Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 28]

OMD | If You Leave

[continued from last post]

In 1985, OMD had honestly scraped their way into the US top 30 with “So In Love,” a mushy piece of pop that was among the last song’s written during the “Crush” period that was scheduled to be dropped from the running… until Martin Cooper persuaded Andy + Paul to demo it first. It eventually became their calling card in The States… at least for a while. Moving from the 198 position with your new single on the Top 200 to number 26 is quite a feat. The same year, the band found that director John Hughes had wanted to use their [appropriate] “Tesla Girls” in his film “Weird Science.” The next year, both threads for the band came to their logical conclusion.

After all, the template had been locked down the previous year when Simple Minds, another cult New Wave band on Virgin Records in the UK but signed to A+M Records in The States found themselves recording the lead single to the soundtrack of a John Hughes film, “The Breakfast Club.” These previous nobodies grabbed the brass ring and shot to the top on a teenfilm hype second to none. By the next year, John Hughes was a bigger brand than the studios that released his films. Junior high school students across America eagerly awaited his next dive into the bucket of suburban Chicago teen angst that was his métier. This time he came a-knocking on OMD’s door.

Would they be so kind as to write a hit single for his new film, “Pretty In Pink?” Though inspired by the title of the Psychedelic Furs “hit” from 1981, Hughes obviously thought that OMD was a better standard bearer to carry the mandatory crossover hit up the charts. Sorry, Mr. Butler. The film was about a teenaged girl in a love triangle with a quirky New Waver and a snobby preppie. In the end, she decided to drop the prep and walk on the wild side with Jon Cryer. OMD wrote the song “Goddess Of Love” to commemorate the story and after it was committed to tape, Hughes called once again on the band. Bad news awaited.

Hughes had made his film and test marketed it in a bunker full of teenaged girls with electrodes attached to their foreheads who in no uncertain terms let Mr. Hughes know that …omigod… like… of course Molly Ringwald would drop Mr. Spazmo for that dreamboat with all that cash!! He gave the band 24 hours in a studio to write, record and mix a new song that would be appropriate to the now very different movie. They began their tour two days later.

Bruised and batters, and probably with a coke bill the likes of which they had never seen before, the band emerged from their studio bunker with “If You Leave.” A song which went to number four in the US charts. The compressed drums were of the period, but the single was a fairly weird mashup of disparate elements that failed to gel with me. Andy McCluskey’s breathy, sensitive emoting now carries the bittersweet sentiment of the song a bit too forcefully. He’s still doubling his vocals, which he tended to do a lot in this period to fatten his sound.

The only aspect of the song which has any currency with my ears was the sampled, swelling string section which added a 60s kitsch element to the otherwise bland song. Speaking of bland, Martin Cooper’s sax solo was soporific to the max with a dissolute tone that suggested that he got none of the stimulants the other two were gobbling up. It was all very missable. In fact, this one made “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” sound even better in comparison. On the other hand, at least OMD saw some decent money for this song that they at least wrote and could collect royalties on. Unlike Simple Minds.

At the end of the day, the whole “under the gun” aspect of the song’s creation suggested that they at least came out of this ordeal with some serious sales and the highest profile they would ever have… in America. Abroad, the single barely scraped into the UK top 50; continuing their downward trend. It did well in OZ/NZ. As usual, the single sleeve left no doubt as to who was actually being promoted with the song, but at least OMD had managed to really consolidate the success that they had achieved the previous year; albeit with the leverage of a serious cross-platform Hollywood promotional campaign. Bully for them, but these John Hughes soundtracks were already overstaying their welcome with me. As usual, the most important thing to me as a fan was the age old question: where would they go from here?

Next: …Back To The Hague

About postpunkmonk

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20 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 28]

  1. Echorich says:

    John Hughes was the devils emissary back in the 80s (which does rhyme with Hades) scooping up a lot of bands who would be mesmerized by the shiny objects put in front of them. Hague was already a signed up henchman.
    If You Leave has always sounded like it was cobbled together from disparate musical samples and motifs that Paul Humphreys had saved in the CMI (if you could actually do that back then). The final run out of If You Leave can make dogs howl in my mind.

