Thursday, May 2, 2013

The B-52's - Mesopotamia ("David Byrne Mixes")


“When someone reaches middle age, people he knows begin to get put in charge of things, and knowing what he knows about the people who are being put in charge of things scares the hell out of him.”    
― Calvin Trillin, With All Disrespect
I've been watching the current Senate campaign in nearby Massachusetts (for the seat of former Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry) with more than my usual bit of interest in all things political. I actually have a personal connection to this contest - I know the Republican candidate, Gabriel Gomez. He was my classmate at the Naval Academy, and in the same company with many of my old Annapolis friends. I can't say that I know him well, but we're familiar enough to recognize and call one another by name in a crowd of people. It's sort of strange, seeing a guy who you knew in your younger days, the same sort of hell-raisin', hard-drinkin', tom-cattin' partier you once were, now presenting himself as a solid citizen and vying for high elective office. Although I can't say that I support his cause or agree with most of his positions, I wish him well in his endeavors.

I don't know how many of you out there are familiar with the works of Calvin Trillin, the writer and humorist, but if you haven't checked him out, I heartily suggest you do. He has a very dry, witty, gentle, self-depreciating sense of humor . I heard him in a radio interview last year, discussing his then-latest book Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff (a book that went on to win last year's coveted Thurber Prize for American Humor). During the interview, Trillin brought up the topic I've quoted above, about the people we know and have grown up with now reaching the age where they're being put in charge of things, and how weird that seems. It was a pretty funny bit, with Trillin making reference to the kids he grew up with, known for eating worms or wetting their pants in elementary school, now serving as college presidents, elected officials and other respected authorities.

I can relate to that already, looking back not just on the recent Senate candidate acquaintance, but also on the lives of many of my old elementary and secondary school friends. Back in high school, one of my best buddies and I had an ongoing (and definitely non-PC) gag that poked fun at the mentally disabled. So what is his profession now? He's a senior administrator for residential communities that provide care and independence to people with Down's Syndrome and other developmental disabilities, a cause that he's devoted his life to. In another case, I went to school in California with two brothers who did such crazy, dangerous stuff to and with one another (jumping off of roofs into pools, crashing bikes head on, etc.) that I seriously thought they were congenitally insane. Today, one is a respected corporate attorney in the Bay Area, while the other is a renowned chemical engineer. So, it just goes to show you that the attitudes and actions on display in someone's early life are no harbinger of things to come.

All of which brings me to a phone call I received a few weeks ago, from my old friend Camob . . .

I've mentioned him a couple of times here in this blog. He lives way out on the West Coast, in San Diego, so we don't get together very much - I think the last time I actually saw him was in 2009. But we've always kept in contact through phone conversations and emails, maintaining a friendship and connection that goes back more than thirty years, all the way back to when we were young pups living next door to one another in a dingy old dormitory in Newport, Rhode Island.

He's a lot like me, in that most of his musical loves and sensibilities were formed back when we were in prep school and college. Camob was well into the New Wave long before he came to Newport, and was a champion of bands of that ilk that hailed from his home state of California. For instance, I remember when L.A. natives The Go-Go's dropped their hit debut LP Beauty and The Beat in the summer of 1981; you would have thought that Camob owned stock in I.R.S. Records, the way he talked up that band and that disc to anyone who would listen! He knew a lot about SoCal bands like Sparks and the Surf Punks, groups that I had only a passing acquaintance with. But as I mentioned in a previous post, the thing that made us instant friends early on was the discovery that we were both huge Devo fanatics. During off hours, we would sometimes hang out in his room, listening to his cassette copy of New Traditionalists (released the month after the Go-Go's album, in August 1981) . . . or more often than not, he and I would march up and down the halls with our parade rifles, mock-serious, as "Devo Corporate Anthem" (off of Duty Now For The Future) blasted out of his room and James, his older, more worldly roommate, looked on at us with an air of bemusement (ah, the things we did when we were young!).

I was the one who turned Camob on to The B-52's, my favorite band at the time. I was stunned that he was unfamiliar with their music up to that point . . . but he was a fast learner. By Christmas of 1981, he was a full-fledged fan - leading up to our epic journey to Providence that winter to catch them live at the Performing Arts Center (click that link above for the full story).

