There’s nothing new I can bring to the subject of this album, such is the level to which it has been, depending on your point of view, celebrated, name-checked, referenced, over-hyped, over-analysed and generally been given more than its fair share of attention since release. Whether you think it is some seminal piece of work that more or less single-handedly ushered in the era of sampling or is some over-trumpeted slice of faux-ethnic cultural imperialism, it is what it is and if you’ve not already heard it I urge you to approach with fresh ears and give it a spin.
What I can add though is some version craziness. Well, perhaps not craziness. But enough to pen something on. I’m not going to touch upon the pre-history of the album and the bootleg version – much, but not all, of that surfaced officially with the 2006 re-release of the album in the shape of bonus tracks. What didn’t appear though was one of the tracks that was part of the original album release, ‘Qu’Ran’. Another thing that has gone AWOL over the years is the good taste of the original Peter Saville sleeve design, which I attempt to capture in some small part in the accompanying photos here.
‘Qu’Ran’ was the opening track on side two and in keeping with the rest of the album extensively snips together sampled vocals. The problem being that the samples are readings from the Koran and an objection was made sometime after the original release about the use of the chanting in this context [Reference]. Having already had to nix the use of samples from the original version of what would become ‘The Jezebel Spirit’ and perhaps cautious of the potential religious offense, ‘Qu’Ran’ was dropped from subsequent pressings and replaced with ‘Very, Very Hungry’ a track that had first gained release exclusively as an extra track on the 12″ single of ‘The Jezebel Spirit’ in 1981.
At least as far as the vinyl copies go. For ‘Qu’Ran’ did re-appear on the American CD copies of the album when first re-released. In fact, in some small degree of completeness these CD editions not only restored ‘Qu’Ran’ to its rightful place in the restored running order but also found space to tack on ‘Very, Very Hungry’ for good measure too.
The 2006 re-issue failed to find space for ‘Qu’Ran’ though and it seems likely it won’t re-appear again. The re-issue dug into the archive banks and included a selection of extra tracks which had originally come to light on the ‘Ghosts’ bootleg. Other versions which failed to make the cut for the re-issue however are the shorter, remixed edits of ‘The Jezebel Spirit’ and ‘Regiment’ which had been issued as a single in the UK and a few European territories. The front cover design for this single release was a nice on-theme counterpart to the album design – as was the Dutch 12″ release for ‘Regiment’/’America is Waiting’.
A little known tidbit of information to jog the memories of UK viewers of the early days of Channel 4 television in the early ’80s – ‘The Jezebel Spirit’ was the track that was used as the theme tune for Channel 4’s coverage of American football highlights. Editions EG missed a trick there in capitalising on this minor fame by re-issuing the track as a single at that time.
Moving on to the cover design – well, it’s abstractions are one of my all time favourites, but it’s a thin line between good taste and bad. The original UK edition is my reference point and what I shelled-out my hard earned pocket money on at the time. It came wrapped in a high-gloss finish Peter Saville typographed sleeve with the finest in beautiful slim gold print Swiss-derived light typography to document those all important credits. But, my goodness, there have been duffers re-released over the years. The original UK CD edition features not so much typography as out and out vandalism – how to get something so wrong while obviously intending to stay on message with choice of type – see it and weep here. The American and Japanese editions seemed to favour something more of a blood red type arrangement.
The 2006 re-release pretty well almost entirely did away with the original sleeve design, retaining only something of a postage stamp size token echo of the original front cover, instead choosing to reinterpret the design principally through sampling its multi-colours. Sampling also extending to the accompanying remix project with stems to two of the original tracks, ‘Help Me Somebody’ and ‘A Secret Life’. Endless scope for version craziness there then…