ran aground on manoeuvres

Following up on Jefitoblog’s fine Thomas Dolby retrospective, I thought I’d post a couple of rarer Dolby tracks. Before I do that, I will note the link to an mp3 of the early b-side “The Wreck of the Fairchild” mentioned in Jefitoblog’s comments section.

I was first introduced to Thomas Dolby’s work in my junior year of college. I’d just transferred to UW from the University of Michigan (for financial reasons), but I still had lots of friends back in Ann Arbor. One weekend I took the Amtrak up to A2, and my friend Hilde was talking up this record, called The Golden Age of Wireless (TGAOW from here on). I’m pretty sure that at the time, it was available only as a British import. Anyway, she put it on, and I liked it a lot. A little while later, “Europa and the Pirate Twins” became a bit of a hit. Capitol Records issued the LP in the US, and that LP’s track listing was “Europa,” “Flying North,” “Weightless,” “Leipzig,” and “Windpower” on side 1, and “Commercial Breakup,” “Urges,” “Airwaves,” “Radio Silence,” and “Cloudburst at Shingle Street” on side 2. Some curiosities: the lyrics as printed on the back cover included the middle section of “Airwaves” (“Control has enabled the abandoned wires again…”), even though that section of the song was edited from this release. The version of “Radio Silence” is not the one that later appeared on the US CD issue of this album; it’s an entirely different, longer recording, featuring much more guitar than the almost all-synth arrangement of the CD version (which appeared originally as the b-side to “Europa”).

“She Blinded Me with Science” became a hit during 1983, and Capitol released an EP (somewhat confusingly called Blinded by Science – which actually isn’t the same thing as being blinded with science at all – but I digress) featuring the full-length version of that song, as well as longer versions of “One of Our Submarines,” “Windpower,” and “Flying North,” as well as the full-length version of “Airwaves” (which did show up on the reissue of TGAOW). Unlike most “extended versions” of ’80s songs, these do not feel like some producer gratuitously looping a drum break and layering synths and electronic handclaps over it; the songs feel as if they were written this way and edited down for the album release. “One of Our Submarines” in particular gains dramatic heft and scope, befitting its rather epic melancholy. That version draws out the way Dolby’s melodic line seems to build by adding a phrase with each repetition; it doesn’t literally do that, but Dolby does spin out the melody in ever-longer phrases all built from that initial melodic phrase. “Flying North” also benefits hugely, gaining an impressionistic, ambient-style middle section that counterposes its drifting textures against the pulsing sixteenth notes of the rhythm track.

I’m pretty sure Capitol reissued TGAOW with “She Blinded Me with Science” shortly thereafter; at any rate, when the album eventually was released on CD, it was entirely resquenced from the original U.S. LP. “Leipzig” and “Urges” were gone, never to appear on CD until 1992’s Silk Pyjamas double-EP (and that wasn’t a U.S. release, I don’t think). The “guitar” version of “Radio Silence” was replaced by the b-side’s synth version (which I prefer, in fact), and “She Blinded Me with Science” headed up the album, in the old “put the hit single first” tradition. “One of Our Submarines” was also added, but in a shortened version that lopped about two minutes from the version on the EP.

What I don’t understand is why, when it issued the CD version of TGAOW, Capitol didn’t think to include all the tracks from both versions of the album, and use the full-length versions of the songs as they appeared on the EP. There was even room for the “Airwaves” b-side “Wreck of the Fairchild” (although that track’s harder to sequence…even though it ends with the same wandering radio noise heard in “Airwaves”).

For what it’s worth, I burned a version of the album that does include all of those tracks, using the longer EP versions in place of the shortened LP versions. I worked from the original U.S. LP’s sequence (which I prefer to that of the CD) and placed the tracks as follows:

1. Radio Silence (synth) 2. Europa 3. North 4. Weightless 5. Leipzig 6. Windpower 7. Breakup 8. Urges 9. Science 10. Submarines 11. Airwaves 12. Radio Silence (guitar) 13. Cloudburst (14. Fairchild 15. The Jungle Line (live Joni Mitchell cover) – construed as “bonus” tracks: even though the Mitchell cover is chronologically later, I had no better place to put it).

There it is: 72 minutes. Here’s hoping my immense sway with the powers-that-be at EMI helps them get their act together.

Thomas Dolby “Radio Silence” (LP version)
Thomas Dolby “Leipzig”
Thomas Dolby “Urges”
Thomas Dolby “One of Our Submarines” (EP version)
Thomas Dolby “Flying North” (EP version)

Addendum 1/29/06: By request, I’ve posted the two remaining tracks from the Silk Pyjamas double-EP that aren’t as readily available elsewhere: “Puppet Theatre” (which apparently is slightly different from the mix that appeared on the single b-side) and “Field Work (Long London Mix)” in collaboration with Ryuichi Sakomoto. Also (as I mentioned in a comment), anyone curious in the absurd tangle that is the release and configuration history of The Golden Age of Wireless might want to look here (scroll down near the bottom of the page).

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “ran aground on manoeuvres

  1. raedizzle2006

    Hi..I most recently started a blog, http://easterntroublemaker.blogspot.com
    And I hope you will check it out. I will check out your blog as well, but please try to help me with this: How on Earth do I make links to other websites on my blog? So far I just have, “Google news”, “Edit Me” (twice); I tried looking in the help section of blogger.com but the instructions are kinda complicated. I don’t know how to “cut & paste” (which seems to be what I need to do in order to remove the “Edit Me”‘s and replace them with my own links, etc.)…I’m not exactly new to being online; have done it for many years but am just now getting into the blogging thingy LOL. Please see if you can help me out, and I will check out your blog whether you assist me or not..thanks ;-)

  2. Hector Savage

    Thanks for pulling apart and putting back together the saga of the debut LP. I’ve always been confused by it. Definitely due for a re-issue/re-master…

    I struggle with my feelings on Mr. Dolby. I find him a very compelling interesting artist up ’til about side two of The Flat Earth and then he completely loses it for me. He had a period there where he was really on a creative roll…. the production/5th member work on Prefab Sprout’s “Steve McQueen/Two Wheels Good” and Side One of “The Flat Earth” are just about perfection.

    But, then it goes all horribly wrong… “Howard The Duck”… “Aliens Ate My Buick” I really can’t go on…

  3. 2fs

    Oh, the discography is even more complicated: here’s an example. Anyway, I largely agree with you (except I don’t have a problem with side 2 of TFE), although Astronauts & Heretics is pretty good, albeit a little too smooth and clean. But it least it doesn’t feel pandering in the way AAMB does. But yes, he was certainly on a roll for a couple-three years there.

  4. Miles

    All the Blinded By Science longer mixes are now on CD courtesy of the 12 x 12 Dolby import from a few years ago, not to mention those CD-5 b-sides. For another case where the longer versions weren’t the typical “dance mix” jobs but the true versions of the songs, see also the cassette version of another great 1983 album, Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. The current CD iteraion of Speaking in Tongues has only the longer mixes, put there at the band’s request – the band was aghast when they found out that the original version of the CD contained the shorter mixes from the LP. ’83 was the year of my first Walkman and it wasn’t until that Christmas that I had the ability to dub LPs to tape, so I bought the cassette version first – and was shocked when I played the Rauschenberg LP edition and heard how much had been chopped from the songs to whittle the album down to an LP-agreeable length.

  5. Lori

    Can anyone tell me where I can download or buy downloads of some of the rarer songs? I have 12 x 12 and other import EPs, but would like to complete my collection.

    Lorelei

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