There was a time when any record sporting a cover by Peter Saville, was something that you could just buy and greatly enjoy. Judging a record by its cover, so to speak was not only possible but it was actually a very wise undertaking, if Saville was involved. This period lasted from 1978 to some time in 1984, when the pop group Wham decided to appropriate his talents at sleeve design. In all candor, I never saw these sleeves at the time and only became aware of his involvement with Wham in retrospect when I obtained the monograph, “Designed By Peter Saville” several years back. I certainly had no idea at the time, since I never paid the slightest bit of attention to Wham records. I imagine that anyone can be bought, if the price is high enough.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Messages UK 7″
- Messages [single ver.]
- Taking Sides Again
Looking back to the golden era of Peter Saville, let’s consider the breakthrough single of OMD, “Messages.” The A-side was a re-recorded version as produced by Mike Howlett instead of the LP production, which was by one Chester Valentino [in fact Paul Collister, OMD’s manager working under a nom du musique]. Word has it that vocalist Andy McCluskey was dissatisfied with the LP version, and 10,000 pressed copies were scrapped and recut with former Gong member Howlett producing. The resulting track practically defines the difference between demo and finished recording. Whereas the original, LP version is a static, oscillating snapshot of a pop song, this new single version has been pumped full of dynamics.
The expansive intro was worth the price of recutting the song alone. The distinctive sequenced pulse of the song was gradually layered with jazzy electric piano and crucially, a multi-octave portamento that built over the course of the long intro. When the rising riff reached its end, hi-hats signaled the arrival of a real drum kit, always a distinctive feature of OMD at a time when synth bands usually dispensed with conventional drums. McCluskey states that the arrangement was the band’s doing; Howlett was said to have simply wanted to record the group with better quality than they were getting from their home-grown studio and their manager at the boards.
The B-side was OMD’s first remix since “Taking Sides Again” is a very trebly dub mix of the A-side. The thin mix is the antithesis of Jamaican dub, and the melody is punctuated by synthesized sounds redolent of dripping water. Not surprisingly, this was produced by Valentino, not Howlett.
The elegant cover is a real prize. The industrial texture of the background was already an OMD leitmotif given their famous Saville designed cover of their debut album, with its oval-shaped perforations taken from a textured metal plate that co-designer Ben Kelly had seen used elsewhere. Here, they used a regular pebble texture over which an instrument of communication has been nicely photographed by the late, great Trevor Key; photographer of many excellent Peter Saville Associates sleeves. This is proof that a black and white cover is in no way a comedown. If all you are communicating is tonal information, then money spent on color printing is wasted.
This single broke OMD in the UK as they went top ten with it. Following this breakthrough, they had a run of successful singles that lasted through the Spring of 1983 when the band sprang their more experimental “Dazzle Ships” recordings on an uncaring and disdainful public. Those records are arguably an apex for the band and designer Saville as well, but they are a story for another day.
– 30 –