Not long after wrapping the tour in support of their debut, R.E.M. returned to the North Carolina studio where they made Murmur. With Don Dixon and Mitch Easter once again producing, the sessions for Reckoning went quickly and smoothly.

No surprise, since the band had worked out most of the new songs on the road throughout 1983. All that was needed was a dose of the moody atmospherics that made Murmur a hit with college-rock radio.

But Reckoning isn’t exactly a sequel. The chiming guitar riffs are sharper, the melodies are tighter. And Michael Stipe’s lyrics, still mumbled and indecipherable, remain obscured in their artiness. Reckoning isn’t a better record than Murmur, but it sounds fuller and more developed.

READ MORE: R.E.M. at the BBC Album Review

And while R.E.M. and their producers were under instructions by the record company to make a more commercial album, things didn’t change much from the Murmur sessions.

Watch R.E.M.'s Video for 'So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)'

The bright hooks that dominate ‘So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)’ and the twangy "(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville" are relatively radio-friendly, but there’s no getting around the band’s oblique view of pop music. Like Murmur, Reckoning filters punk, post-punk, folk and country through an indie-rock aesthetic.

Why Is R.E.M.'s 'Reckoning' Important?

Reckoning reached No. 27 a few weeks after its April 9, 1984, release, charting a bit higher than Murmur. And "So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)" managed to climb to No. 85 on the pop chart. But more than anything, the album solidified R.E.M.’s status as college radio’s reigning king.

For the next year’s Fables of the Reconstruction, the Athens, Georgia, quartet headed to England to work with a new producer and further evolve their signature sound. Reckoning, along with Murmur, is the one that sealed that sound in the first place and with it their legacy.

Top 50 Albums of 1984

It's not only one of the decade's peak years, it also saw the release of some of the biggest and best records ever made.

Gallery Credit: Michael Gallucci

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