Although decades have now passed and we are much older, Camob remains a committed fan of both Devo and more especially The B-52's.  He never misses an opportunity to see them play when they are in his area, which is fairly often. I've seen the Bee-Fives about 7 or 8 times in my life; I figure that, over the years, Camob has paid to see them at least 25 times all told, and has been to no less than a score of Spudboy concerts. Just before the holidays last year, during one of our phone conversations, he suggested that I keep an eye on the mails, as he was sending a package my way. I thought that was a bit odd, since he and I are not in the habit of sending each other Christmas gifts every year. I tried to pry out of him what it could be, without luck. But after a day or two, I sort of forgot about it. A few days later, however, a box with my name on it arrived at my door. I recalled that it was from him, but I had no idea what it could be. I tore the box open, and laughed hysterically as I found this inside:


A joke gift, but one from the heart, and a reminder and acknowledgement of our old days together.

A couple of years ago, I was browsing around the Web, and came across a site describing a recently remixed version of The B-52's song "Mesopotamia". So I started looking around for it, but instead stumbled upon a site that had what was purported to be the "original mix" of the Mesopotamia EP - the mix reportedly done by David Byrne that was mostly shelved after he and the band had disagreements regarding the album project (which was why Mesopotamia was released as a 6-song mini-album, instead of The B-52's third full-fledged studio album). From what I read, this "Byrne mix" was included only on early copies of the EP released in England, which were immediately pulled in favor of the version that most people are familiar with. But a couple of the English copies remained at large, and the guy running the site got his hands on one of them.

I practically levitated out of my seat as I read this. Mesopotamia has long been one of my favorite B-52's albums, but to this day it holds a mixed reputation among the band's aficionados. The EP marked a substantial change in the musical direction of the band. On this record, The B-52's moved away from the more 'basic', good-time, straight-ahead party rock sound of their first two albums (The B-52's and Wild Planet) into something somewhat darker, denser, more polyrhythmic and layered. Many fans and critics were horrified by this shift - I can recall one savage review from back then that contained the line "The B-52's tried to take the 'p' out of 'party', and failed." As a result, Mesopotamia peaked on the U.S. Billboard charts significantly lower than its predecessor, the Top 20 hit Wild Planet. This EP definitely put the brakes on The B-52's momentum, and it took them years to recover.

The full story behind the aborted Mesopotamia sessions has never been fully told.  From what I understand, the disagreements between David Byrne and the Bee-Fives stemmed from two things.  First, it was the sound itself, which was a radical departure from what the band was known for; the B-52's (and the label) were understandably nervous about so drastic a move away from what by then was considered a 'signature' sound for the group.  It seemed to them that Byrne was trying to act like a bush-league Brian Eno, and mold the band into a hybrid afro-worldbeat version of what Talking Heads had been doing under Eno's production during that time (Fear Of Music/Remain In Light/Speaking In Tongues). 


In addition, Byrne was producing his first full-scale solo work, the musical score for the Twyla Tharp Broadway dance project, The Catherine Wheel. He was working full-bore on that during the day and producing/mixing the B-52's stuff at night (again, trying to be a little Eno). But unlike his mentor, Byrne obviously couldn't handle the stress/effort involved in helming two big projects at once, and one of them began to suffer. Guess which one? So between the changed sound and Byrne's inattention, they collectively decided to part ways, and scrap the full album sessions.

The problem the label had with aborting the album was that it screwed up their release plans; there was supposed to be a full-blown B-52s album on the shelves in 1981. So Warner Bros. quickly slapped together the Party Mix! remix EP for release in July 1981, buying time for themselves and the band while they tried to figure out what to do with the unfinished songs and mixes left by Byrne.

The result was chaos. Island, Warner's distributor in the UK, rushed the pressing of the overseas Mesopotamia discs for release in January 1982 - somehow including unfinished, unedited demos of some tracks, instead of the fully produced songs. So, you see - the heralded so-called "David Byrne original EP mixes" are actually nothing more than a music label's huge fuckup.

