Various: Best Of 12″ Synth Gold UK 
- Thompson Twins: Love On Your Side [ext.]
- Blancmange: Living On The Ceiling [ext.]
- Heaven 17: Play To Win [ext. ver.]
- Visage: Mind Of A Toy [ext. ver.]
- Japan: Life In Tokyo [“Assemblage” UK cassette ext. ver.]
- Ultravox: Dancing With Tears In My Eyes [special re-mix UK ver.]
- Landscape: Einstein-A-Go-Go [ext. ver.]
- OMD: Souvenir [ext. 10″ ver.]
The Old Gold label is pretty much the UK equivalent of the Collectables US oldie reissue label here in The States, and with this compilation, they pretty much hit my sweet spot with an all wheat/no chaff compilation of New Wave era 12″ versions by some of my favorite synth oriented acts. If you’ve read Post-Punk Monk before, you may have noticed that I will have written about many of these bands. Repeatedly.
This collection dropped right at that time around ten years after the fact, when it was just becoming trendy to compile tracks from the New Wave era on to CD comps for all of the people looking to replace their worn out cassettes. Many of these feature very popular tracks cheek by jowl with more obscure cuts; getting the balance right, as it were.
Many of these tracks appeared here for the first time ever in the digital realm. Even 22 years later, I still don’t have “Living On The Ceiling” or “Einstein A-Go-Go” anywhere else in my Record Cell. The Thompson Twins begin the program with my favorite of their singles from their imperial period as a synth pop trio. Whatever their shortcomings by 1985-1986, they aren’t on display on “Love On Your Side.” While I prefer the Hansa-era big band, this second single from the trio era is sharp, trim, and taut. Alex Sadkin’s 12″ remix is miles above the typical UK efforts of the time, with the arrangement enhanced creatively, and not erased.
Blancmange were the second band I’d ever heard proffering a Indian-technopop fusion following Monsoon’s “Ever So Lonely” single of about the same time. The blend of thick acoustic percussion and tablas with synths still sound great to my ears. The extended arrangement is a modest 1982 vintage with the simplest added instrumental vamping used to extend the cut. This was one of two Mike Howlett produced cuts on this album!
“Play To Win” was probably the least of the singles from “Penthouse + Pavement.” The eight minute 12″ mix probably qualifies as too much of a mediocre thing. The tracks lacks the visceral political bits of “[We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang” or the succinct vibe of “The Height Of The Fighting.” I later got this track on the Disky “Heaven 17 Remix Collection” comp a decade ago.
The most interesting cut here, from a JAPAN trainspotting point of view, is the 6:15 “Life In Tokyo” extended remix that was originally included on the long-play cassette version of the amazing “Assemblage” album. It differs from the more common 1919 7:06 remix as well as the similarly timed 1982 12″ remix. The JAPAN rabbit hole is one I’ve already fell down hard several years back when I optimistically attempted a JAPAN boxed set of god! The headaches just the research engendered were massive!
The Ultravox self-produced remix of their second biggest hit is kind of a drag at the 10:00 minute mark. They had other songs earlier that could have done wonders with that much time, but this sounded like self-indulgence to me. The shorter, punchier US remix by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero is better listening that won’t squander 2:30 of your lifespan.
Landscape from the period of their “From The Tearooms Of Mars” album could do no wrong for me. Imagine Kraftwerk with a horn section and a more developed sense of humor. While the Colin Thurston produced “European Man” was a favorite, the biggest hit they had in the UK was with the satirical “Einstein A-Go-Go” which posited a religious kook loosing a nuclear bomb to “set thugs right.” The arrangement and riff has been pretty much omnipresent with scads of usage in UK advertisements for the last 30 years. Even if you have no idea who landscape were, you may remember the distinctive riff.
Finally, the last cut here is the second Mike Howlett produced number on this album. The lush, emotive synth ballad “Souvenir” was a huge hit for OMD that heralded their best selling “Architecture + Morality” album in the UK with a rare Paul Humphreys lead vocal. The rhythm track on this cut is dignified and immense. I could hear it loop for long minutes at a time. Andy McCluskey didn’t understand this song but that didn’t stop it from becoming the band’s biggest UK chart hit at #3 and only equalled when “Sailing On The Seven Seas” was released a decade later by the McCluskey version of OMD. There’s no question as to the superior song! It’s up there with Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights” as an acme of the synthpop ballad form.
