OMD: The Kings Of Synth-Pop Meet The Queen Of Soul

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OMD's "soul music" isn't just electronic. Thanks to an Aretha Franklin sample, it's electrifying. Mark McNulty hide caption

itoggle caption Mark McNulty

OMD's "soul music" isn't just electronic. Thanks to an Aretha Franklin sample, it's electrifying.

Mark McNulty

Monday's Pick

  • Song: "Save Me"
  • Artist: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  • CD: History of Modern
  • Genre: Pop

When a new Aretha Franklin single would drop in the '60s, Franklin's most hardcore fans rejoiced. That thrill is back, because Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Save Me" — which generously samples a Lady Soul song from 1967 — is cause for exaltation. Now, it's true that the opening bars don't sound anything like classic Franklin, as a synthesizer burbles and thrums at a disco pace and a dispassionate spokesman announces "Electronic Soul Music." Then, out of the blue, comes the greatest voice of the rock era, testifying about the ways love can go right and wrong: "Promised myself after the first romance, I wouldn't give you a second chanceā€¦"

Those who've studied Franklin's oeuvre will recognize the tune. "Save Me," recorded in February 1967, appeared on her very first Atlantic album. Scholars of obscure soul might know that the cut was a rewrite of "Help Me," a 1966 R&B dance number sung by Ray Sharpe, with a then-unknown Jimi Hendrix playing guitar.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the ace British synth-pop duo, found the song in its vast collection of old LPs and, for its new album History of Modern, mashed it up with OMD's own 1980 hit "Messages." The duo brightens Franklin's vocals with extra reverb, adds some echo and pushes her out in front of the instrumental mix. Singer Tracey Carmen chimes in with sisterly whoops.

In this techno arrangement, Franklin's effortless intimacy shines: the seductive elongation of the phrase "save me," the high-pitched "plea-hease" that presages Michael Jackson's falsetto hiccups by decades. In 2010, as in 1967, even though she's begging somebody to save her from a man who wants to "taunt" her, the strength in her voice makes it clear that this is a woman who can and will save herself. OMD's "soul music" is not only electronic. Thanks to Franklin, it's electrifying.



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