Even with all of that, they're still interesting. Three of the songs on this "Mesopotamia - David Byrne Mix" (screw it - for the sake of simplicity, let's just keep calling it that) - "Deep Sleep", the title cut, and "Nip It In The Bud" are essentially identical to what I'd heard for all these years. But there were significant differences in the other three songs/demos:
  • "Loveland" - the 'David Byrne mix' is 8:24 minutes long, almost a full three and a half minutes longer than the "regular" version. It's also much 'dryer' than the familiar version; that is, there is no reverb or echo added to Kate's voice in this version of the song. Still, it's pretty good.
  • "Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can" - This alternate version is a full minute and a half longer than the familiar version. I'd always sort-of liked the 'regular' version, but I always felt that, like "Nip It In The Bud", it could have been improved on. I discovered that, in this case, I was wrong. The 'David Byrne version', while longer, simply has too much going on within it - a lot of annoying sound effects and horn fanfares that intrude upon and ultimately diminish the song. I frankly prefer the version I've always listened to all these years to this one.
  • "Cake" - The hands-down highlight of the 'Byrne mixes'. This version is two minutes longer than the familiar version. In this one, the song is slightly sped up from the 'norm', and overall it's a LOT funkier (in a cool Bootsy Collins, Speaking In Tongues-era Talking Heads fashion) and better put together than the released version. You don't notice the extended length of it; it's THAT good, and should have been the one to have gone on the official EP.
All in all, it was pretty exciting hearing these alternate versions. Despite its critics, I'd always liked Mesopotamia - regardless of the fact that, even at its debut, it had a sort of unfinished, half-assed feel to it. And I knew from my conversations with Camob that he liked the EP as well. So I quickly forwarded him a copy, and soon afterwards received the following response:
"Really appreciate you sending this along. As we have discussed before, I always loved Mesopotamia like you did and I always felt it got shorted by everyone but the true fans. I was never a big fan of "Throw That Beat........" or "Deep Sleep", Loved "Mesopotamia", "Cake", really liked "Nip it in the Bud" and "Loveland". And you are right on with your comments, this version of "Cake" should have been the one they included on the EP."
That's my boy Camob - always on my wavelength!

Camob graduated from Annapolis a year ahead of me, and spent all of his active duty Navy time in the Pacific Fleet. He left active duty back in the mid-90s and found a niche in the professional placement field, eventually opening up his own successful business. But he maintained his Navy connection and continued his military advancement as a reserve naval officer; as a reservist, it seemed that he was more 'active' than he was when he was actually in the regular Navy, with regular deployments to hot spots around the world.

So back to that phone call . . .

Camob called to tell me some outstanding news that he's just received - he had been selected for flag rank - my boy was going to be made an Admiral! I couldn't believe it!

. . . And yet, I could believe it. People who don't know him well might dismiss him - but Camob has worked his ass off all his life to achieve success, both in business and in the military, and has never let adversity or naysayers deter him from where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do on this planet. I have been lucky enough to see all of his facets throughout his life - from the beer-bong wielding, concert-attending, poker playing boon compadre and dependable wingman, to the dedicated family man, savvy business professional and 'watertight' military commander. He's not just one or another of those things - all those experiences and attitudes from across the years are what molded him into the man he is today.

So I don't expect him to change much, now that he's got gold stars on his lapels. He'll probably still chuckle over our email exchanges (some of the funniest things I've ever written and read have come through the banter and correspondence Camob and I have engaged in, off and on, for over thirty years now). He will undoubtedly be the first Flag Officer in U.S. history who's once owned (and worn) a plastic Devo "New Traditionalist Pomp" hairdo . . . one who's served more hours of disciplinary marching and room restriction at USNA than perhaps any other admiral . . . one who knows and appreciates who Lene Lovich, Jane Wiedlin and Susan Dallion are . . . a man who never missed an episode of The Facts Of Life when it was on, and who once nursed a years-long crush on one of the TV show's girls (I'll let you guess
which one) . . . and one who spent much more time laughing and having fun in school and in life than in sweating over things, politicking and glad-handing his way to high rank. I'm afraid to say that there are more than a few top officers out there who greased their way along with that sort of "brownnoser" attitude (and I can personally name more than one . . .) - Camob is NOT one of those officers.

