Say It's Your Birthday: R.E.M.'s Bill Berry

When it comes to rising to world-wide fame from their roots in '80s college/alternative-rock, none has been as successful as the Athens, Ga.-based R.E.M. Formed around the turn of the last decade, R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) has revolved around the same four musicians ever since: singer/group enigma Michael Stipe, audiophile and guitarist Peter Buck, fresh-faced bassist Michael Mills and unibrowed drummer Bill Berry, born as William Thomas Berry in Duluth, Minn. 39 years ago today.

Since their full-length debut with 1983's Murmur, a moody, slowly driven masterpiece that is one of the best albums of the last 20 years, the four members of R.E.M. have developed distinctive voices while growing tighter as a group -- their second to last album, 1994's Monster, was one of the band's hardest cutting and most acclaimed album in years. R.E.M., after steadily building on their fan base with albums such as 1984's Reckoning, 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction and 1986's Life's Rich Pageant, made the definitive leap from alternative stars to world-wide pop idols with 1987's Document, which contained the ironic hit "The One I Love." Since then, R.E.M.'s albums have been almost guaranteed successes (1988's Green, 1991's Out of Time and 1992's Automatic For the People, Monster and 1996's New Adventures In Hi-Fi), all the while skating the line between mainstream pop and alternative rock.

While Stipe's endless antics and Buck's guitar work have achieved most of the attention when it comes to discussing R.E.M., Berry and Mills have created one of the most singular and dependable rhythm sections in rock. Berry, with his metronome-steady beats and unobtrusive fills, and Mills, with his complex and melodic bass lines, have provided the perfect framework in which to let Stipe and Buck show off their talents without going overboard. Last fall the band returned with their latest album, New Advertures In Hi-Fi, only to find Patti Smith singing on a track called "E-bow The Letter."

Also born today: Karl Green, 50, (Herman's Hermits) and Hugh MacDowell, 44, (ELO).