Friday, February 25, 2011
Keeping the theme of 80s icons bobbing along - guest blogger Matt Rudd, brings us a glorious run down on New Rom/royal faves - Duran Duran. By day Matt can be found parked up at the Does That Make Sense blog, however of a sunday evening he plays nowt but 80s hits and highlights for Q Radio...So why-I-I-I don't I cut short my shambly ramblings and hand over to Matt..
For a period of three or so years in the 1980s, Duran Duran could justifiably label themselves the biggest band on the planet. They were rescued from faddish New Romantic cultishness and thrown into the world's mainstream through a combination of handsomeness, colour and a sense for the zeitgeist.
It's 30 years this month since the self-titled debut album was released and quickly the smoulder and headbands was to become pop superstardom and a second British Invasion. The big appreciation of what was going on around them took them to the United States of America quite early in their careers, thanks to a Godley & Creme directed video for an otherwise standard pop single Girls On Film that essentially
went for soft porn and mild fetish and even those outraged by the video - including the newly-influential MTV, who banned it - had to conclude they stood out from the crowd.
Detractors say that they were lucky to emerge just as videos were starting to form a major part in a band's evolution towards success, but they still had to make the videos and still had to get them noticed. As much a factor in the seediness of the Girls On Film video was MTV's decision to cut an alternative version, meaning that the song was still played and the story of the original video was still newsworthy.
The video art was something Duran Duran pulled off time and again, but it was fortunate that in Simon Le Bon, they had a charismatic frontman with a knack of being able to write lyrics that if not exactly a threat to Coleridge, still inspired a desire for interpretation. Add to that the obvious go-getting behind a keyboard of
Nick Rhodes, who seemed to master new synthesiser ranges before anyone else, and the obvious good looks of the three Taylors, and you had a band that could do no wrong.
Musically, they developed after that debut album, with Rhodes becoming as much of an arranger as a writer. Save A Prayer, from their huge second album Rio, finds us a terrific contradiction via some of Le Bon's least viable lyrics with some of Rhodes' best discovery of bankable sounds. The warble within the intro was, in 1982 and with computers still very much for show, a hard to one to discover and pull off, but they
managed it. And though they didn't need an excuse to go to Sri Lanka, they had one anyway now.
Afterwards came the title track and one of the biggest definitive images of Duran Duran's videomaking. The yacht, the wildly coloured suits - and yes, they actually looked like smart popstars, ditching the futuristic nonsense after one album because they decided it was vile - and Le Bon perched on the bow mouthing stuff about a cherry ice cream smile, birthdays and pretty views. It remains the best received Duran Duran song on a dancefloor.
The final hurdle to overcome was to get to No.1 in the charts. For all their headlines and domination, the first two albums produced no chart-toppers in the UK, with Save A Prayer coming closest. Indeed, Rio had only just made the Top 10 - something that surprises people to this day - and it took a filler single, made to maintain the name while the band hid away recording the third album and planning a major global tour, to get their wish. Is There Something I Should Know didn't just reach No.1, it went straight in at the top, which was something only fans of Slade and the Jam were used to celebrating at the time. There was something sharper about the pop sound, again led by Rhodes' desire to have riffs and hooks on the keyboard instead of on guitar, but for once Andy Taylor - easily the least memorable member - was allocated a strong guitar track after the repetitive vocal intro and this remained a motif of the band for the next 12 months. Cannily, they grafted the song on to the issue of the 1981 debut album in the USA and this helped sales substantially, but it has still only ever appeared on collections and compilations in Britain. Rhodes, meanwhile, celebrated his second chart-topper in the UK of 1983, having produced the melancholia that underscored Limahl's sunny vocals on Kajagoogoo's Too Shy.
Seven And The Ragged Tiger, with a cover photo shot in Australia and some fiercely focussed in-house production, emerged later in 1983 with lead single Union Of The Snake entering the charts in the Top 3. This album was not greatly received. It was claimed the band were getting tired and not making enough progress. New Moon On Monday, a fans favourite but not publicly endorsed, again was only just a Top 10 hit and it took an astute remix job from Nile Rodgers, complete with famous acapella opening, on lead track The Reflex to salvage something, taking it to No.1 in the spring of 1984. Listening to the album version of that song now, having known the single version all this time, is very hard.
The latter half of 1984 restored the reputation for much-debated video ideas within the band, during which time the newly-bankable Morrissey had declared that they could be directed by "a drunken goat". Nonetheless, he was a fan, as proved by his decision to award 1984 standalone release Wild Boys the Single Of The Fortnight tag when reviewing the new issues in Smash Hits ("fiery vocals and mountainous drums\'85. but please boys, don't make a video"). They did make a video, and some video it was too, with Le Bon still dousing down rumours that he was close to drowning several times. The single was issued with six different sleeves - five featuring each single band member, and one with the whole group on - but even collectors couldn't quite get it to No.1.
