This might more accurately be titled the first a/b/c/d/e split.
In website parlance, a/b splits are an extremely common way of testing two versions of a page or design and testing which one better produces the desired result.
Back in 1982, Thomas Dolby may have unintentionally performed one of the first known music a/b splits – and on what I consider to be one of the greatest albums ever made (not top 10 or anything, but certainly higher on my list).
The original version of Thomas Dolby’s first album – Golden Age of Wireless – which is best known for the songs “She Blinded Me With Science” and “One of Our Submarines,” didn’t even contain either one of those songs. In fact, there were three songs on the original pressing which didn’t even make it on to the second.
The first pressing, in England, contained the song “The Wreck of the Fairchild,” but neither of the two hits. In fact, the second release (and first U.S. release) also didn’t include the two hits, though it included two different songs – “Urges” and “Leipzig.”
However, after the single for “Science,” with the “Submarines” B-side became hits in the UK. They pressed a third version of the album with those two songs, but dropping “Fairchild,” “Urges” and “Leipzig.”
With every pressing, the albums sold more copies and received more positive buzz. But that wasn’t the end. Dolby released another version of the song “Radio Silence,” that went on to the next pressing. This version also ended up on the first CD release.
Finally, there was one more version with the same 10 songs, but another new version in the mix.
I’ve never really heard of a case where an album was continually tweaked and re-released with this frequency. But I’m more fascinated that it worked so well.
And it ended in a culmination of all the songs involved with a recent, 2009 deluxe release of the album with all of the songs included.
As mentioned above, I really think this is one fantastic album, when considered holistically. It was groundbreaking when it came out. It certainly stands the test of time. It creates fantastic atmospheres and sound scapes, and it straddles the line of great music and great pop.
Take a listen to one of my favorite songs from the album (which for me is hard to pick). “Airwaves”
As an aside, Dolby toured a few years back, and it was one of the most fascinating performances of music combined with art that I’ve ever seen. He filmed everything he was doing with a series of cameras that really involved the audience in a clever and unusual way.
You can see what I mean with this video performance of his song “Leipzig”