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  2. Brian says:

    Not too much to add, Monk, but I will say the cover for If You Leave that came out in ‘86 was much easier on the eyes. Seeing these ticket stubs was a smile. Sponsored by Swatch… priceless.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian – I never understood that parachuting cover, which was the US 12″ and UK sleeve. Swatch was perhaps the first version of fashionable technology, which took off in earnest a dozen years later with the iMac.

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      • Echorich says:

        I am still a part time Swatch Collector…have a few worth a good 5 times what they cost back in the early and mid 80’s. But like much of the music of this era, totally of their time.
        That parachuting cover always felt like it belonged back a few albums…imagine if Sealand was ever a single…

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Yeah, by the time they had that other “If You Leave” cover, the days of writing songs with military history driving the bus were long gone. It would have made more sense 3-4 years earlier.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian – Re: Swatch sponsorship. It beat Bud Light!!

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  3. Tim says:

    Another fine post. You learn something new every day, I never knew about the re-shoot after test audiences saw it – not a John Hughes fan at all, I think PiP was the last one that I tried to watch back in the day.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – What does it say, after telling the story that you set out to tell, when your audience responds “we want the antithesis of your story!” And then you proceed to give it to them? It says “I’m a whore… with no shame.” It could not have felt good for Hughes. No wonder the guy died young!

      The lesson of compromise and triangulation with the marketplace dovetail all too perfectly with the OMD story at that point.

      It was sometime in 1985 when I saw “Sixteen Candles” on cable TV and I found it riveting. Why? Because the character Anthony Michael Hall played was very much like a guy John I’d met in college. He was quite a character! I always said if I were to create a sitcom, I’d basically insert John into the cast in a small role and wait for him to become the breakout star of the show within months. So it was compelling seeing the guy inserted into the context of a teen film. I told my friends who knew John that they had to see this one. As we all watched it we were also astonished at the soundtrack of the film, which was packed with rare delights like Altered Images [“Happy Birthday”], Oingo Boingo [“Wild Sex (In The Working Class)”], and most amazingly, The Revillo’s exuberant “Rev Up!” We were just not used to such delights in American films.

      So Hughes got on my radar for those two reasons. At the time, “The Breakfast Club” was in second run movie theaters. The thought arose that Anthony Michael Hall was also in that one. Why not? The film was already notorious for having grabbed Simple Minds, of all bands, by the scruffs of the neck and thrusted them into the position of being number one on the US charts; a least likely scenario, believe me! So my friend Tom and I went to go see it. I was disappointed in the film. Hall’s performance as John in “Sixteen Candles” had obviously been a one off. The film started out with these very distinctive characters and they were all one big whiny, indistinct mass by the film’s end. Eh.

      Seemingly weeks later, the new John Hughes film, “Weird Science” premiered. This time starring Hall. This one looked pretty stoopid. We talked ourselves into a second run showing again. More good songs on the soundtrack with Killing Joke and OMD standing out from the crowd. This time Oingo Boingo were the recipients of Hughes largess. I personally never considered the title track to be as big a blot on the band’s reputation as some other Hughes theme songs were, but Danny Elfman would probably beg to differ. The movie’s crass dumbness and another flat Hall performance put an end to paying even a dollar to see a Hughes film, but the behemoth kept a-rolling.

