On February 22nd, 1980 Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, aka OMD, released their highly influential self titled debut LP.
Formed in 1978, OMD was heavily influenced by Kraftwerk and NEU!, and by showing their love for their electronic music heroes, OMD would quickly inspire others explore the depths of synthesizer based music—in particular their first single “Electricity”, released on May 21, 1979.
Taking inspiration directly from Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity”, the release of “Electricity” with its elaborate and memorable keyboard hook, is perhaps one of the most important events of New Wave/Synth era, and would go on to immediately inspire Depeche Mode’s Vince Clark to pursue a career in electronic music.
On forming OMD Andy McCluskey and keyboardist Paul Humphreys told The Manchester Evening News:
“We created Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark for a one-off date at Liverpool club Eric’s because they had an open house policy.
We’d got fed up of our mates playing guitar solos over our German-inspired electro music so we dared to get up on stage – and who did we play with but Joy Division.
From there the guys recommended we play another show at the Factory club (Hulme’s now defunct Russell Club), which is where we met Tony.
The plan then was to try and get on Granada Reports, so we sent him a tape of our track, Electricity.”
“[Tony] told us we were the future of pop music! We thought we were experimental, but he told us by putting out the single it would get us a bigger deal and on to Top Of The Pops – so he had a vision for us that we didn’t even have for ourselves.”
In another interview, Humphreys noted that it was the band’s association with Joy Division which would lead to their tour with Gary Numan:
“[Numan] gave us our first big break. He saw us opening for Joy Division and he asked us to go on tour with him… we went from the small clubs to playing huge arenas. Gary was very good to us.”
After the success of their debut single through Factory Records and produced by Martin Hannett, but would have the album released on Virgin imprint Dindisc.
Only “Electricity and “Almost” feature Martin Hannett’s production on the album, and are credited under the moniker Martin Zero.
(Side note: According to Factory Records boss Tony Wilson, the main reason he passed on signing Madonna to Factory was he had “already done pop” with OMD.)
Despite not being an official Factory artist, the band’s relationship with Factory records would continue with their record’s sleeve being designed by the label’s inhouse graphic designer Peter Saville.
Joining Saville on designing the sleeve was interior designer Ben Kelly. The pair would base the artwork on a door Kelly had designed, utilizing a die-cut grid through which the orange inner sleeve was visible. This resulted in both Saville and Kelly winning a Designers and Art Directors Award.
However, the artwork had its price, heralding a similar situation a few years later with New Order’s Blue Monday, as much to frontman Andy McCluskey’s chagrin, the band “had a sleeve that cost us so much to manufacture that for every record we sold we were barely earning pennies”.
After “Electricity”, the album would have two more singles released in its promotion.
“Red Frame/White Light” is an idiosyncratic minimal composition with sparse lyrical utterances written about a red telephone box in Meols, north Wirral, that was used by the band to make calls to organise their gigs in the late 1970s.
The phonebox is now considered to be a de facto monument to the band, causing it to be quickly restored after its removal in late 2017.
The final single on album was “Messages”. However, the single version is quite different than the more languid and dreamlike album version. For the re-recording of the track, the band would enlist producer Mike Howlett. The song’s new melodic synth break would fall more in line with that of “Electricity”, but heralded Howlett’s work with the band on “Enola Gay”, which would be released later that year.
Using Howlett’s ear for the production of the single version was a wise decision, and led to the the track being the band’s first of many hits.