Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 31]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – The Best Of OMD | 1988 – 3

[continued from this post]

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

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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20 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 31]

  1. Many bonus points and free entry into Pop Nirvana for the left-field and very funny Monty Python reference that sent my mind instantly to the sketch you reference.

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  2. Echorich says:

    It’s important to remember that playing LA is always a spectacle. With heavy rotation of KROQ, DM and OMD were hip and hot in Southern California. Keep in mind, in New York the played one arena show and two outdoor ampitheatre shows that combined did not reach 50% of the audience at the Rose Bowl. This is the tour where we arrived to the final strains of OMD at Jones Beach Ampitheatre and none of us were really all that bothered by then.
    Dreaming has always bothered me a bit. If you stripped it of the annoying drumbeat, the Shimmer Production® and Andy’s painful over singing, it might be an Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark song rather than an OMD song.

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  3. Tim says:

    Andy McClosky on 101
    “There was four acts. There was ourselves and Depeche (who had been on the entire tour) and then there was Thomas Dolby and Wire. I remember being terrified: so frightened that my stage fright manifested itself in, I guess a form of narcolepsy. I just fell asleep. They had to wake me up five minutes before we went on stage because my body had just shut down. I was like, “I can’t face this, this is scary. I remember it being a great gig. After we had gone through ‘Enola Gay’ – because we went on stage [and] started the drum machine to ‘Enola Gay’ – the audience went nuts. I counted it, “In one, two, three, four…” and just as we came in with the whole band for the main melody, there was a power spike in the generators. Everything went off on stage for a split second, and when it came back on, it was just me and the drums. The keyboards had gone off. They are computer keyboards, and two keyboard players were thrashing dead keyboards which was just reading back to them: “disk read error: this will take a while…” [laughs] And so we did this dub version of ‘Enola Gay’ for about a minute, whilst the fucking keyboards reloaded, [of] which the audience probably thought it was some particular dub trick we had thrown in to amuse them for a minute. Then it came back together again. The gig was amazing, but it was an inauspicious start to a massive concert. But it was an amazing day.”

    Source https://www.depechemode-live.com/wiki/1988-06-18_Rose_Bowl,_Pasadena,_CA,_USA

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I saw the “Depeche Mode 101” film [in a theater!] but I can’t remember seeing more than a glance of OMD in it. If that. That is not a shock that the mains would act up on such a big event. I suppose that was the biggest crowd OMD ever player for. U went to a stadium concert once. Never again! Not for anyone… Except John Foxx, of course.

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  4. Tim says:

    One of the sites that I was cruising through, think it was that DM wiki ,had a torrent link to the 101 set. The video on the one page that I linked has some recycled film from 101 but if you hopscotch around you’ll catch OMD performing. That one guy is all over the stage, I never pegged them as….active.

    The Mode concert that I really would have wanted to see would have been the Dodger Stadium one that had Electronic opening for them.

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  5. Shelf says:

    First off, thank you Monk for yet another educational and entertaining Rock GPA. As always, your writing is riveting – I look forward to each installment as I would the next episode of an addictive TV series.

    I’ve waited until now to join the conversation because it is this point in your GPA where I boarded the OMD train. Monk, you’re a couple of years older than me (I was a sophomore in high school when you graduated from university) – this is significant because one’s appreciation of music evolves with maturity. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, exposure to new sounds tends to expand exponentially in college.

    While you had the good fortune to discover and follow OMD from the beginning of their career, my first exposure to the band (like so many American teenagers) was hearing “If You Leave” on commercial radio (it wasn’t until years later that I saw “Pretty In Pink”). I vaguely recollect “So In Love” from the year before, but the song didn’t make much of an impression. Bear in mind that my favorite artists circa 1985-1986 included Duran Duran, The Cars, Howard Jones, Phil Collins, Robert Palmer, and A Flock Of Seagulls (I was favorably disposed toward British synthpop early on, but it took a while to find the ‘right’ bands).