As such . . . well, with my buddy making Admiral, I sort of feel like Henry Hill and Jimmy "The Gent" Conway felt in Goodfellas, when they heard that Tommy DeVito was going to be a 'made man' in the Mafia - "With Tommy being made, it was like we were all being made." With Camob, it's like, finally, the right man, one of our own, a guy I've known and liked for forever and can relate to, made it. And I couldn't be happier.
(of course, in Goodfellas, this happened . . .

  . . . so maybe that's not such the best analogy to use in this case . . . but I digress . . .)
So, with all of this, I have to say that in this instance I can't agree with Trillin's assessment of 'friends in high places".  Knowing that Camob is now one of the folks "in charge of things" doesn't scare the hell out of me; quite the opposite - it makes me smile, knowing that, at least in this case, justice prevailed, things are in the right hands, and all is good and proper in the world. Congratulations to my old and dear friend!

So, in honor of the new RADM (USNR) Camob, here's The B-52's Mesopotamia EP, containing the alternate demo versions, released erroneously by Island Records in the United Kingdom on January 27th, 1982.  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.  

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:  

Send Email

52 comments:

  1. Thanks! This is the second really cool thing I've found here!

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    1. Well, heck, Mr. Broughter - I guess two out of about one hundred fifty postings isn't TOO bad (ha ha!)!

      Seriously, glad you're finding things here that you like. I look forward to seeing you here again soon.

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  2. Fantastic - thanks for this! I appreciated the great write-up too.

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  3. superb! and quite a backstory ...
    too bad that byrne couldn't keep it all together at the time; the catherine wheel is a fantastic dance/music work.

    thanks smuchly for this; it is my favorite B-52s album, I'm pulling the "original" ep out of my record trove and cranking it up!

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  4. Very nice article. Was looking for this for years. Thanks for the music!

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  5. Thanks for highlighting the David Byrne Mixes of the B-52s Mesopotamia Mixes. They are so much more original than the later mixes!

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  6. Fantastic research! Thanks for this story. I'am am looking for these cool Mesoptamia Byrne mixes quite a while.

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  7. Thanks so much! Your article was great, and I've been looking for an original copy of Mesopotamia for ages.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. THank you very much for sharing these files with me. I can't wait to do a hardcore listening session to compare these with the remixes. I'm glad I kept the old EP.. I never thought this many years later it would be so difficult to find the original mix. The bitrate on these files is high, and on cursory listen it appears to be a solid transfer. Thanks again, I really appreciate it!

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  10. Fantastic Blog with great music and tons of information. And a very generous blogger to boot!

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  11. Wow! I made a simple request for a link and expected to wait at least a couple of days before hearing back. Try a couple of hours (maybe less). It's wonderful to hear this, even with the minor vinyl noise, actually that makes it even better. Keep Up the good work and Thank You.

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  12. So glad to have found this particular entry. Informative and something I didn't know. Thanks for this!

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  13. Great story and a great blog. I come at this post more from the David Byrne side of things, but love me some B-52s as well. You are doing a good thing by keeping these rare files around...

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  14. Great post. Great blog. You're doing a good thing by keeping these rare files around!

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  15. is the link still available?

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    1. Yes - use the "Send Email" link above, so I know what email address to send it to.

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  16. thanks a ton for this! can't wait to compare to the 12''!

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  17. Thanks a million for the rapid response in sharing these terrific sounds! I've always been a fan of the original EP, so I'm looking forward to doing a more thorough comparison, but these mixes sound great!

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  18. I listened to some of these mixes on Dangerous Minds, and ... mind blown. B-52s first and Remain in Light remain two of my favorite albums of all time, and these songs seem an intriguing blend of the two. Thanks for making these available!

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  19. Thanks a Zillion. I fell in love with the B52's when I was an exchange student in San Antonio, TX in 81/82. That showed me what music could or should sound. San Anton was also catching the New Wave bug, Joe "King" Carrasco being a big success (at least within the weird bunch).

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  20. Thanks so much! I think I had this version on vinyl many years ago, but it's lost in the mists of time and international moves.

