[continued from previous post]
No sooner did we obtain the “Peel Sessions” disc than did Virgin announce another raiding of the OMD archives. And this time, the hallowed B-sides were getting the love! As a fan/collector, the thing I want the most to be compiled are the non-LP B-sides of a band’s canon. To me, they are the rare cuts with the greatest currency. By that time, I already had two separate collections of Ultravox B-sides, and Simple Minds had their spotty/pricey “Themes” volumes to round up at least the Virgin era-B-sides [which were pretty thin on the ground by that point]. So this was a most welcome occurrence concerning OMD, who had a period of ’80-’81 with B-sides in some cases, even finer than their album cuts of their “imperial period.”
With a single volume, there was not sufficient space for all of them, so the curation of the contents [the liner notes are not explicit as to who was nominally in charge] skewed towards those track that were on vinyl only. Thankfully! After all, from 1988 onward, all OMD singles were available on CD singles, so the hardcore OMD fan probably already had these. They started off with the band/Manager produced version of “Almost” which had not gotten an actual single release. The story there is convoluted, and I may stumble, so feel free to chime in in the comments. It’s tricky.
The band recorded their first single as “Electricity” b/w “Almost.” They first recorded it with their manager on their reel-to-reel. Then, when Tony Wilson signed them for their debut single on Factory Records, he sent them into Strawberry Studios with Martin Hannett producing. Wilson wanted Hannett’s production. The band preferred their own, more rudimentary versions. The compromise was that the band’s production was the A-side of the first Factory single of “Electricity” released in May of 1979, with the B-side, “Almost” being the Hannett recording. The infamous Peter Saville thermographic sleeve was on this issue, which I once bought mail order for about $30 [!] 1984 dollars then got cold feet and returned it to the dealer… like a bloody fool! It was the most I had ever spent on a record and I had very unproductive second thoughts.
Then, the band moved away from Factory to DinDisc, the Virgin label run by Carol Wilson; Tony’s wife. No conflict of interest there, right? DinDisc released their own version of the single in September of 1979. It had the same tracks and a much cheaper to print white on black gloss sleeve. Then as a follow up to the release of OMD’s debut album in early 1980, “Electricity” was re-released by DinDisc in the same cover but with the band-remixed A/B sides as recorded by Martin Hannett. These are the versions that made it on to their debut album… or so I’m told. One day I will have to quantify exactly how many versions of “Electricity” and “Almost” are out there in the wilds. But the OMD/Paul Collister-produced version they wanted to see out first only ever got released in 2001 as track one of the “Navigation” disc. Ironic, no?
The brutal four-track clarity of the production makes it direct and immediate, though I always preferred the Hannett productions. It’s just synth, voice, bass, and white noise synth patches for percussion. It was a snapshot from a thrilling time where the absence of a drummer or even a rhythm box, [in 1979 we couldn’t quite call them drum machines] didn’t mean that bands had no percussive recourse. The essential OMD melancholy of it marked it as an important touchstone of their sound for the iconic first phase of their career. A large portion of the OMD artistic DNA was contained within “Almost.”
Next: …18 More Tracks To Go