      At the time that “Pretty In Pink” came out, I was working at the newspaper of my college. We actually had Paramount set up a promo at the paper where we gave away scads of free tickets to the showings, so my friends and I saw it first run without paying a dime. The record-store-a-cléf in the film of TRAX [obviously the famed Wax Trax] was the real star of this one for me. The ending disgusted me even before I knew how it had happened. My friend John [remember him?] always called Andrew McCarthy “worm boy” after that flick. As usual the OST was shot through with New Wave bands hopping on the by now well established Hughes gravy train. I think Echo + The Bunnymen came through with the most integrity, though “Shellshock” by New Order wasn’t bad. The Suzanne Vega single should have been the lead hit… it’s a great song and more reflective of the Ringwald character, and after changing the ending, OMD should have begged off from attempting “If You Leave” under battlefield conditions. But honestly, after that had happened, I might not have seen OMD in the years after ’85/’86 without that infamous calling card giving them currency with booking agents. A top five single has clout.

      Several months later [are you sensing a pattern?] the next Hughes film appeared. The way too popular “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Again, free passes for everyone. This one didn’t have a top ten hit single released to accompany it, shockingly enough, but the prominent use of Yello’s [already iconic to us] “Oh Yeah” certainly raised their profile considerably. I remember not liking the movie but I could not remember why now. It was better having non-hits like “Love Missile F-111” blare out of the speakers.

      The last Hughes film I saw in 1987 as part of a press junket frenzy was probably the best one overall in terms of music and story. “Some Kind Of Wonderful” was basically the original “Pretty In Pink” plot with the ending Hughes had first written. It must have stuck in his craw to have sold that earlier film out so shamelessly. This one had the satisfying ending and the opening scene with Propaganda’s “Abuse,” the “Dr. Mabuse” remix from “Wishful Thinking” blaring out of the Dolby System® in the theater at high volume was the sort of music thrill I rarely got in that period. I bought this soundtrack when it came out because it was filled with good new tracks by faves like Pete Shelley and most importantly, Stephen Duffy. Even the other tracks on it were pretty stellar. I had somehow missed Furniture earlier on!

      I no longer saw any Hughes films from that point onward. There was zero appeal there. But I did buy the OST for the 1988 model, post-teen movie “She’s Having A Baby.” Some good stuff there, though Gene Loves Jezebel’s “Desire [Come AndGget It]” remains a black spot in my Record Cell. But at the time, new XTC, Kate Bush [I was still a fan], Carmel, and most importantly Dr. Calculus, were strong draws for me. Great B-sides from Kirsty MacColl and Bryan Ferry now on CD also had cachet. Especially Ferry’s great smoldering version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” It had been insane that that cut was deemed B-side material in 1985, but the song had been recorded during the 1978 “The Bride Stripped Bare” sessions \when that album was apparently going to be a double album… until it wasn’t. That material got out on the “Windswept” EP was nice, but it’s much better to have it on CD! Thus endeth the Tale of Hughes.

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      • Tim says:

        Mr Hugh’s movies always rang hollow to me, as Steinbeck said, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires” and his movies certainly pulled the audience in that direction on a social level, especially “The Breakfast Club.” Reagan ignited the class warfare with trickle down (among many other things) and Hugh’s films always seemed to me to be aligned with the status quo for that era.
        Salon did a hit on the Hughes, Ramis, etal cinema a few years back, I think a lot of it was influenced by this early piece which appeared at Slate:

        http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/dvdextras/2006/09/some_kind_of_republican.html

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Brilliant Steinbeck quote there! New to me. Interesting link. Of course, I never liked National Lampoon and the “edgy Republicans” [spare me] who wrote and edited that rag have annoyed me for decades. As for Harold Ramis, I love his SCTV work [I’m a fan from season one] and cut him slack for that, but just shook my head at “Animal House” and it’s progeny. Even “Ghostbusters” was pure crypto-Republicanism. And the progenitor of the modern “effects driven comedy blockbuster” [though Spielberg tried with 1941]. Gah! When “rugged individualists” with powerful ray guns are running around freely, I would like to see them tightly regulated and not be mocked for it.

          And by the way, thanks to everyone who keeps the comments bubbling with cogent and fascinating threads. The commenters here are top drawer.

