Sunday, December 13, 2020

R.E.M. - Reckoning demos & such (1983)

They may not have been a literal "household name" until the early '90s, but even R.E.M. fans who were introduced to them through Out of Time or Automatic For the People were curious enough to explore their back catalog, and in doing so likely made some posthumous but revelatory finds, specifically the five albums they cut for I.R.S. in the 1980s, and perhaps to a lesser extent 1988's Green.  The general consensus is that of their early records, Murmur was their finest and most incendiary moment, and flabbergastingly impressive for a debut (not counting the preceding Chronic Town ep and "Radio Free Europe" single).  Their third and fourth albums, 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction, and Life's Rich Pageant which followed a year later, were tremendous fan-faves (pardon the cliche) and are critically lauded to this day.  Of course, 1987's Document, took on a life of it's own, and eventually went platinum on the strength of it's attendant, bona-fide hit singles, "The One I Love" and "It's the End of the World..."  While certainly not forgotten, nor a commercial disappointment the band's follow-up to Murmur simply isn't discussed or revered nearly as much as the rest of their "indie" releases (not that I.R.S. really struck me as being indie to begin with, but I digress).  I'm talking about Reckoning, Michael Stipe & Co.'s sophomore effort.

I was a relatively late-blooming and even slightly reluctant R.E.M. follower, circa Document, which belatedly introduced me the Athens, GA quartet.  Since I didn't actually sit down with Reckoning until the very, very late '80s I don't have the benefit of hindsight to remember what people's initial response to this record was upon it's 1984 release.  I can't imagine any fan of Murmur disliking Reckoning outright, given there's little if anything to be dissatisfied with.  In fact, the only slight anyone could reasonably have against Reckoning is that it isn't the revelation the first album was.  With the exception of the lively "Pretty Persuasion" and "Second Guessing" there isn't much else here that's as combustible as what R.E.M. delivered on Murmur ("Radio Free Europe," "Sitting Still," and "Pilgrimage" immediately spring to mind).  Still, it's a fallacy to say that Reckoning was a mellower affair than it's predecessor, even though the notion often strikes me as such.  "So. Central Rain," and "Camera" are certainly ballad-esque in tone, but conversely so was Murmur's "Talk About the Passion."  In the grand scheme of things, I suppose it isn't quantifiable to determine how/why Reckoning doesn't boast the same status as some of R.E.M.'s surrounding albums. A few of you reading this might regard this as their peak album, but I don't imagine there's more than a couple folks in the audience raising their hands.

This is all leading into what I'm presenting today, which is essentially a "dry run" of the majority of the songs that would materialize into Reckoning - that and several other tunes that would be relegated as b-sides and outtakes.  Per UNCUT magazine:

"On November 9 [1983], R.E.M. demoed 24 songs at Rhythmic Studios, San Francisco, with Elliot Mazer, who'd produced Neil Young's 'Harvest'. They recorded nine songs that would eventually appear on 'Reckoning': 'So. Central Rain', 'Letter Never Sent', 'Little America', 'Camera', 'Second Guessing', 'Harborcoat', '7 Chinese Bros', 'Pretty Persuasion' and 'Time After Time (AnnElise)'.

All cut in a single day, live to two-track.  Quick and dirty you might say, but the arrangements weren't fussed over much more on the finished product than they were on these prototypes, comparatively raw and spontaneous as they are here.  There's covers too, ranging from the Tokens to the Velvets.  Additionally we're treated to an early take of "All The Right Friends," a song that wasn't released in it's fully realized form until it's inclusion on the expanded import of Dead Letter Office in 1993, and later on a much more widely available best-of.  Then there are a patch of cuts that I seem to recognize from some really early live R.E.M. bootlegs, like "That Beat" and "Just a Touch," and "Skank."  As for "Cushy Tush," the boys were just having a frivolous stab at a potential commercial jingle. 

As die-hard fans of any given innovative artist go, they tend to want to hear alternate versions, regardless of how close the similarities might be.  Luckily, R.E.M. were apparent sticklers for demoing new material - and that's very much to our benefit.  This boot is also known as the Elliot Mazer Demos. Someone other than myself went to the trouble of prepping this collection for a torrent some years ago, and even provided liner notes that you'll find in the download folder, so big props to whomever went to the effort.  By the way, if the depiction of the album sleeve above seems a bit off, I futzed with some of the colors in Photoshop.  

01. That Beat
02. Walter's Theme
03. Cushy Tush
04. Burning Down
05. All The Right Friends
06. Windout
07. Femme Fatale
08. Burning Hell
09. The Lion Sleeps Tonight
10. Skank
11. So. Central Rain
12. Letter Never Sent
13. Little America
14. Camera
15. Second Guessing
16. Second Guessing Take 2
17. Harborcoat
18. Seven Chinese Brothers
19. Just A Touch
20. Pretty Persuasion
21. Pale Blue Eyes
22. Time After Time (Annelise)

MP3   or   FLAC


Pernt said...

