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Deconstruct OMD's 'Architecture & Morality'

Playing hooky from a tour is not how Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark normally does business, but sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Playing hooky from a tour is not how Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark normally does business, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

Commissioned to write a song for the John Hughes-directed, ’80s teen melodrama “Pretty In Pink,” the English synth-pop duo of Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey thought they’d penned a New Romantic masterpiece for the ages. But then, circumstances changed.

“We were about to go on tour, but Andy and I sat down and wrote this song for ‘Pretty In Pink,’ and we were really, really proud of this song and thought it was a great song.” remembers Humphreys. “And then we started what was going to be a four-month tour. Anyway, as they do in Hollywood, they do these previews — before they put the movie out or finalize or finish the movie — for people and people push boxes saying what they like or don’t like about the film. Anyway, everybody hated the end of the film, the original ending of the film, which we wrote the song for.”

Forced to make changes, Hughes quickly went into crisis-management mode.

“So, we get a call from John Hughes saying, ‘Guys, we really love your song that you’ve done, but it doesn’t work, because we’ve got to change the whole ending of the film now. Can you write us another one?’” says Humphreys. “And we said, ‘Well, hold on a minute. We’re on tour for four months. When do you need it?’ And he said, ‘Well, we need it next week.’”

Having worked so hard to make it in the States, “ ... playing little clubs at 2 o’clock in the morning with the audience completely drunk, basically vomiting on your shoes on stage,” as Humphreys recalls, OMD wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip through its fingers.

“So, between us, one of us pretended to be ill, and we canceled five shows,” says Humphreys. “We flew to Los Angeles. We got a fake doctor’s note so we could cancel these shows. We booked ourselves in a studio, and Andy and I stayed up for 48 hours sitting around a piano writing ‘If You Leave,’ which is what we did. And then, the next day, we presented it in demo form. John Hughes loved it, and we spent the next two days just recording it and mixing it. So, in four days, we did ‘If You Leave’ from beginning to end, from the conception to the master, and then went back on tour not knowing what we’d done, not knowing what an important song we’d written.”

A timeless melody swept along on euphoric synthesizers, “If You Leave” zoomed to #4 on the charts, becoming OMD’s biggest American hit. Five years earlier, however, OMD had designed what many consider its most museum-worthy set of sound sculptures, Architecture & Morality.

A seamlessly constructed synthesis of sonic experimentation and stylish pop songcraft, Architecture & Morality grew out of a handshake deal Humphreys made in exchange for his help with studio work.

“The two albums prior to Architecture & Morality were both quite different, and we’d never liked to repeat ourselves, but they were very kind of hardcore electronic records and quite by chance, I got into some kind of choral things,” says Humphreys. “To cut a long story short, a friend of mine came round to our studio, and he’d been recording a choir, and he said, ‘Can you help me make tape loops out of this choir? And if you do help me, I can’t afford to pay you for the studio, but I’ll leave you a copy of these tape loops if you’ll help me do them.”

Left with a pile of vocal tape loops, Humphreys started building songs out of them, “... and then I started adding more orchestr