The original line-up of the Flaming Lips when they formed in Norman, Oklahoma in 1983 was Wayne Coyne on guitar, his brother Mark sang lead; Michael Ivins was on bass and Dave Kotska played drums. When Kotska left the following year, he was replaced by Richard English, who would stay with the band until ’89. In 1984 they recorded their sole release with Mark Coyne singing lead vocals–The Flaming Lips—put out in a green vinyl pressing on their own Lovely Sorts of Death Records (a label name they’d revive in 2011.)
Then there was a flip of the Coynes, and with Mark’s departure to get married in 1985, Wayne took over his brother’s microphone and became the Lips’ frontman. In 1986 the band released their first full-length album, Hear It Is, on Pink Dust Records (a sub-label of Restless Records’ Enigma imprint) and this incarnation of Flaming Lips would record two more albums: 1987’s Oh My Gawd!!! and 1989’s Telepathic Surgery.
Drummer Nathan Roberts replaced English and guitarist Jonathan Donahue (also a member of Mercury Rev) joined in 1989. It was then that the Lips started working with producer Dave Fridmann, who helped them greatly expand their sound in the studio for In a Priest Driven Ambulance, which was recorded in a studio at SUNY Fredonia for $5 an hour on a $10,000 budget.
Soon after this, the band got noticed by Warner Bros. Records and were snatched up in 1991 when one of the label’s A&R execs saw them nearly burn down the American Legion Hall in Norman, Oklahoma when their pyrotechnics got out of control. Thus began one of the oddest arrangements in major label history.
Today—and I’m thinking it’s no coincidence that it’s 4-20 day—marks the release of Scratching The Door: The First Recordings Of the Flaming Lips, a 19-track compilation of early work by the band’s original lineup. The album highlights tracks recorded with Mark Coyne on vocals including the band’s first and second cassette demos, and the Lips first self-released EP, remastered from the original 1/4” analog tape master. Among the featured tracks are covers of The Who’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” and the theme song from the Batman television series.
Then a second release of the Lips early music comes out at the end of June with Seeing the Unseeable: The Complete Studio Recordings of The Flaming Lips: 1986-1990, a six-CD boxed set comprised of the band’s first four studio albums with Restless Records, and two discs of rarities, B-sides, flexi disc and compilation releases. Over 40 tracks will be released digitally for the first time.
All of the music on both releases has been remastered from the original masters by longtime producer David Fridmann with help from the Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins. Later in the year, the Restless albums will be made available on vinyl.