Five Things to Know About One of
Synth Music’s Most Innovative Acts
By Steve Spears
Let’s settle one thing: Whether or not you think the movie “Pretty in Pink” is a John Hughes classic or not, can we all agree its soundtrack remains a masterpiece three decades later? And of those songs, perhaps only one fully retains its original magic – the swooning prom-scene tune “If You Leave.”
Credit the genius of that phenomenon to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the British synch act with tunes as luminescent as its name – so much so that our generation simply refers to them as OMD.
When boyhood friends and band co-founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys board the Celebrity Infinity in March for the fourth voyage of The 80s Cruise, they’ll bring along their deep contributions to the grandeur of ’80s synth pop. And if 80 cruisers don’t walk away from OMD’s on-ship shows – their legs and arms rubbery and weary from dancing and overall euphoria – happy and full of ’80s goodness, then maybe the world truly has fallen off its axis.
While I’m confident that every 80s cruiser knows each word and note to “If You Leave” by heart, maybe you’d be surprised to know their catalog is full of hits – five Billboard Hot 100 tunes in the U.S., but 20 inside the their home country. Anthems such as “Enola Gay,” “Joan of Arc,” “Locomotion” and “Tesla Girls” were favorites at New Wave clubs around the world during the first half of the ’80s. In the second half of our decade, OMD followed them up with hits like “So In Love,” “Secret” and “(Forever) Live and Die.”
I’ve had three chances to see OMD perform since they got back together just over a decade ago — only once in the same town I was living in at the time. To me, OMD has been a bucket-list act. I’ve bought plane tickets, made hotel reservations, downloaded maps and took days off from work. Each time, the fickle finger of fate threw up a roadblock and I found myself saying “next time for sure.” So if you’re looking for one guy on the boat who will NOT miss their sets at sea, here I am.
Here are five things to know about Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark before we set sail on March 2.
- THEIR INFLUENCES:
OMD began its journey toward becoming one of the biggest innovators of the synth scene through the influence of the legendary German act Kraftwerk (considered the pioneers of the electronica genre). In fact, OMD’s first big single – “Electricity” – was inspired by Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity.”
- THEIR FIRST BREAK:
The one big difference between Kraftwerk and OMD? The quirky dancing from Andy McCluskey, who has always been determined to express the emotion of the music in any way he can. His moves – the infamous foot taps and alternating shoulder bends – are a signature ’80s dance move for the hopelessly rhythm impaired. In 1982, a British film called “Urgh! A Music War” captured many of the eccentric performances by New Wave bands of the day, including OMD. Their live performance of “Enola Gay” – punctuated by McCluskey’s jerky dance stylings – won them their first fans abroad. You can still see the performance on YouTube. Just be ready to replicate the moves during our late-night dance adventures on The 80s Cruise and be ready to sing along. “Enola Gay, is mother proud of little boy today. Aha, this kiss you give, it’s never ever gonna fade away!”
- THE BIG HIT:
Like so many other ’80s classics, “If You Leave” was recorded under pressure. OMD had originally offered the song “Goddess of Love” to John Hughes for “Pretty in Pink,” but the song’s message didn’t fit when Hughes changed the film’s ending after receiving poor marks from test audiences. OMD wrote and recorded “If You Leave” in less than 24 hours, but there was another requirement the band had to meet. “The song had to be 120 (beats per minute) because that’s the tempo of ‘Don’t You Forget about Me,’ which is the track they actually shot the prom scene to,” McCluskey once told Songfacts.com. “Unfortunately, the editor obviously had no sense of rhythm because they are all dancing out of time in the final film.”
- THE OTHER CLASSICS:
OMD actually had two hits in the U.S. before “If You Leave.” Their 1985 album “Crush” had “So In Love” and “Secret” – both of which climbed the pop charts before “Pretty in Pink” was released in ’86. And a follow-up album after the film’s success – “Pacific Age” – had “(Forever) Live and Die,” a hit in practically every English-speaking country except the U.S.
- THE NEW MUSIC:
In the fall of 2017, OMD released its 13th studio album – “The Punishment of Luxury.” It was well received – debuting at No. 4 on the U.K. charts – and made some waves on the alternative charts stateside. It also launched Humphreys and McCluskey on an extensive tour of North America and Europe – yep, one of three shows I missed.
If there’s any karma left in the pop universe, let it be lit up with lights and tingly electronica notes on The 80s Cruise. Let it be infused with the energy of two musicians who will lead us from anthem to anthem. Let it and the nighttime skies of the Caribbean be met by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
(Steve Spears is the creator and co-founder of the Stuck in the ‘80s podcast. He and co-host Brad Williams will return again to host Big ‘80s Trivia on The 80s Cruise in 2019. Founded in 2005, the Stuck in the ‘80s podcast has recorded nearly 500 episodes and interviewed celebrities including Martha Quinn, Huey Lewis, Molly Ringwald, Steve Perry, Terri Nunn, Kenny Loggins and many more. Find it on iTunes or your favorite podcast streaming service.)