The classic origin story of The Vines involves two bored McDonald’s workers dreaming up a band inspired by equal parts Beatles, Nirvana and Supergrass – in between making soft serve cones.

In reality, The Vines began life in Craig Nicholls’ bedroom in Hurstville, where he would make dozens of demo recordings on a cheap digital recorder, building little sonic worlds which were only tied together thematically by his singular vocal ability – leaning on guttural yelping as much as it did on syrupy, sun-drenched harmonies.

These early Vines demos contained every song bar one (Animal Machine) from their first two albums, and attracted Nicholls’ management team, his overseas label, and excited producer Rob Schnapf – who would steer The Vines’ Highly Evolved and Winning Days records. Schnapf produced four Elliott Smith albums, and ran a label called Bong Load. It was a perfect fit.

The Vines made a number of demos for their first hit ‘Get Free’ throughout the years, ranging from boom box garage demos to this rather fully formed recording, which could have been released in its own right had the band not initiated a bidding war, signed to an American major label, and sold millions of copies of its debut album.

In this early incarnation, the song spiders into existence, a throbbing drum beat and a palm-muted rhythm guitar fighting against a manic lead part for dominance. Then the main riff kicks in, and it all becomes quite recognisable.

The “move outta California” hook at the end of the chorus is yet to be written; in its place a barrage of gobbledegook that works almost as well. (Nicholls is great at gobbledegook – see the verses to ‘Outtathaway’ for more evidence of this.)

The “when it’s breeding time” bridge is a tightly wound Beatlesesque section in the finished version of ‘Get Free’, but here it’s the part where the song purposefully topples over, an insane guitar solo quickly strangling the track into near-silence, before a lone cowbell and Nicholls’ possessed yelp works to straighten things out again.

Nicholls’ vocal is, as a whole, more subdued throughout, despite the more freewheeling instrumentation – and it would have been tempting to go with this more heavy-lidded version of the song. But Schnapf knew he was sitting on a potential hit, and tightened the arrangement, killing the breakdown and both the strangled intro and outro, opening the song with that now-iconic riff and punching in and out within two minutes.

Listening to The Vines’ early demos, you get the feeling this was a band that could have been huge if only the right people listened. Luckily, in this case, that’s exactly what happened.

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