Friday, 5 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #5

After the positive reaction to their debut EP, R.E.M. were keen to repeat the chemistry they had with producer Mitch Easter for their first album. The record label however had other ideas. They wanted an up-and-coming producer called Stephen Hague to do the job. And so it was that, in December 1982, the band went into the studio with Hague and cut the first track of the session - Catapult. It was to be the only track of the session. The band were unhappy with Hague's techniques, particularly Bill Berry who hated having to record his drum track over and over. Hague also took the tapes away and added synths. Synths!

The band expressed their dissatisfaction to the label who then agreed to allow a session with Easter and his partner Don Dixon. Whichever session the label felt yielded the best results would be the course of the album. Pilgrimage was chosen as the track to record. Easter and Dixon's hands-off approach allowed the band to record more organically. The resulting demo was, wisely, chosen as the better of the two by the label and so work on what would become 'Murmur' continued with Easter and Dixon.

When you hear the two tracks together, it's really not difficult to understand why that decision was made. Hague's Catapult is, quite simply, terrible. If this had been the R.E.M. sound, it is unlikely they would have made it out of the 80s. Instead, 'Murmur' has become a classic of epic proportions, a record revered by fans and critics alike. It's in my top 3 R.E.M. albums, without a doubt.


  1. I dare not listen to the Stephen Hague demo. If you say it's terrible, I'll go with that. Jez,

  2. Easter/Dixon are so much a part of the band's legendary story. It's shocking to think how close it came to going all wrong. Great post, Robster.

  3. Hey.... great site ... you commented on mine about loving Georgia Ruth. Anuhow, I see you're an REM fan. I've been shoved out of the way by one of REM ... I don't know which one because they came from behind me I as stood waiting for them to come onstage ... they walked right through the crowd.... it was when they weren't famous. I hope that impresses you (?).STEVE

    By the way, there's a good bit of REM about the wonderful Death Cab for Cutie...

  4. I see you like Die Toten Hosen too ... but what about Wir Sind Helden? Denkmal, Nur Ein Wort, Echolot ... where do you start ??? Steve again. But the best "foreign" band of all is Love of Lesbian.... try 1999, Nadie Por las Calles, Domingo Astromantico .....

  5. I was just recallling that era and those incidents while putting together a Vol 2 ICA for my place that really should have been posted by now but has been caught up in all the shenanigans of the weekend just gone.

    Another wonderful piece in what is proving to be an immense series.