Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 47]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Navigation:  The OMD B-Sides | 2001 – 3.5

[continued from previous post]

The next single from “Architecture + Morality” was picked up several years after the fact. I believe I got it at a record show somewhere, during the mid-80s, but I don’t remember it being out of town. I seem to recall record shows finally hitting Orlando in the early-mid 90s. In either case, I was in the process of “building the collection.” I had been buying all OMD singles since 1983, and getting the earlier singles took me a few years of backtracking for them.

“Joan Of Arc” on 12″ single had a non-extended A-side and a single B-side, “The Romance Of The Telescope [unfinished].” Technically, no different in terms of content to the 7″ single, but with much greater fidelity. Peter Saville’s cover typography of “Joanne” was taken directly from a letter from prison the teenaged martyr had written. The subtly textured sleeve gave it a suitable medieval air. I distinctly remember where I first heard the B-side. I had bought issue 4 of “SFX,” the C-60 UK music “magazine” in part because it had interviews with OMD as well as The Human League and Steve Strange of Visage on it.DuringJanuary of 1982, that was [and still is] profound Monk-bait. The OMD interview had an excerpt of “The Romance Of The Telescope [unfinished]” on it amid their interview and I was fascinated by this unknown song, neither on my UK pressing of “Architecture + Morality” nor any of the singles in my burgeoning Record Cell at the time.

It remained for a few years until I grabbed this 12″ single that I finally heard the song that had been haunting me since early 1982. The sound was very congruent with that on “Architecture + Morality.” Stark bass drum with long, wet, handclaps. The all important choral mellotron, and capped off with military snare drumming. McCluskey certainly was going through a period of military drumming all over OMD records. The lead synths sounded like mournful, slightly detuned car horns and would figure in their sound going forward for a year or two. It certainly prefigured the “Dazzle Ships” sound in that regard.

Since it was labelled “unfinished” I assumed that we might heard it “finished” one day. Imagine my surprise when it appeared on their next album in a slightly remixed form. As the band thought at the time, it was just a quickly recorded B-side; done in a single day. I imagine they were reticent to issue it but they needed a B-side for their new single and they could always “finish” it later. We know how that worked out. To this day Paul Humphreys considers it on of the best OMD songs ever. How could he not? McCluskey’s vocals were tender and enveloping even as the lyrics [“see these arms that were broken, how they held you so…”] hinted at catastrophic pain and suffering. The stark, cold militarism of the music bed played well with the lyrics but the singing was intriguingly opposite of the bold, if fatalistic, vibe the song had.

The second “Joan Of Arc” 12″ single, a.k.a. “Maid Of Orleans,” had two B-sides.  The first was “Of All The Things We’ve Made” and like “The Romance Of The Telescope,” it also figured on their next album, but unlike the latter, was not included on this album. Instead, the B-side album took it’s name from the track “Navigation.” The cut had much of the sonic solidarity that this entire period engaged in. The “three M’s.” Mellotron. Martial drumming. Heightened Melodrama. The subtle rhythm box samba soon gave way to bold, cinematic chords on the Mellotron.

McCluskey’s vocals were the wildcard here with them dubbed out in long-delay echoes that rendered them almost unintelligible. There was a skittering, almost insectoid chittering underlying the track and then the dramatic melody took its leave in the coda fadeout, the underlying “base coat” of the song was left to become primary. The anxiety-provoking drone was actually from a mid-70s cassette of electronic noise experiments that the duo had made under the name VCLXI; predating even their days as a “proper band” as The Id. Why did they not do more of this archaeological excavation? The complexity and scope of this B-side marked it as another of their unbeatable run of B-side material that I would cite as the band’s acme.

The two year wait between the spring of ’81 and the next OMD single seemed long at the time, but we were just young whelps. “Genetic Engineering” came on 7″ and 12″ with a single B-side, “4-Neu.” While it was a tribute to Krautrock influence Neu! I did not hear the band until decades later! Shocking. And even now, I consider “Hallogallo” as the iconic [motorik] sound of Neu!, not the delicate piano ballad on offer here, which suggests to these ears more of a Harold Budd influence. The delicate, whispered vocals were so slight, that they could have been either Andy or Paul performing. The recurring mechanical rhythm that periodically figured here was a fascinating, dissonant element in the otherwise clam, placid mix.