The selection on this comp was incredibly welcome at the time of release and it holds up extremely well for being stuffed with many of my core collection bands finest hours [or near enough]. And the B-list groups [Blancmange, Thompson Twins, Landscape] here are also offering top quality material that I don’t tire of hearing. The only quirk about this comp that makes me wonder, is the brief [for a CD] running time of 51:26. That is probably because Old Gold also issued this on cassette and LP at the time, driving that bus. But for a snapshot of The Class of ’81, this is certainly a strong contender. So much so that Old Gold was confident enough to have produced a second volume that I have never seen a copy of. Alas, it’s all normal mixes, except for the “Nightporter” 1982 12″ remix that I only have on its original vinyl!
– 30 –
Nightporter 12″ on cd!! I would LOVE to have that. Yes collecting Japan/Sylvian/Jansen-Barbieri/Karn is one cruel taskmaster! It’s made only worse by the consistent reinterpretation many of these gentlemen have determined necessary for some of their earlier work – Sylvian being the greatest villian in this subversive enterprise.
This is really a pretty outstanding compilation. Yes I will choose Height of the Fighting over Play To Win every time. Souvenir is one of my seriously favorite moments in OMD history. Love On Your Side is one of the last TT singles which would resonate with me Einstein A Go-Go is one of those tracks you play to get your friends to scratch your head about you over.
Dancing With Tears In My Eyes should be so much more epic than it always seem to be when I listen to it. I agree the Thompson Barbieri remix is long enough – and so obvious a remixer choice being the mid 80’s. The album version is quite enough.
Echorich – The upside in the JAPAN [I always capitalize their name for some reason] penchant for re-working old material is that the result was always interesting. Never awful. Since they cared so much, they can be said to have blazed trails in the realms of post-modern remixing. Long years before it came to became commonplace to slap a new coat of paint on an old chestnut and append the current year [two digits only, please] to the title.
I was going to post some comments, but Echorich stole them ALL.
As the guy who was most into 80s comps before they were cool, this is a fine collection, if a wee bit on the mainstream side for me. But I’ll take it if I can find a copy!
Sorry about that Chas… I am sure that the lot of us travel in the same musical slipstream on a regular basis. We are bound to project our thoughts through each other’s fingers now and again… Now when one of us thinks it as the other is verbalizing it, I will know we have reached a state of nirvana….
Echorich – One day we should have Monk-Con® and gather up all of the usual suspects and sit around with h’ors d’oeuvres and talk shop. But I’m in NC. Ron is in Long Beach. chas_m is in British Columbia. Brian and you are in [roughly] Central Florida. I don’t know where Tim and Taffy live.
Seasons greetings from Wisconsin. It’s snowing and I’m doing the annual OCD tweak of Christmas mixes.
I’m in Boston, smartest city in America (really, it was just announced as such). Of course I may be the dumbest man in this smart city. Happy Hannukah, if your dreidel spins that way.
That’s one nice compilation. Alas I didn’t buy my first CD player til 1990 and for several years concentrated on buying only discs of new material, so by the time I began to replace vinyl albums and singles it was already too late to buy a lot of those goodies without serious bin-searching in used record stores (an activity I happily pursue to this day). I love playing Living on the Ceiling while DJing – that is one damn catchy song, and never fails to bring people to the booth wondering who the hell it is!
Looks like there was only one Best of 12″ Synth Gold album (which I didn’t even know existed until today!). I do own the 2 Old Gold Best Of Synth CD compilations (ie without 12″ in the title) – these are the ones with Nightporter on volume 2. Most of the tracks are in extended form:
1 China Crisis – Christian 5:47
2 Blancmange – Blind Vision 9:36
3 John Foxx – Underpass 2:46
4 Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short 6:29
5 A Flock Of Seagulls – Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You) 9:08
6 Visage – Fade To Grey 6:23
7 Depeche Mode – New Life 3:57
8 Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric? 5:21
1 Depeche Mode – Dreaming Of Me 3:45
2 Japan – Nightporter 6:46
3 Heaven 17 – (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang 4:16
4 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Messages 4:07
5 Yazoo – Nobody’s Diary 4:31
6 Ultravox – All Stood Still 5:06
7 A Flock Of Seagulls – I Ran 5:05
8 Gary Numan – We Are Glass 4:41