Today is the 30th anniversary of R.E.M.’s debut album Murmur, an anniversary that surely warrants celebration, even if it does make us feel, well, old. Listening to the album this morning sent us down something of an R.E.M. rabbit hole — first Murmur, then its associated b-sides, then weird early studio outtakes, then… Well, anyway, we thought we’d celebrate this de facto R.E.M. day with a feature that takes you down the rabbit hole with us: a collection of our favorite R.E.M. obscurities, b-sides and outtakes. As ever, let us know if you have any to add.
This studio outtake from the Murmur sessions rather presages the direction the band would follow a few years later — it’s decidedly upbeat, and Stipe’s vocals are placed front-and-center in the mix, rather than being buried under layers of abstraction. You can see why the band decided to leave it off their debut — it didn’t really fit the mood of the album — but it’s a fascinating listen nonetheless. It’s also interesting to see how much it resembles…
“Ages of You”
An even earlier outtake, from the sessions for R.E.M.’s debut EP Chronic Town. Apparently it got canned because the band members got sick of it — it was one of the first songs they wrote, and went through several incarnations before settling into the form you hear above. It also features some of Stipe’s most impenetrable lyrics: “Postcard stowaway within/ Pristine indigo without/ Banded ottoman as such/ Sofa seated one too much.” Um, OK, if you say so.
“Voice of Harold”
This Reckoning outtake was the result of Stipe continually making a mess of vocal takes for “Seven Chinese Brothers.” Exasperated, he gave up and started reading the liner notes to a Christian record that happened to be sitting around the studio. The result is curiously compelling in its own way, and eventually made its way onto the b-side of the “So. Central Rain” single, and thence to mid-’80s non-album track compilation Dead Letter Office. (Also, apparently the original “Seven Chinese Brothers” is about “breaking up a couple, and then dating both of them, a man and a woman, which is a terrible thing to do, but I was young and stupid,” which… wow.)
Continue reading the rest of the story on Flavorwire