The next B-side was from “Telegraph.” “66 And fading” was a subtle, wispy instrumental of 6:20 length on 12″ and if you bought the 7″ of “Telegraph,” you were treated to an additional ten more seconds on this already seriously long piece. The string patches and what sounded like horn drones were actually the chords to the “Dazzle Ships” song “Silent Running” played backwards and slowed down. Brilliant! A process-driven B-side. That made perfect sense with McCluskey admitting to writer’s block around this time. Eno would be proud. With this song, the classic, Imperial Period of OMD B-sides [much like the band itself] came to an end. When they reconvened in 1984 changes were afoot.

Next: …An OMD Sea Change

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15 Responses to Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 47]

  1. Richard Anvil says:

    It’s interesting that you state that Humphreys voted Romance Of The Telescope the best OMD song ever as I’m sure I’ve read that McCluskey has said that. Maybe it’s both of them. Unsurprising that it is always their last encore song and we got an orchestral Version when they played with the Liverpool Philharmonic. I would rate it as my all time favourite OMD track, firstly a hidden gem and then pushed front of stage on Dazzle Ships. I know I’m pre-empting your next blog but they tried this style of song again when they made a The Avenue. It is again an OMD masterpiece that was written and recorded in a matter of hours and they expected to return to it (hence the ‘unfinished’ moniker) but decided it was good as it was. Then Of All The Things We’ve Made the guys thought it would be the last song they would ever record as at this stage they felt they’d had enough. Thankfully they changed their minds. Navigation is another soundscape Of delights that harks back to Organisation whilst also bridging the gap between A&M and Dazzle Ships. Because TROTT and OATTWM ended up on Dazzle Ships I find it hard to make them fit with A&M but also they don’t quite fit with the rest of Dazzle Ships either, but then they were written and recorded after A&M but two years before Dazzle Ships.
    It’s also worth mentioning the B side that never was ‘Experiments In Vertical Take Off’. The sleeve of the 12” Of Maid Of Orleans listed it as the additional track with Navigation but only existed as a title, the band thinking they were make a track to go with it but in the end writing and recording OATTWM instead, but as the sleeve has already gone to the printers it wasn’t changed.

    I love 4 Neu! for many reasons. It epitomises everything best about early OMD, melodic while experimental, it was a complete mirror image to the noisy, fairground sound of the A side, but mainly because it added another ‘song’ to the rather slim pickings to be found on Dazzle Ships. On my iPod I put it between Dazzle Ships (pts…) and TROTT. I was so pleased when they played it live for the first time at the Dazzle Ships concert (where they didn’t play the whole album???).

    As for 66 and fading you can hear it backwards and sped up here https://youtu.be/BgF6xTARASc and, yes it’s Silent Running!!!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Anvil – Luck you are to take advantage of the extra special concerts I only get to experience on CD/DVD. I remember seeing listings in record catalogs from dealers with the “Maid Of Orleans” 12″ single with the title “Experiments In Vertical Takeoff” being one of the b-sides. This vexed me for a few years as it was a simple matter to buy the silver stained glass cover 12″ version. It was several years later at a record show in the mid-late 80s when I chanced upon the stunning embossed coin 12″ with “Experiments In Vertical Takeoff” on the back cover for only a now surprising $5.00! I rushed home to hear that it was actually “Of All The Things We’ve Made” instead! Back then, catalog listings with the record’s contents were as much as we had to figure out what was out there in the wilds. And in the case of this single, they went by the cover, which was wrong.

      And what was up with the band disliking the metallic, embossed coin cover??!! We’re they insane? Perhaps. Let’s keep in mind they were the ones who also preferred their quaint homemade dabblings on “Electricity” b/w “Almost” to the stunning Martin Hannett productions!

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  2. Shelf says:

    Hey Monk – slight departure from your ongoing GPA; however, I wanted to mention that OMD put on an excellent show in Philly last night (second stop of the North American tour). Given that a nor’easter dropped a foot of snow on the city during the day, and city officials warned against driving anywhere, I was expecting the concert to be rescheduled or canceled. But the band was not deterred, and – judging from the audience size – nor were fans (the venue wasn’t packed, but attendance was better than I expected). As we all know, OMD are crowd pleasers and never stingy with the hits, so the setlist was mostly predictable, but eminently entertaining. Long live OMD!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Shelf – Glad that went off as planned. When we get an inch of snow in Western North Carolina [not like it’s that rare of a thing] society completely breaks down. I’m glad you weighed in. What I want to know is, did they do that audience poll/song picking thing like they talked about on the UK tour? With a choice posted beforehand? If so, what were the choices?

