Sunday, October 2, 2011

R.E.M.: "Cassette Set" (1981 demo tape, RARE!!!)

(June 7, 2012 edit:  IFPI has DMCA'ed me for the FLACs "linked" below.  Screw them.  The mp3 set is still available though...)

Unfortunately it took the breakup of the band to start seeing some of these ultra-rare deals come to light.

Thanks to a gracious reader of the blog, it's my honor to present to the R.E.M. community a basically-unheard artifact:  the Cassette Set from Spring 1981.

In April 1981 the band began their relationship with Mitch Easter by visiting his Drive-In Studio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to record a few songs for a demo.  They had done a few demo sessions previously, but were not satisfied with the results (mainly at Joe Perry's Bombay Studio) and eventually hooked up with Easter.

On April 15, 1981 Easter and the band recorded (at least) three tracks: "Sitting Still", "Radio Free Europe" and "White Tornado".  On the next day they mixed the tracks, and eventually had a demo cassette run (approx. 400 copies, according to Peter Buck) to send to journalists, clubs and labels ahead of their initial visit to New York City.

On May 24, 1981 the band returned to the Drive-In Studio and laid down some overdubs onto "Radio Free Europe" and then Hib-Tone label owner Johnny Hibbert mixed both "Radio Free Europe" and "Sitting Still" on the 25th.  Easter felt the Hibbert mixes were seriously lacking, so he, on his own time, mixed his own versions for consideration.  The band, Easter and Hibbert then had a mixing bakeoff of both "Radio Free Europe" and "Sitting Still", and as famously (well, relatively speaking) known, despite everyone but Hibbert liking the Easter mixes better Hibbert pulled rank and used his mixes on the band's debut 7" on Hib-Tone.  Something went awry in the process, the record was mastered terribly, and Buck famously smashed his copy and put it on his wall (following the "Radio Free Europe" lyric).

(I place the call out now:  I've never heard an original Hib-Tone "Radio Free Europe", so I can't speak for the mastering/pressing quality or Hibbert's mixes, so if anyone cares to feed me with a transfer of their Hib-Tone 7", I'm all ears.  I will gladly tart it up for the blog and post it too.)

Easter's proposed mix for the 7" is the only one the band has seen fit to issue since then, on 1988's Eponymous compilation, and then on 2006's compilation of the I.R.S. years And I Feel Fine...The Best Of The I.R.S. Years 1982-1987.

Stepping back a bit:  before issuing the 7", the band chose the original, pre-overdubbed, recordings of "Sitting Still" / "Radio Free Europe", with "White Tornado" added in, to make up their demo cassette.  Jokingly, "Sitting Still" was prefaced by a few seconds of a *fast* run through of the song done in Polka-style, and "White Tornado" was followed by an aborted "White Tornado" take where Buck lays down a huge stinker of a mistake, the song grinds to a halt, and Buck is heard apologizing before Easter's voice appears.  On the final 100 copies the band added a hilarious "Radio Dub" mix of "Radio Free Europe", done by Easter on April 23, 1981 on a lark with instruments/voices/effects dropping in and out of the mix, dub-style.

I don't think the "Sitting Still" or "White Tornado" snippets have ever been collected on bootleg, and if they have, I've never heard them.  "Radio Dub" is a bit more known, but still fantastically rare.  And of course this Cassette Set is the only place to get the very original Easter mixes of "Sitting Still" and "Radio Free Europe", both of which are far better than any subsequent issue of these tracks.

Blog friend Chris H. is the owner of an original Cassette Set, given by Michael Stipe on June 20, 1981 to a member of the band Bunny Drums when that band supported R.E.M. at Emerald City, in Cherry Hills, New Jersey.  Chris obtained it in 2001 and then subsequently transferred it to CD-R, and then offered it to the blog for the public.

The Cassette Set was self-assembled by the band, using photocopied cardstock for the J-card inlays, and handwritten cassette labels by Stipe.  Some copies featured color photograph inserts all cut up, but Chris' copy is missing these.

Chris gave me his raw transfer of the tape, I worked my magic on it, and here we are.  There are few times when I'm so confident as to say you'll not find something better out there quality-wise, but this is one of them.  I expected something that I would need to do a lot of cleanup work on, but barring a bit of EQ, this set came to me in absolutely stunning, beautiful condition.  I think the results speak for themselves and I am honored to have the chance to give this to the community, as it's a very unique, special part of the band's history.

The inlays:

The cassette:

The songs:

Cassette Set
April 15/16/23, 1981 (recording/mixing)
April/May 1981 (assemblage/packaging)

01 Sitting Still (fast "Polka" version, snippet)
02 Sitting Still
03 Radio Free Europe
04 White Tornado
05 White Tornado (take 2, aborted)
06 Radio Free Europe (Radio Dub)

Enjoy!  And as always, if anyone has more rarities for me to massage and host, you may email me at analogloyalist at gmail dot com and we'll get on it.

For the readers who prefer to have their rarities in damaged MP3 format, I - this one time only - will help you here.  I strongly disagree with sharing these uber-rarities as MP3 as it pollutes the trading pool.  There's nothing I dislike more than when I finally find something I've searched years for, only to find it as MP3-only.  Let me make my own MP3 listening copy, if I choose, from the FLACs (or other lossless format) you're providing.  There are converters everywhere to cross-convert between formats, and one ridiculously easy (and free!) one for Windows is dBpoweramp which I use daily.