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After six albums and handfuls of hit singles [some even in America], it was decided that now was a good time for OMD to issue the inevitable greatest hits album. Of course, it would be salted with a new hit, that appeared only on that album, as was the fashion by that time. I first bought the US edition of his on release [albeit used] to get the big US hit, “If You Leave” on CD format without buying the “Pretty In Pink” OST, though I relented and got a cheap used copy many years later. It was around the time that I was doing a lot of internet research for the OMD BSOG’s I’d made in 2001 that I discovered that the UK edition was fairly different from the US edition, so this overview is of that edition.
First and foremost, the band’s initial single was remixed for inclusion on the UK album, since Andy McCluskey found the original single mix as produced by the band’s manager [Gordian Troeller a.k.a. Chester Valentino] to be severely wanting in slickness and impact. While I can try to count the number of “Electricity” versions that can dance on the head of a pin, suffice to say that this one sounds rhythmically punchier, while being nowhere near the monolithic sound that Martin Hannett had brought to my preferred version of this song. Still, for a rewrite of Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity,” it succeeded wildly as the band’s calling card.
The second single here [“Red Frame/White Light” was sadly m.i.a.] was the band’s first top ten UK hit, “Messages;” in it’s now definitive 10” re-recorded Mike Howlett version. This was where the OMD vision was matched with a producer who knew how to create a pop song. The long, sumptuous buildup on the intro to that one was luxury we can all afford. I actually have a West German 7” of this single as well, and I need to listen to it to see if the mix is shorter than the 4:40 10” version that seems to be everywhere now.
Tracks three to six were a dazzling run of hit pop singles that were also best of breed Post-Punk; incorporating wildly disparate influences to reach destinations that no other band were even pointed at in the ’80-’81 corridor. Then, track seven was one that appeared only on the UK edition of this album. The version of “Telegraph” here, was a unique 3:44 mix that appeared nowhere else. It began with reverse tapes of the original intro before settling into the original groove. After the “god’s got Telegraph on his side” lyric was delivered, the song then diverted into dubspace for the remaining 90 second of this mix. No matter how it’s mixed, this song remained a bright jewel in the OMD canon. Possibly my favorite of their singles. Next came “Tesla Girls” certainly a peak form their middle [’84-’88] period. All in all, the first eight singles here were unimpeachably great work. The kind that as singles insured that OMD would forever be among the primary bands of what I call my “core collection.” It was after this that some slippage of their haloes occurred.
“Locomotion” was appreciated at the time but my view of it has tarnished with age. It was the first evidence of rot here. They then rebounded with the excellent “Talking Loud + Clear,” which is close to great work. The same cannot be said for “So In Love.” The first of too many embittered OMD love songs trotted out as singles. “Secret” had a hint of the old Paul Humphreys magic, but just about that. It was no match for “Souvenir.” Finally, the song written and recorded in a day showed up to bring the G.P.A. of this particular album down a few notches. Another embittered OMD love song, though to be fair, they were asked to create exactly that to match the new ending of “Pretty In Pink” that the test marketing demanded. Paul Humphreys bounced back more strongly with “Forever Live + Die,” One of his gloriously wimpy ballads with more of the secret sauce that made “Souvenir” so wonderful, even with as pedestrian a horn section solo as one could imaging weighing this one down.
Finally [on the American edition] the new single recorded specifically for this collection appeared. “Dreaming” was the third embittered love song here but I have to say that it was by far the strongest of the three. The melody was pure OMD with a yearning, if melancholy, line cutting through it to provide some sonic nutrition, even as the lyrics were the typical Andy “what went wrong” musings. A little pat, but at least it sounded pretty fair for OMD at this stage of the game. In fact, when I listen to this song, it strikes me as being a much stronger candidate for inclusion in “Pretty In Pink” than what they came up with on the spot. The lyrics could fit the movie like a glove and the music bed was far more typical of what OMD were about. Even so, it failed to hit the UK top 40 while charting comfortably at number 16 in America. Their German fans liked it well enough to take it to number 26 in their number two market.
There were many formats of this single. I first went for the UK CD5, and then bought the US CD-3 since it had the 12″ mix of “Secret” included on it as a gift for the US crowd. I don’t think it was ever on CD anywhere else. There was also a USP CD-5 with three Bruce Forest club mixes vastly different to what the UK received. As Graham Chapman says… “housey housey.” Finally, there was one of the legendary OMD 10″ singles for “Dreaming” with a William Orbit mix that has consistently evaded my grasp for 30 years now! I finally got the mix on a 12″ CD compilation, but we can still dream.
Finally, the UK CD ended with the completely non-linear placement of “Genetic Engineering” followed by two 12″ mixes also on the US edition as bonus tracks. The 12″ mix of “We Love You” takes a mediocre song and gives it a mediocre remix. More interesting was the 12″ remix of “La Femme Accident.” This delicate orchid of a song had been turned into a big-beat colossus, complete with [horribly dated] James Brown-esque samples. Heck, they might actually be the GFOS, but they stick out and say “1988!” like nothing else they could have put in it. None of the pizzicato strings that made the 7″ version of this song so beguiling were present here, though string patches were used instead throughout the song. The thing this mix had going for it was a new and melodically complex middle eight that implied that Andy McCluskey may have re-sung the whole thing for the 12″ version.
The timing of this album could have not been more perfect. It captured the band as emerged form the head of Zeus with a stellar run of singles. Hit singles, mind you, that effortlessly took the band to the tops of the UK/European charts. The first half of this album is peerless. Where they stumbled was in its second half. With the songs that OMD felt were needed to break in the American market. Never mind the cost it exacted on the band. Ceaseless touring, frequently as an opening act, got them caught up in a grind that was absolutely their ruin. Faced with lowering standards and simply not enough time to incubate new songs, before being called upon to record/promote/tour all over again.
One of the commenters on this thread revealed that OMD, in spite of their numerous hits, only ever repaid their advance from Virgin, thanks to their [typically] one-sided contract. They spent 1988 slogging across American opening up for Depeche Mode. Ironically, a band who first opened to the possibility of synthesizers after Vince Clarke had heard OMD’s “Electricity” in 1978! The band played the final tour date on its “Pacific Age” tour opening for Depeche Mode at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California for over 60,000 sold out Mode fans. OMD actually had racked up a US top five hit and two more top 20 singles, in addition to a further top 30 and a single Hot 100 placing by then, as opposed to DM’s single top 20 hit from 1984 and four very lower rung Hot 100 singles. It could have only served to frustrate this nominally more successful and experienced band.
Furthermore, Paul Humphreys felt that the commercial direction they had angled for was deeply unsatisfying, so in 1989 he quit the band. Only to have Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes follow suit in 1990. OMD managed to crack America but at the same time, America had also cracked them. I thought that was it for my nine years of OMD fandom. A pretty good run as these things go, though the ending was messy and unsatisfying. After a few years of not considering OMD, I couldn’t know how wrong I was.
Next: …The McCluskey Years