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  21. Thank you very much! This is the version I listened many times, but the tape got lost. You're doing a great work making those files available and telling the background story!

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  22. Amazing stuff! Thanks a Million!

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  23. Thank you for reading your post.
    Very entertaining. I enjoyed it.
    Cheer.
    Rahim Maarof

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  24. Been trying for about an hour to find a working link to the files. Loved your explanation as to the rifts between the band and Byrne. Please send link. THANKS!

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  25. A HUGE THANK YOU!
    After scouring the internet looking for a link to the Mesopotamia/David Byrne produced B-52's files, this kind NZ-based music fan sent me working links. Sometimes the world is a nice friendly place. THANKS YOU SO MUCH...now I have a great new blog to bookmark and continually reference, as your write up about the history of the recordings was terrific.

    A music fan from Madison, WI

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  26. Thanks for upload! While it took me a couple listens to hear the Byrne mixes without chafing at the differences from the versions I know and love, I feel these are some great cuts. (Full disclosure: I'm also a HUGE Talking Heads fan.) However, the mixes do sound somewhat unfinished or unrefined when it comes to the more extemporaneous sound effects. I wonder if this quality would've been resolved had Byrne been able to see the album all the way through.

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    1. An interesting question, regarding what Mesopotamia would have sounded like with an attentive and dedicated Byrne at the helm… My hope would be that he would have discarded most of the extraneous effects on some of the songs, and focused on the more polyrhythmic aspects of the music, essentially creating an album closer to a Remain In Light-Talking Heads vein than how it ended up. A better question would be how the B-52s would have developed after the release of a fully-formed Mesopotamia - would they have continued along that course after their previous worries and objections to that change in sound, if the album had been a hit? The subsequent album, Whammy, was sort of like them saying, "OK, we're done with Byrne's shit - let's get back to what people know us for!" - but it didn't achieve the chart results they were possibly hoping for. Like I said in the post, Byrne's half-assery of Mesopotamia left the band in a weird space, neither going fully forward nor retreating fully back (and Ricky's death didn't help either) - it took them years to find their footing again, with Good Stuff.

      Thanks for the great comment.

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    1. OK, I finally order an used copy of this EP from the UK. The sound is much better than the mp3 files who give to us.

      Anyways, I like a lot the song Loveland, it's very different from the US release and I like the fact that they leave the vocals intact, who make it a lot more fun to listen to to begin with.

      In fact, almost all the songs sound different and they are better and last longer. When you listen to the original US mix, it's sound boring and lifeless.

      It's not the best record the group had done, but it's far better than some stuff from the Good Stuff era...

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  28. Thank You so much for these! I was sent the link within the hour!

    I've always liked the songs on Mesopotamia but have always yearned to possess them with their original dubby David Byrne production touches.

    Thanks again and great blog!

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  29. Thank you - this is a fantastic overview of a muddy chapter in B-52s history (and New Wave history in general -- a pretty rare collaboration between two key New Wave acts).

    It's bizarre that 30+ years later these mixes remain unavailable digitally (as does the first B-52s 7", weirdly enough)... but thank you for giving me the chance to hear them!

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  30. Thanks loads for sending the link! Really enjoyed your post as well. Cheers!

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  31. Thanks a lot for all the efforts! Good reading

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  32. Hi Mr. PPSH!

    Thanks so much for all of your help and for the album sharing! I greatly appreciate it.

    Much love,
    Okie Logan

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  33. thanks for the B52S. This EP made them a hit on the black stations in Detroit, played heavily by The Electrifying Mojo. In fact I think their lp "Whammy" was in tribute to him; he'd say "don't say 'damn', say 'whammy whoa'"

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  34. Thank you for the link.

    I enjoy The B-52's first two albums but have also always liked this album/EP (their later work is more scattershot, in my opinion). I have never understood the dislike for Mesopotamia. I like when artists experiment and do new things and wish The B-52's had done some more out-there experimenting in their career.

