with an equally otherworldly as well as welcoming sound coming from Buck’s chiming guitar and Stipe’s unintelligible vocals and you had the makings for lighting in a bottle.
Sure, many punk/post-punk/New Wave bands pre-dated our Athens, Georgia, heroes. You had The Minutemen on the West Coast, The Replacements and Hüsker Dü in the Midwest, Sonic Youth in New York, and DEVO doing whatever it was they were doing wherever they were from. But R.E.M. took college radio to heights unforeseen and in fairly short order. The jangly guitars, deeply embedded hooks, along with Stipe’s iconoclastic vision made for a compelling case onto which to hitch your wagon. Although The B-52’s and Pylon may have predated R.E.M. in the local arena, R.E.M. served to launch an interest in the jangle pop sound and similar sounding bands in and around the area started to garner interest: Guadalcanal Diary, The Swimming Pool Q’s, and Chronic Town producer Mitch Easter’s own Let’s Active. MORE