    I liked “If You Leave” at the time of release – looking back in retrospect, it’s easy to assail the song’s weaknesses; however, that single succeeded in attracting me to OMD, so credit where credit is due. A few months later, I was also fond of “Forever Live And Die”; however, it was “Dreaming” that finally sealed the deal and made me a fan. I purchased “The Best Of OMD” in 1988 and discovered what I had been missing. Unfortunately, my newfound admiration was poorly timed given that the band broke up shortly thereafter (I recall learning that news through Tower Records’ Pulse magazine).

    Totally missed the release of “Sugar Tax”, and bought the “Liberator” singles mainly for the remixes. But my interest in OMD was reignited after the original band members reunited – seeing them live for the first time in 2011 elevated OMD in the ranks of my all-time favorite artists. Looking forward to their March appearance in Philly.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Shelf – Riveting? Who knew? Thanks for the compliment. I’ll try harder to live up to such praise. If only I didn’t have to work this blog would be a thing of amazement.

      Wow, so you were one of the new fish hooked by “If You Leave,” eh? Proof that their crazy stunt worked. I myself came to Suede with an instant obsession once I bought “Head Music,” after years of dismissing then as NME hype, so I know all about having your world rocked by the later, weaker efforts of a popular band! While, yes, “Dog Man Star” is incredible, I still get “Head Music” stick in my head for days if I listen to it.

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      • Shelf says:

        At the risk of embarrassment, I had never heard of Simple Minds before “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – and just like my discovery of OMD via “If You Leave”, that song was a bad entry point in the Simple Minds saga… but it got me on board (love him or loathe him – John Hughes knew what he was doing with those soundtracks). As you have thoroughly documented, Simple Minds’ mid-to-late 80s output is rather abysmal; however, hearing “I Travel” for the first time on my college radio station in 1990 provided retroactive redemption!

        I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything by Suede. Sadly, I missed out on the Britpop scene as I was engrossed in dance music throughout the 1990s. On a positive note, I also avoided Grunge. Here’s one for you: after the “I Travel” moment, it still took me a while to fully embrace Simple Minds – in 1993, I loved Usura’s “Open Your Mind”, but had no idea that the track samples “New Gold Dream” (sad, but true). Better late to the show than never!

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        • Tim says:

          There’s a website called Who Sampled Who that you may use, plug in the name of a band and it’ll break down what’s sampled in a song and the source and provide links to YouTube videos so you can sonically zero in on the samples. It’s really handy for something like the last Avalanches album, a lot of the songs they sampled from I found that I quite like.

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          • Shelf says:

            An excellent resource – thanks Tim! Just put the site to the test with “Pump Up The Volume” – results aren’t complete (that is a tough one), but I do like the data configuration, just as you described. My work day is about to become very unproductive…

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Shelf – Yow! At least you heard “I Travel!” That’s all that matters. Even I did not hear it in its context of release. I probably would have melted! I bought “Empires + Dance” in either ’82 or ’83. As far as Britpop went, you are not missing much. Just go with Suede and Pulp. The rest is pretty turgid faux-Beatle dross of the kind that Andy McCluskey constantly badmouths [and he’s right]. Not that he was doing us any favors during that time, though!

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          • Tim says:

            The UK music press was so tedious during the Britpop phase. Blur vs Oasis! Robbie Williams hates Liam Gallagher! Or is it Noel? Whichever one has the unibrow. And what the hell is a Wonderwall? Can anyone tell me?

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Tim – “Wonderwall Music” was the first George Harrison solo album on Apple Records in 1968. It featured a mix of Indian musicians and instrumentation with harmonium and flugelhorns in addition to rock instrumentation. With banjo by Peter Tork of The Monkees! And no vocals at all. It was the first Beatle solo album and the first release on Apple Records. Never ‘eard it.

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              • Shelf says:

                And you learn something new every day :-)

                Yes, I suspected that the over-hyped Britpop movement bore little palatable fruit. I was a bit partial to Blur, though. And I actually saw Robbie Williams live on his brief (and only) American tour in 1999 (free tickets, and not the worst show I’ve ever attended).

                Thanks gents!

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