R.E.M.’s 1981 ‘Cassette Set’ Demo Reissued for the First Time
R.E.M will reissue a direct reproduction of their 1981 demo tape, titled Cassette Set, in cassette format on July 23.
The tape, a coveted collectors item, has never been physically issued before and includes five early recordings by the young band. The upcoming cassette will be packaged and designed in its original 1981 form; only 1,500 copies of the cassette will be produced worldwide.
In addition, a 45-RPM version of R.E.M's 1981 debut single, "Radio Free Europe," is also being released, enclosed in a black and white jacket with photography by singer Michael Stipe. Even though the song, and its B-side "Sitting Still," appeared digitally on the 2014 Complete Rarities: I.R.S. 1982–1987 collection, this will be the first time it will be physically available in 40 years.
Initially released by the small Atlanta-based label Hib-Tone Records, "Radio Free Europe" was not widely distributed at the time. The band rerecorded the song in 1983 for their first album, Murmur, after it signed to I.R.S. Records. (Stipe noted that the lyrics to "Radio Free Europe" were still unfinished when the band rerecorded it.)
"Imagine four people who had never been in a band being thrown together," Stipe said in a 1983 interview with Alternative America. "We were all so scared of what the other one would say, that everyone nodded their head in agreement to anything that came up. The earlier songs were incredibly fundamental, real simple, songs that you could write in five minutes. Most of them didn't have any words. I just got up and howled and hollered a lot."
But it made all the difference once it was done. "Radio Free Europe" "was pivotal to the continuation of our career," drummer Bill Berry said in the liner notes of Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011. "Most fans may not realize that for two years before Murmur was released, we barely made financial ends meet by playing tiny clubs around the southeast. Our gasoline budget prevented us from venturing further. Put simply, our existence was impoverished. College radio and major-city club scenes embraced this song and expanded our audience to the extent that we moved from small clubs to medium-sized venues and the additional revenue made it possible to logically pursue this wild musical endeavor. I dare not contemplate what our fate would have been had this song not appeared when it did."
The upcoming cassette and 7" vinyl can be preordered at the band's website.