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          • Tim says:

            I feel kinda bad, you’re doing a huge GPA on a band that you have a lot of affection for and, once you leave what is generally agreed upon as the quality part of their career, the comments (especially my contribution) have gone in a decidedly different direction.

            For me their US commercial success is inseparable with the association with Mr. Hughes movies. In the States pretty much everything about the 80’s becomes political, the only people who could opt out of the conversation were those who were financially solid enough to be insulated pretty much no matter what (aside from an extreme FRANKIE SAY WAR! scenario).

            Mr Hughes movies for a lot define the 80’s when it comes to teen fare (or fare for those adjacent age-wise) and I just loathe his CV – I’d love to see Otto from Repo Man vs Ferris Bueller in one of those MTV claymation death matches.

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Tim – By now you must know we take the rough with the smooth in Rock G.P.A. territory! It’s rarely all skittles and beer. Any artist we’re passionate about has a variable career. The passion insures even the negative criticism comes from a place of informed knowledge and (hopefully) sparks the fires of analytical insight. Often connecting to the larger zeitgeist. As you adroitly allude to in your comment. What was happening to OMD’s art was the same thing that was happening to society at large in that time.

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  4. Echorich says:

    I have to agree, of all those Hughes movies, Some Kind Of Wonderful is the most satisfying. I was too old for 16 Candles to relate; none of the personalities in The Breakfast Club related to me, except maybe the Ally Sheedy character who tended to run around with members of my own crowd in High School. Ferris Buller’s Day Off is just a teen Cary Grant film, charismatic lead wreaking havoc with and spinning lesser characters into, his tornado.
    Some Kind Of Wonderful had a much more fringe soundtrack than previous Hughes films. These, for the most part, weren’t bands getting much more than College Radio play listing in major market cities. The March Violets, Flesh For Lulu and The Jesus And Mary Chain were miles away from OMD, INXS and New Order.
    I have to agree that The Bunnymen, who may not have had as big a breakout as they may have hoped, being on a Hughes film soundtrack, did come out ok from being on the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. Recycling Bring On The Dancing Horses helped sell more Songs To Learn And Sing as well as their next new release, priming rock radio for Lips Like Sugar from the misunderstood eponymous (Gray) album.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I never heard Propaganda in Orlando clubs! That movie was as close as it got for me!

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      • Jordan says:

        I always enjoyed Hughes films. For what it was. Nothing deep. My high school was never like that. My preferred is Some Kind Of Wonderful. Introduced me to Furniture ( the band )

        Maybe not being an American I did not see any political slant.

        You have to give it him though. His soundtracks were always interesting if you followed those type of bands.
        I would think Simple Minds benefited the most. When I saw them a few years ago …don’t you…was the most well known of the set. That’s sad but there you go.

        A few years ago. Dieter from Yello thanked everyone who made Oh Yeah such a hit ( including Hughes) That one track seemingly has made Yello more than 15 million in income. Impressive licensing.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Jordan – “Oh Yeah” is perhaps the most heavily licensed track in my Record Cell. Given that it is so primal and powerful a song, this is not surprising. It had immediate impact when I bought “Stella.” The last truly classic Yello album for me. When it quickly began surfacing in films and advertisements it seemed completely natural and correct to do so. But 15M? Interesting. That’s a lotta clams!

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Jordan – Hughes soundtracks were singular during the era for hewing shockingly close to my exact personal tastes. I put this down to the involvement of one Tarquin Gotch. He started out as A+R for Arista UK, working with Simple Minds during their time there. He then switched to WEA where he signed The Associates. next he managed Stephen Duffy, General Public, XTC, and Dream Academy. Any of these sound familiar?

          Tarquin then found himself in L.A. due to his charges having US deals and his friend Kelly Le Brock introduced him to John Hughes, whereupon he found himself supervising the music on Hughes soundtracks. So every OST after “Weird Science” has Gotch involvement. That still doesn’t account for the earlier movies still being stuffed with interesting, left field soundtrack choices.

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