Fantastic! I have a couple of "Murmur" demo collections, but nothing from "Reckoning".

I'm an even later devotee than you are... I couldn't *stand* them (see what I did there?) up until "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" (just the song, not the full "Monster" album). But then "Imitation Of Life" was all over the radio when my now-wife and I were moving in together and spending hours fixing up the house. I heard it once an hour while spending time with the woman I knew was "The One". That cracked open my mind, and I found myself finally "getting it".

But after years and years of learning to love REM, the albums I find myself going back to the most are "Murmur" and "Reckoning". The jangle is still front and center, Mitch Easter at the console, and the songs are compact and riddled with hooks.

Thanks for this collection. Can't wait to give it a go.

Il Commendatore said...

Thanks a lot!

spavid said...

You're absolutely welcome.

J-Ro said...

Funny. A lot of the older REM "heads" seem to blather on endlessly about Reckoning, and despise Fables of the Reconstruction because it's too dark (a lot of fans, like myself, love it for exactly that reason). Of course, those are usually the same people that claim they hate anything post-I.R.S.

We're about the same age and I definitely went all-in somewhere in-between Document and Green (my metal phase literally ended overnight in 1988 -- I woke up one morning and said out loud to myself (I swear) "I'm done with metal. I like REM." I still remember getting on the bus that morning thinking about it. By the time I saw them in April 1989 at Nassau Colosseum on the Green Tour when I was 15 (Throwing Muses opened), I had every CD (and possibly a couple bootlegs) and the VHS of REM Succumbs.

If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and listen to the podcast "R U Talkin' R.E.M. Re: Me?" by Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott. It's hysterical and Scott is the older fan who dropped off after Green and Adam is about our age and his story paralleled mine almost completely.

Cinnamon Girl said...

Early fan here! Can confirm Reckoning was very well received, although "Don't Go Back To Rockville" raised a few eyebrows (I recall one review commenting about how strange it was that "There is a straight-up country song on the album"!).

I'm also one of those who didn't care for Fables, not because it was dark, just because I didn't think most of the songs were very good. And still don't. I didn't love any of their albums after Reckoning, though they still managed a lot of good tunes, just not as consistently as on the early releases.

Looking forward to hearing this anyway!

t.e said...

Last Week's (Week #534: 11 Dec 2020)"Band of the Week" clip from Pat the Wiz (sound man at the 40-Watt club in Athens during the 1980s) was an early rendition of Burning Down.

t.e said...

Regarding the Rockville raised eyebrows, I was living in Athens during this period, and the local reaction to its inclusion was surprise on a couple of levels. First, that it was there at all - it had dropped out of their live set by early 1982. I remember that it surfaced at their "secret" Stitchcraft show, to the delight of the old hands, but otherwise it was just a legendary relic of the past that old-timers used to talk about wistfully. Second - not so much that it had been countrified, but that THEY SLOWED IT DOWN! The early versions were fast and raucous.

WhatTS said...

Thanks for this. Re the debate in the liner notes re 'That Beat', I can say the the voice there responding does indeed sure sound like Don Dixon.

WhatTS said...

Also meant to say, I can really relate to the 'even slightly reluctant R.E.M. follower' notion. I first saw them headlining a 'N.C. for Africa' benefit concert but I was really there for lead-up acts including Mr. Dixon with Rick Rock (the future Parthenon Huxley), The Connells and The Pressure Boys and was a little indifferent to their set.

The fates would cycle around again about a year and a half later when I purposefully went to see them, with The Feelies opening. Some friends were already talking up the guys from Jersey but again they didn't make a huge impression that first time -- only to become an ultimate favorite live act.

Bruce K. said...

Ah, heard "Radio Free Europe" 45 at a party near the end of the school year my senior year in college. Later my future wife and I first heard the whole Murmur album while unloading her stuff we had hauled from the middle of the country to a friend's apartment where we could store it for a few weeks before we could move into our first student apartment in September so I could attend a "prestigious east coast graduate school".

Young, exhausted, relatively penniless, and in love. REM music playing. What could be better?

Thanks for this. We REALLY loved this music.

mercvrial said...

I think I put Murmur in my all-time top-10... of course that betrays a hopeless nostalgia, but f*ck it. I only saw REM live a few times - maybe 3 times during the '80s - but the first time was opening for The Police on the Sychronicity Tour c. 1983 (yeah, bizarro). The group that I went with to that show included eventual erstwhile Pavement multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich who went to a neighboring high school. Good times.