R.E.M – ” The Elliot Mazer Demo’s “

Posted: July 24, 2021 in MUSIC
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On November 9th, 1983, REM entered San Francisco’s Rhythmic Studios with sometime Neil Young producer Elliot Mazer to demo songs for their second album, “Reckoning”. Present were fully realised numbers that would eventually be recut at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studio. Yet “Harbourcoat” and “Seven Chinese Brothers” to name but two, represent fascinating, subtle shifts of tone and vocal inflection, while “Pale Blue Eyes,” one of two fine Velvets covers, is resplendent with its countrified arrangement.

Most intriguing are those tunes left off Reckoning: “All The Right Friends” hinges on its dark chorus, and “Skank (Marble Table)” shows the band at their most stretched-out. Then there’s the whimsy – an OTT “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, the surf-goof “Windout” and “Cushy Tush” – a mock toilet-tissue ad, and proof this most revered of underground bands wasn’t taking itself too seriously. “Your family deserves the best in asswipe,” Stipe deadpans.

The general consensus is that of their early records, “Murmur” was their finest and most incendiary moment, and flabbergastingly impressive for a debut (not counting the preceding Chronic Town ep and “Radio Free Europe” single). 

Their third and fourth albums, 1985’s “Fables of the Reconstruction”, and “Life’s Rich Pageant” which followed a year later, were tremendous fan-faves and are critically lauded to this day.  Of course, 1987’s “Document took on a life of it’s own, and eventually went platinum on the strength of it’s attendant, bona-fide hit singles, “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World…”  While certainly not forgotten, nor a commercial disappointment the band’s follow-up to Murmur simply isn’t discussed or revered nearly as much as the rest of their “indie” releases (not that I.R.S. really struck me as being indie to begin with, but I digress).  I’m talking about “Reckoning”, Michael Stipe & Co.’s sophomore effort.

“On November 9th [1983], R.E.M. demoed 24 songs at Rhythmic Studios, San Francisco, with Elliot Mazer, who’d produced Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’. They recorded nine songs that would eventually appear on ‘Reckoning’: ‘So. Central Rain’, ‘Letter Never Sent’, ‘Little America’, ‘Camera’, ‘Second Guessing’, ‘Harborcoat’, ‘7 Chinese Bros’, ‘Pretty Persuasion’ and ‘Time After Time (AnnElise)’.

All cut in a single day, live to two-track.  Quick and dirty you might say, but the arrangements weren’t fussed over much more on the finished product than they were on these prototypes, comparatively raw and spontaneous as they are here.  There’s covers too, ranging from the Tokens to the Velvets.  Additionally we’re treated to an early take of “All The Right Friends,” a song that wasn’t released in it’s fully realized form until it’s inclusion on the expanded import of “Dead Letter Office” in 1993, and later on a much more widely available Best Of.  Then there are a patch of cuts that I seem to recognize from some really early live R.E.M. bootlegs, like “That Beat” and “Just a Touch,” and “Skank.”  As for “Cushy Tush,” the boys were just having a frivolous stab at a potential commercial jingle. 

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As die-hard fans of any given innovative artist go, they tend to want to hear alternate versions, regardless of how close the similarities might be.  Luckily, R.E.M. were apparent sticklers for demoing new material – and that’s very much to our benefit.  This boot is also known as the Elliot Mazer Demos. Someone other than myself went to the trouble of prepping this collection for a torrent some years ago, and even provided liner notes that you’ll find in the download folder, so big props to whomever went to the effort. 

01. That Beat
02. Walter’s Theme
03. Cushy Tush
04. Burning Down
05. All The Right Friends
06. Windout
07. Femme Fatale
08. Burning Hell
09. The Lion Sleeps Tonight
10. Skank
11. So. Central Rain
12. Letter Never Sent
13. Little America
14. Camera
15. Second Guessing
16. Second Guessing Take 2
17. Harborcoat
18. Seven Chinese Brothers
19. Just A Touch
20. Pretty Persuasion
21. Pale Blue Eyes
22. Time After Time (Annelise)

Sound quality: Fair to good. The master tape is lost, one reason why this material didn’t make the “Reckoning” deluxe

Recorded 1983, San Francisco

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