R.E.M.: So Much Younger Then (1981)

Here's a vinyl bootleg from an early R.E.M. gig (April 10, 1981 at Tyrone's in their hometown of Athens, Georgia), and a personal favorite largely because it was not just one of the first boots I bought, but the first that wasn't from a far more popular classic rock band like the Who or Floyd or Genesis.  At the time, I was delighted to see it mainly because it meant R.E.M. was going places, as they were now being targeted by the bootleggers just like the big boys!  (For you kids out there -- before the internet, about the only way to hear unreleased live music was through overpriced bootleg LPs.)

The other really cool thing about the boot was that it was composed entirely of songs that they dropped by the time of their 1982 Chronic Town EP release and never included on a proper album.  A couple of the better ones were later recorded in the studio ("All The Right Friends," "Mystery To Me"), finding their onto b-sides or compilations, but the rest were lost to history unless you've got one of their early bootlegs.

For the most part, these were dropped for good reason.  For early songwriting efforts by a young band, they're decent, but nothing comes close to the material that ended up on Chronic Town and the first two full-length releases, Murmur and Reckoning.  (Note that the CD version of the bootleg, called Georgia Peaches -- Ripe!, includes the entire show, during which they also played a few covers and many tracks that would later be recorded and appear on those early albums.)  Which isn't to say that an early album that included cleaned up versions of these lost tracks wouldn't have been better than 90% of what other bands were doing (as "All The Right Friends" confirms); it just wouldn't have been Murmur.

For the most part these are upbeat party tunes, and while the elements that would gel for the band are already present -- Buck's distinctive arpeggiated guitar style, Stipe's distinctive drawl, Mills' punchy bass and backing vox -- there is a much more pronounced surf rock sound (shades of Athens forerunners the B-52s perhaps?) and, alas, an absence of the murky, mysterious depths that made their early work so timeless.  "Body Count" seems to be an anti-war song, though of course Stipe's lyrics aren't always easy to make out; it's pretty damn catchy.  But most is lighter stuff.  "Narrator (For The Jacques Cousteau Show)" is a rollicking surf-pop ditty (as is "Permanent Vacation"); "Baby I" and "Mystery To Me" are relentlessly upbeat party rock.

You might be able to find some version of this or the Georgia Peaches somewhere online, but most or all of this has been ripped to YouTube if you want to check it out; just search for the songs on the track list, you'll fine 'em.

Here's "Body Count":
Here's "Narrator":
Here's "Baby I":
Here's "Dangerous Times":
Here's a video from a rare live performance of "Permanent Vacation" many years later:
Here's the studio version of "All The Right Friends."  (It was later re-recorded, sounding much more polished, and ended up on a movie soundtrack.)
Here's the studio version of "Mystery to Me":
Finally, something of a curiosity, here's an official studio recording of "Narrator" by R.E.M. spin-off the Hindu Love Gods -- a band comprised of Buck/Mills/Berry but without Stipe (most songs were sung by Warren Zevon, but this one was sung by a guy named Bryan Cook).