The sound of a band’s salad days can provide for either an interesting lesson or an exercise in patience. Said recordings either reveal very promising genius from the get-go, or proof that an artist has come a long way from their early unremarkable beginnings. Certainly, debates will rage amongst fans and connoisseurs about the quality and importance of the early recordings and tentative creative steps. Scratching The Door: The First Recordings Of The Flaming Lips is a record that will warrant such a debate, offering up for the first time a remastered version of their self released debut mini album and their early, rarely heard demo tapes.
Though the Flaming Lips have since become one of the definitive psychedelic rock bands of the modern era, their story began humbly in Oklahoma City, when Wayne Coyne, local artist/weirdo/ Long John Silvers manager gathered with friends and relatives in their garage, knocking out a trippy, stoned, and bizarre amalgam of garage rock and psychedelia, Although the promise of success was not guaranteed, their sound was appealing enough and weird enough that it could find a home in the budding American independent rock underground. So tentative were the formal years that their enigmatic and well loved visionary did not feel comfortable enough to be the lead singer, handing off such duties to his brother Mark.
Their first demo tape, recorded in 1983, is the sound of a punk rock band. The four songs on their cassette demo find them sounding not unlike Big Boys or The Dicks, two definitive bands making names for themselves a few hundred miles south in Austin, Texas. The demo consists of one original, “Killer On The Radio” and three covers; Richie Havens’ “Handsome Johnny,” The Who’s “Anyway, Anywhere, Anyhow” and the theme from Batman. “Killer” could best be called ”not bad,” even though it’s rather nondescript. The three covers, however, give the band a chance to goof off and let loose, and though they’re not particularly good, they are fun and live up to the rather silly band name.
They did get better, though. By the time of their second demo, recorded a year later, the band had grown tighter and much more taut; the band’s low end was much heavier, and for the most part the more thrash punk rock elements were gone. The songs were slower and we’re growing weirder, the sound coming into line once again with Austin influence, this time noisemakers Scratch Acid and the Butthole Surfers. “The Future Is Gone” and “Underground Pharmacist” find the young band delving into trippy sounds, and doing it quite well, too.
The following year, they would release debut self-titled EP, containing six slices of a heady psychedelic/ garage/ indie rock amalgam. Sharp, jagged, and rough, it was clear that this band had developed its own sounds quite quickly and that their future looks promising. “Bag Full Of Thoughts” practically sounds like the grunge future that was yet to come, while “Scratching The Door” and “Forever Is A Long Time” are wonderful, embryonic sketches of a sound that the flaming lips would soon develop into their own unique and heavy, heady formula.
Changes were round the way, though. When they began working on their debut album, Hear It Is,Mark was no longer in the group, with Wayne taking over lead vocal duties. Comparing the demos of album tracks “Jesus Shooting Heroin” and “Trains, Brains & Rain”, it’s obvious Wayne was the better choice for front man. And from these humble roots, a long, strange trip would begin––one that is still going on today and shows no sign becoming any less weird.