file under water

It’s apparently R.E.M. week here at ADS; aptly enough, today’s the 26th anniversary of the band’s rehearsal for its first concert (Christ but I’m old. But they’re even older…). I’m featuring four more songs today. So last time I mentioned that I hadn’t run into a studio version of the unreleased song “Theme from Two Steps Onward”; of course, I also hadn’t looked for quite some time. Having done so, I found a set of R.E.M. demos: these tracks are from that collection. (And as I’d hoped, cuz I’m a sneaky bastard, a reader responded by offering to send along her copy of a studio recording of “Two Steps Onward”; it turned out to be the same recording.)

Anyway, the version of “Theme from Two Steps Onward” featured here is listed as coming from John Keane Studio in January or March 1986 (i.e., during the Lifes Rich Pageant sessions: sources vary). I hope you all like hiss: it sounds like this one was recorded while someone was grinding coffee beans in the next room. (That reader’s version I mentioned above has less hiss, but a lot more swirly distortion resulting from the noise reduction; ultimately, I can more readily filter out the hiss in my head than that tinkly swirly stuff. Efforts to do my own noise reduction met with failure.) Nothing too revelatory in terms of the arrangement: it’s almost identical to the concert version I posted a few days ago (which was performed about ten months beforehand). Mills nearly jams out on the bass a bit toward the end; that’s about the only significant musical difference.

That Beat” is a very early R.E.M. track – the demo here is listed as being recorded way back in February of 1981. How early is it? Early enough that Stipe has to ask about mic technique…the reply from the booth is too good for me to spoil here. The demo of “Laughing” is from August 1982 sessions in RCA Studios in NYC. It’s a bit more straightforward than the Murmur version; in a way it reminds me of what it might have sounded like with Chronic Town‘s production.

The curious thing about “Skank” is that although it’s never been released and, according to available gigographies, was played at only one of the shows I’ve been at, it still sounds quite familiar to me. It was the final song of the second encore of that show – maybe for some reason it lodged itself in my memory. Ah well – rather an odd lyric – and for Stipe that’s saying something.

R.E.M. “Theme from Two Steps Onward” (demo)
R.E.M. “Laughing” (demo)
R.E.M. “That Beat” (demo)
R.E.M. “Skank” (demo)



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4 responses to “file under water

  1. James

    “Skank” sounds to my ears like it bears a slight resemblance to “9-9.” Maybe it’s nothing, or maybe one evolved into another? Or maybe both are examples of that type of psychedelic mood song R.E.M. used to write from time to time (ie., “Feeling Gravity’s Pull,” “Stumble”).

  2. Anonymous

    Did we all see the video of Country Feedback with Bill Berry on bass last week at the Minus 5 show in Atlanta?


  3. Anonymous

    James.. Spot on
    Apparently Skank evolved from the freeform middle-eight section of 9-9, the band carrying on and not playing the rest of 9-9.

  4. 2fs

    Well, if any of you are still following this (hard to say: blogger doesn’t offer separate RSS feeds for comments), I figured out why “Skank” sounded familiar. I pulled out an old cassette of a show in Madison in April of 1982 (I wasn’t there – sold semi-licitly in a record store) – and although it wasn’t on the tracklisting, it appeared as part of very extended runthrough of “Stumble.” (Incidentally, in comments to my 4/5/06 entry, Steve mentioned the “9-9” thing also. It would appear the band occasionally migrated the song after “Stumble” as well.)

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