Saturday, June 27, 2009

time of outtakes: R.E.M. 1990 demos

Apologies, if you're not into it, for the heavy R.E.M. content of late on the PoIT. Try as I might, R.E.M. is one of those bands your humble blogger keeps coming back to, being one of the touchstones of his music history/collection.

Hope everyone enjoyed the 1983 Larry's Hideaway set - it was a great choice for the live set to complement the album itself for the Murmur Deluxe Edition, regardless of how it was presented on the release.

Moving 7 years forward, 1990 saw the band regrouping from an exhausting year's worth of global touring, in support of 1988's Green LP (their Warner Bros. debut). Having planned an extensive rest period following the tour's end in November 1989, instead January 1990 found the three musicians regrouping in their Athens, GA rehearsal space and starting the songwriting cycle up afresh. As Peter Buck said, "it's what we do".

Heartily sick of their traditional instruments after 10 years of almost exclusively playing them night after night, the three musicians decided to try out those instruments they'd be staring at over the top of their own, night after night. So instead of Peter Buck sticking exclusively to guitars, Bill Berry drums, and Mike Mills bass, they'd often end up in odd permutations such as Berry on bass, Mills on organ and Buck on drums. And vice versa. As time wore on, they'd often migrate back to their traditional roles, but in the end, when Mills played bass on the resulting recording sessions for the LP, he would more often than not be playing bass lines originated by Berry (or Buck).

Now and then, the band would enter John Keane's studio in Athens to demo the tracks they'd been working on, with singer Michael Stipe taking this opportunity to try out his planned vocals, or just wordlessly wail along to give a melody idea while he wrote the lyrics. Usually these recordings just stayed demos, but now and then, they'd come up with a recording so good it'd end up on the resulting LP, nearly untouched ("Country Feedback"). Other times, they'd keep the backing tracks as recorded for the demo, and finish it up later in the "real" studio when recording the rest of the LP ("Endgame").

R.E.M. often had a problem with keeping their demos under wraps. Demos for every record between 1981 and 1990, barring 1985's demo session with Joe Boyd prior to recording Fables of the Reconstruction, have leaked out of their clutches. No different is this set of demos, essaying songs written for the 1991 LP Out Of Time.

These songs have been available in various permutations over the years, all unofficially. Some sources are better sound quality than others, and some sources more complete than others. The best source, quality-wise, happens to be a bootleg CD entitled Time of Outtakes, from which I've drawn the majority of the material presented here.

However, rather than just rip the CD, I've decided to reassemble the tracks in the order the resulting LP used, which makes it much more of an interesting listen. You hear mostly (musically) fully-realized tracks, with either Stipe's guide vocals on top, in varying states of completion ("Losing My Religion" is nearly complete, for example, while "Me In Honey" is just wordless wailing to the melody line). Other tracks such as "Texarkana" are unique to this release - in this case, "Texarkana" features Stipe's original lyrics and singing, while the LP version famously is all Mike Mills and entirely different lyrics.

Additionally, there were another eight or so tracks not released on the resulting LP, which I've sequenced to follow the album tracklisting. We have the second, electric version of "Radio Song" which more resembles the final album version than the first-demoed acoustic variant, and we have tracks such as "Forty Second Song" which did end up seeing release - this very recording of it - as B-sides, et cetera. In actuality, "Forty Second Song" presented here is actually taken from the "Shiny Happy People" CD single, hence its quality being crystalline - as opposed to the nearly-crystalline quality of the rest of the tracks.

So enjoy!

- - - - -

Out Of Time demo recordings / outtakes
John Keane Studios, Athens, GA 1990

01 Radio Song (soft)
02 Losing My Religion
03 Low
04 Near Wild Heaven
05 Endgame
06 Shiny Happy People
07 Belong
08 Half A World Away
09 Texarkana
10 Country Feedback
11 Me In Honey

- - - end LP tracklisting - - -

12 Forty Second Song
13 Radio Song (hard)
14 Fretless (instrumental)
15 It's A Free World, Baby
16 Here I Am Again (Kerouac No. 4)
17 Night Swim
18 Speed Metal
19 Sugar Cane

Of these recordings, three were released officially:
-- "Country Feedback" on the album, with only a single word re-recorded, as far as I can tell
-- "Low" in 2005 as a B-side to "Wanderlust", however the quality is much worse than this!
-- "Forty Second Song" as a B-side to "Shiny Happy People" in 1991

The following tracks saw re-recorded versions released:
-- "Fretless" with lyrics partially drawn from "Here I Am Again", on 1991's Until The End Of The World soundtrack
-- "It's A Free World, Baby" on 1993's Coneheads soundtrack
-- "Here I Am Again" as an instrumental, recorded by Mike Mills in a Minneapolis basilica, retitled "Organ Song" and released as a B-side to "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" in 1993
-- "Sugar Cane" as an instrumental, retitled "Mandolin Strum", released as a B-side to "Everybody Hurts" in 1993

grab 'em below, two RAR files you need to download:
Part I
Part II

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