THE GREAT CURVE 015
curated by Todd Berryman
I remember hearing a song on the radio, fall 1981, and just being blown away by it. A fair part of it was that I was used to hearing this band work in a particular, more reggae-influenced fashion, and this song was unabashed pop. “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” was my point of entry into an album that stills hold up for me quite well. I can’t listen to it all the time, but when one of its songs come on the radio, I can’t bring myself to leave the station.
Let’s take a closer look at this lineup in the 8-track version.
This is a situation where the 8-track cartridge is radically reshuffled, pretty much right after the opening song forward, but on the plus side there are no interruptions to the songs proper – no songs that get split in half across programs. In some places, the sequence feels stronger; there’s something nice about that run in the first program, with “Invisible Sun” as the second song, and then “Secret Journey” to carry it home. There’s also something very ear-catching about Program 2, with two of the band’s uptempo songs side-by-side.
One of the things that can get tricky for listeners of the album in the vinyl form is that Side 2 feels a little more “out there” than Side 1 in general, with maybe “Hungry for You” being the exception. Surprisingly, the resequencing on the 8-track consolidates that still further, as “Secret Journey” was one of maybe two of the most accessible songs on Side 2 (“Darkness” being the other one, which maintains pride of place as the album closer on the 8-track), and has been moved up to the first half here. The end result is that the combination of Programs 1 and 2 renders a damn-near perfect opening half for this album.
On the other hand, the back half gets more “out there” than it was before. For someone like me, who liked “Miss Gradenko” and could at least tolerate “Mother” from Synchronicity, the back half of Ghost in the Machine as established here is overall not a problem. Well, almost: I think Program 4 is pure delight, with three of my favorite songs from Side 2 consolidated in one place. “Too Much Information” is one of those songs that initially feels a little slight, but when heard through headphones, it reveals that there’s a LOT going on, including a nice stereo pan from the opening guitars from center to left, when Andy Summers then falls into some of his tightest rhythm strumming, funky where (and from whom) it’s least expected, which makes up for one of Sting’s less scintillating lyrics. (Regarding that last statement, I actually consider that a good thing, because it seems less fussy about itself as well.)
“Rehumanize Yourself” is one of the band’s most politically active songs, with music by Stewart Copeland, and melodically it nicely returns the band to its more punkish sensibility from the first couple of albums. It’s also definitely Sting trying to incite a little outrage…note his use of that most dire word in the second verse, the one that you use in a fight if you absolutely want to destroy a relationship. Please don’t ask me to elaborate further. 🙂
“Darkness” closes the vinyl and the 8-track, as it should, because it’s easily one of their best, if most underrated, performances. Stewart Copeland wrote it completely solo, and it takes some of the production tactics from “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and deploys them a little more creatively (specifically, the doubled drum track mixed in stereo, with a delay from the left to the right). It also is one of my favorite B-sides, being the flip of “Secret Journey” on 45 in a couple of regions.
Which now brings us to the somewhat problematic Program 3, and its tripping-up point is the same one that finds me bogging down in the vinyl, and in almost the same place, that being “One World (Not Three)” in the middle of the program (on the vinyl, third song on Side 2, out of six…so it’s functionally moved up one position). It isn’t my favorite song, it’s warmed-over thinks-it’s-reggae, and it’s too long by half. I can pretty much tolerate it, but I don’t go out of my way to seek it out for a listen. “Ωmegaman” (as it appears on the vinyl; the “Omegaman” listed on the 8-track above is actually a typo, though that may be down to limitations of the printing for the labels on the cartridge) was written by Andy Summers, and it’s an vehicle for Summers to deploy some amazing guitar synthesizer playing. On both the vinyl and 8-track, having “One World” doesn’t really help as a lead-in, and so there’s a tendency to overlook both songs as a result.
“Hungry for You” leads off the program, and it’s probably the best song of the three. I initially heard it as an interesting diversion, being primarily in French, and also following the same two-bar chord progression throughout. As time went on, though, I realized that Summers had done some intricate guitar layering all over the song, with – by my count – four lines going at once. Those lines also don’t change a lot, maintaining a fairly minimalist approach, but careful listening reveals some interesting country-style stringbends on one of them, which gives it a surprisingly effective sourness. Took me about two decades to really pick up on what was going on, but when I did, “Hungry for You” became a regular favorite. In the 8-track context, it sets up the back half with the “weirder” stuff nicely, but puts the listener on notice that we’ve moved out of the more pop approach from the first half and gotten into more open territory. (My thinking is that flipping “Ωmegaman” and “One World” in Program 3 might have been improved the sequence overall, and making “One World” a nice way to drift off before the big push on Program 4.)
Unlike my prior discussion of Cat Stevens’ Buddha and the Chocolate Box in THE GREAT CURVE 012, in this instance, Ghost in the Machine isn’t necessarily improved by the change in sequence. Nor is it wrecked. It’s simply a different way of appreciating the album. And I suppose it comes down to which version of a recording gets heard first; my girlfriend and I had different appreciations of Jim Croce’s Photographs and Memories album, because she heard the vinyl/CD sequence first, and I heard the 8-track. With us, the other person’s first exposure sequence doesn’t feel quite right.
This was obviously not exclusive to format differences, either. Think of the early (pre-1967) Beatles catalog, where the U.S. dropped songs and added others on vinyl, the end goal not only being to add a few hits released as singles in the U.K. to the albums, but also to conjure entire albums into existence that showed up in no other territory (and in at least one instance, actually improving the album; the U.S. version of Rubber Soul holds together thematically a bit better, as two “lighter” songs from Help were held back to replace four from the U.K. version). In the process, the U.S. got different mixes and more reverb to make the songs more “exciting.” And that’s just one example. And it didn’t just happen in the sixties, either.
It’s another one of those thought experiments we did in my college days, resequencing an album: did the band or producers really get it right, or could we do it better? I know I conjured one mixtape built entirely from Otis Redding’s last recordings, the ones released posthumously, because his time in the studio in his final year was so prolific – I decided to give “The Dock of the Bay” an overarching storyline, and turned those four albums’ worth of material into the equivalent of a two-record set by discarding the obviously weaker stuff. The other approach that comes to mind is taking the sequence of a well-regarded two-record set and making it a single album (not as hard as you’d think: how often do you actually listen to “Wild Honey Pie” or “Revolution 9” when you play the White Album, honestly?), seeing if it’s possible to make it punchier.
Really, the sky’s the limit. Try it. Think of which songs flow together better to your ear, and build a playlist. As I recall a band member for an 80s folksinger put it, music should never be left to the professionals. 🙂