Hard to believe — but R.E.M. is kicking off its 40th anniversary celebration. This upcoming July 23rd sees the reissue of the band’s 1981 debut single “Radio Free Europe,” along with the band’s 1981 demonstration tape — titled Cassette Set, which is also being made available for the first time. This ultra-rare collection will be available exclusively via the official R.E.M. store as a bundle with the seven-inch single and limited to 1,500 copies worldwide.
“Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Single)” will be presented in its original format: as a 45-RPM single, housed in a jacket featuring photography by Michael Stipe. In an homage to the band’s hometown, the single was pressed in Athens, Georgia at Kindercore Vinyl.
The details of the cassette were explained by the band in the official press release:
On April 15th, 1981, set up in (producer) Mitch Easter’s parents’ converted garage, R.E.M. recorded three songs: “Sitting Still,” “White Tornado” and “Radio Free Europe.” The resulting tracks were copied to several-hundred self-produced cassette tapes — approximately 400 copies — and distributed to clubs, journalists and labels.
The collection, titled Cassette Set, included a few playful additions; “Sitting Still” was prefaced by a few seconds of a high tempo run through of the song done in Polka-style; “White Tornado” was followed by an aborted “White Tornado” take where Buck blunders, the song grinds to a halt, and Buck is heard apologizing before Easter’s voice appears.
This Cassette Set was the only place to get the very original Easter mixes of “Sitting Still” and “Radio Free Europe.” Outside of the copies originally produced, this early demonstration tape collection has never-before been reissued — until now.
R.E.M. has never strayed far away from its roots in Athens, Georgia. We caught up with bassist Mike Mills not too long ago and recalled the band’s first concert at a friend’s birthday party, way back on April 5th, 1980: “‘Cause the first place we played, yeah, it was a church, but it was long-abandoned, and half of that church building was taken up by a plywood apartment complex within the walls of the church. So, there wasn’t a whole lot of sanctity involved in that place.”
Michael Stipe recalled the importance of college radio in the early-’80s for bands that didn’t fit into the typical social norms and styles of the “rock biz”: “When we were coming along, college radio was becoming, kind of, a very important force in American music. And people that were not interested in Top 40, or super popular stuff, they had somewhere to go where they could hear new things, and you could hear things that might be extremely local and not necessarily in your region of the country — but were exiting. And what that created was, kind of, a network of bands, like ourselves, who had for the first time, kind of, a very fledgling core audience, that when you went and performed in a club they would come and see you. They knew who you were.” }