Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Radio Free Europe

First recorded by R.E.M. (1981).
Hit version by R.E.M. (US #78 1983).

From the wiki: “‘Radio Free Europe’ was written by R.E.M., and was first recorded and released in 1981 as the group’s debut single on the short-lived independent record label Hib-Tone. The single received critical acclaim, earning the band a record deal with IRS Records. R.E.M. then re-recorded the song for its 1983 debut album on IRS, Murmur.

“R.E.M. formed in Athens, Georgia in 1980. The band quickly established itself in the local scene. Over the course of 1980 the band refined its songwriting skills, helped by its frequent gigs at local venues. One of the group’s newer compositions was ‘Radio Free Europe’. The other members of the band were reportedly awestruck when they heard the lyrics and melodies singer Michael Stipe had written for the song. By May 1981 the band added ‘Radio Free Europe’ to its set-list.”

According to, “there was a good reason for Michael Stipe’s infamously indecipherable lyrics on this song: he hadn’t finished them by the time they recorded it. In a 1988 NME interview, Stipe described the lyrical content as ‘complete babbling.’

“‘This song was pivotal to the continuation of our career,’ R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry explained in 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.'”

R.E.M., “Radio Free Europe” (1983):

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