    But I am apparently weird in that I like unappreciated or often hated albums by great artists as much or occasionally more than what are considered their "great" works. Neil Young's 1980s experiments (Re-ac-tor, Trans, Everybody's Rockin', etc.), Zooropa by U2, Monster by R.E.M., Sandinista (all of it) by The Clash are a few examples I can think of off the top of my head that deserve positive reappraisal.

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  35. Thanks for the prompt response to my request for this, despite the span of 4 years since the original post! ^^;

    This was actually my first encounter with MESOPOTAMIA; I had of course heard of this EP before, but never saw it available on store shelves .. and (being personally much more fond of the B-52's 1986+ sound than of their earlier works) had been rather incurious of seeking it out online, until accidentally stumbling upon this blog post last night.

    Reading your post basically (A) reminded me that this EP existed ... (B) that I'd not yet bothered to ever find/listen to it ... and (C) made me decide that this "David Byrne Mix" was the version I wanted to hear first.

    Overall, it's definitely an interesting hybrid of styles ... neither entirely B-52's-ish, nor Talking Heads-esque.

    I also dig that the cover art resembles heiroglyphics -- implying that these songs are fragmented remnants of a lost time period ... which, I suppose, they are. ^^;

    Not to worry; I will definitely also seek-out the original 'release' version of this EP for comparison!

    Thanks again -- for both your interesting & informative 4-year-old blog post, and the music itself!

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  36. Great article. Thanks for the versions. Quite different from the copy I've been listen to for so many years. II've always loved this album. I'll give a good comparison listen. I do love me some Mr. Byrne.
    Thanks again. Keep up the great work! Cheers!

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  37. Excellent work! Before I talk I should read a book

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    1. But there's one thing that… you DO know…!

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  38. Thanks for the vinyl rip and loved the article! I like knowing there's an admiral out there who's a big B-52's and Devo fan.
    One thing though - Cindy sings "Loveland", not Kate! It would be pretty cool if the B-52's would release more demos. I wonder if there's more in their vault beyond the "Queen of Las Vegas" demo.

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  39. I don't know how to thank you for the rip! Go on with this great work. Thanks <3

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  40. one of my favorite records .. thanks for the great context on this music and thanks so much for sending the links so swiftly!

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  41. Thank you very much for the link! Excellent version of an excellent EP. Cheers!

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  42. Thank you VERY much for the links (I really enjoyed this great article, too). I was stunned that you got back to me so quickly AND still had the links available at this late date. You made my day! -Jim

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  43. Oh man the Byrne mixes are atrocious. Muddy vocals- wonky jams not songs. Ended up here researching them. Deleted! Disagree about Cake. Final ver guitar driving- vocals up front and holy shit- a song structure!
    Big DEVO fan also and secretly loved the Go-Go's first album too! Thx.

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  44. hmmm, I disagree with "the Byrne mixes are atrocious" comment. Not sayin there are good...just not atrocious. And the interesting back story in how and why they never came to be (except for the label mistake of pressing them initially in UK) is just the thing that FANatics like me want to know about. Thanks so much for the share... - B

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    1. Yes - at worst, the Byrne mixes are "diamonds in the rough"... some a little rougher than others, mind you, but you can still make out what emerged as the final official album products within. In my opinion, in some cases, they removed too much (as in the case of "Cake", the Byrne mix of which I still consider superior to the album version (which always seemed a little flat and lifeless to me)). I think it's safe to assume that the Mesopotamia album would have been mixed VERY differently from how it ended up, if Byrne had helmed it from start to finish, instead of leaving label hacks with the responsibility of crafting songs from the tapes he left behind.

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  45. I just wrote my comment and it somehow disappeared into the abyss. Lol. Thanks for making these files available to me, I seem to have lost the download I had previously saved. I've always felt that Mesopotamia was the most intensely creative, forward moving record the B's ever have made... certainly has always been my favorite. I've always thought of the union with Byrne as an incredibly productive partnership, but I clearly recall reading in Rolling Stone about the band having 'cold feet' back when the EP came out. When I interviewed Cindy for the Boston Herald back when "Funplex" came out, she told me that the chemistry just wasn't coming together for this album, which shocked me given my affinity for it. These Byrne mixes are raw -- which actually just underscores their value to me. Cheers,
    Christopher Treacy

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