Listen to this track by a young and hungry Athens, Georgia quartet R.E.M. It’s “Radio Free Europe”, a song that would be represented in a re-recorded form on their first album Murmur by 1983. The song would first be a single recorded on the independent Hib Tone label two years beforehand. The single was produced by Let’s Active prime mover Mitch Easter. It would eventually appear in this original form on the 1988 compilation Eponymous.
This version was recorded in the summer of 1981 before their deal with I.R.S records which would put out Murmur and set them on their path to pop greatness. This earlier take of the song moves at a faster clip, with scrappier playing, and with characteristic impenetrable lyrics that showcase Michael Stipe’s unique vocal style.
The pop sensibilities are locked into place, even this early on, helped production-wise by Easter, who knew a thing or two about jangly guitar music that hearkened back to a mythical, musical golden age, yet also infused with a modern sound.
So, how did a song that started off on an independently recorded and distributed single become one of Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 songs (at number 379) of all time?