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

From The Power Of Independent Trucking

R.E.M.
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)

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).

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.