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      • Shelf says:

        Yes, I discovered long ago that ANY snow fall below the Mason-Dixon line is treated like some biblical apocalypse. Regarding the audience encore poll: I asked the guy at the merchandise table for the online passcode and was met with a blank stare. To his credit, he quickly investigated my request using his phone, after which he reported that “they’re not doing it on this tour.”

        By the way, are you aware that the Pet Shop Boys ballet “The Most Incredible Thing” is being performed in Charlotte between March 9 and 18?

        http://charlotteballet.org/tickets/themostincrediblething/
        If you’re into that sort of thing, I highly recommend it – my wife and I saw the original production in London.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Shelf – Had not a clue about the PSB ballet! Heck, I did not even know that PSB had written a ballet! I wish I had known about this in advance. It might have been interesting to attend. My wife loves ballet and we have seen Pilobolus in addition to Moses Pendleton. As it stands, It’s coming up too soon too make any moves to attend, sadly.

          So the US gets the short shrift again? It’s enough that we have to sit through “If You Leave” every concert. At least the first two times I saw them they had not written it yet, but I was hoping for a good deep cut possible with that poll gimmick. Oh well.

          Speaking of merch, spill your guts! What’s on offer and how much is it, so I can plan my budget. The last time I saw OMD I got the white EE Tee, buttons, and the deluxe EE black sweatshirt. My only cool sweatshirt. I suspect there will be a tour book this time. How much and what else is on offer?

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          • Shelf says:

            My cultural interests don’t typically extend to ballet, but I can’t pass up anything connected to PSB. If I recall correctly, “The Most Incredible Thing” incorporates some modern dance into the traditional ballet. You can stream the score on Spotify and elsewhere, although it’s not as strong removed from the performance context.

            Oh, yes – out came the cell phones for “If You Leave.” Call me old-fashioned, but all recording devices should be banned at concerts – their use is obnoxious and intrusive. And really – is some drunken lout going to prefer their own shaky cinematography over a professionally-shot video? (we were surrounded by several such morons near the front of the stage) I could go into a lengthy tirade about concert etiquette, but I’ll spare you the rant.

            Alas, I have never been a consumer of concert merchandise. I believe t-shirts were priced at $30-$35 – there were “Punishment Of Luxury” branded shirts with tour dates in both black and white, I believe, along with a couple of other designs (the second album cover stood out). Don’t remember if there were any sweatshirts or a tour book. Wanna say there was a sticker or patch? Sorry Monk – wish I could help you more with advance shopping plans!

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  3. Richard Anvil says:

    By the way I wanted to answer your question about the number of versions of Electricity and Almost. Interesting the Wikipedia article on the single has the information wrong https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_(Orchestral_Manoeuvres_in_the_Dark_song)

    The first recorded version of Electricity was by The Id 1978
    The second version of Electricity and the first version of Almost were demo recordings made in Paul Collister garage, names Henry’s studio, in early 1979.
    The third version of Electricity and the second version of Almost were produced by Martin ‘Zero’ Hannett at Cargo Studios in April 1979.
    The Factory single had the second ‘demo’ version of Electricity and the second Hannett version of Almost and was released in May 1979.
    The first Dindisc single release had both of the Hannett versions of Electricity and Almost (I know this because I’ve just listened to my copy. All those years and I didn’t realise it was the Hannett version of Electricity). This was released in September 1979.
    The second Dindisc single release had the album versions of Electricity and Almost which, according to the OMD biog Messages, were remixed versions, with additional overdubs, of the Hannett versions, though on the single no-one is credited for production and on the album it states all tracks were recorded at the Gramophone Suite (no mention of Cargo studios) and were produced by OMD and Chester Valentino. There are both similarities and differences between these and the Hannett versions so maybe having added over dubs they felt they didn’t have to credit Hannett. Anyway this single was released in March 1980.
    Finally you have Electricity version 5 (which when released was called Electricity III) which was a new recording produced by Mike Howlett prior to re-recording Messages in April 1980.
    So not surprising there is a lot of confusion.

    Just to add to the history of these early recordings after the Factory single release and before they signed to Dindisc OMD recorded a four track ‘demo’ at Cargo Studios which included Bunker Soldiers, Red Frame/White Light, Messages and Julia’s Song. This was funded by Factory records with a copy sent to Carole Wilson of Dindisc. As far as can be made out these versions are probably different to the album versions (or were they remixed as well? Again no mention of Cargo Studios on the LP when this was a ‘legendary’ studio) so have never been commercially released. There is no mention in the biog of who produced, could possibly have been Hannett but probably not, but very highly likely to have been engineered by John Brierly who was resident engineer (and owner) of Cargo Studios.

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