There almost wasn't a Duran Duran in 1985 as Le Bon found himself trapped in the hull of his yacht Drum, underwater and with oxygen running out, during the Fastnet race at Cornwall. Rescued and recovered, the band accidentally found themselves chosen to write the theme song for the next Bond movie (courtesy of John Taylor drunkenly heckling a producer about the standard of previous songs) and took themselves to Paris to parody espionage activity for the video, with Godley & Creme back in tow.
A View To A Kill remains the highest-charting Bond theme in the UK and the only one to reach the top in the States. It's also a moment that millions of Duran Duran fans try to box off and isolate in their minds as soon the big split would occur. The quintet did Live Aid - the Philadelphia leg, with Le Bon's humiliating bum note
moment - and then imploded.
And so we got Arcadia and Power Station. For all the puffing up that the members of each project attempted in publicity, neither were as good as Duran Duran and nobody really wanted to know - and they knew it. Arcadia, courtesy of having Rhodes and Le Bon, sounded more Duran-like (albeit staggeringly over-pretentious) just by dint of keeping the electronic experimentation going, whereas Power Station - two of the Taylors alongside Robert Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson - were just a messy, muddy funk disaster that only served (in the negative) to allow Andy Taylor to drive his axeman's ego; and (in the positive) to revive Palmer's solo career. Their version of Get It On is one of the most disrespectful, most rank covers ever made.
Bridges were built with John Taylor but the other two left the band, not to return for 20 years, and only the telegenic, introspective drummer Roger Taylor did so with blessing. Notorious was the next release and contains some of the material Le Bon remains most proud of, but the honeymoon - already close to its natural end - had been brought to an abrupt halt. The title track, in which Nick Rhodes takes a funk riff from a guitar and plays it with keys instead, was a smart single but the demise was obvious via the placing outside of the Top 20 of follow-up Skin Trade, despite Le Bon's continuing endorsement and a video that received nominations for the effects used and, naturally for a song about the glamour industry, featured a woman who was easy on the eye.
From 1986 onwards, Duran Duran ceased to matter, and only when nostalgia accompanied a surprisingly approachable comeback single in Ordinary World in 1993 did the sneery disdain for any band synonymous with the bad old 1980s come to a halt. Ordinary World was, after all, a tremendous pop song, catered to the adult market that had grown up with the band while still being melodious and catchy enough to get on pop A-lists and it deservedly pierced the Top 10 - only the second time the band had managed that since Notorious seven years before. The follow-up, Come Undone, was a brilliantly uncommercial coal-fired song, combining gloom and echo in production with Le Bon in menacing mode.
In recent times, Duran Duran have been happy to play the ageing daddy of pop. They acquired so much goodwill in their heyday just through a pop star's expected lifestyle, aided by good songs and videos that captured a mood, and unlike many of their contemporaries who are forced on to nostalgia tours, they can still make proper records in swish surroundings and be taken seriously in doing so - hence the recruitment of a starstruck Mark Ronson to produce the current release, All You Need Is Now. All except Rhodes are now in their fifties and still gleeful at what they achieved, what they got away with and what shifts in musical and visual arts they inspired.
And, whatever magazines tell you about big rivalries and comparable album sales, they were always miles better than Spandau Ballet.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Who would've thought when I first fired off my cyber-jabber all those years ago - anyone would have taken my ol' musical musings and spins with anything other than a large salty pinch
But thankfully the good bods at Vive Le Rock! - have given me the opportunity to pitch in with some opinions for issue 2 of their block-rocking read. As well as my mutterings: Adam Ant talks everything from Live Aid to Liam Gallagher with John Robb. Chris Constantinou former Ant bassist now a Wolfman splains why being an Ant was like being a Beatle. There's glam antics from Michael Monroe and the Bay City Rollers - and exclusives with The Stranglers, Poly Styrene Sylvain Sylvain, James Williamson and walloping read on the often forgotten Chiswick Records label
For my part: The Posies, Black Robert and Thee Faction albums are all under review....thumb around the back pages and you'll find my scribblings, scores on the doors and mentions of these exact tracks..
The Posies - She's Coming Down Again!
Black Robert - J' Arrive Pas á Dormir
And if you happen to be in the Bloomsbury area get yourself trotting to the Orange Dot Gallery for a Vive Le Rock photo expo which runs until March the 1st..
Friday, February 18, 2011
What still no PVC trousers! (ordered 4th of Jan, they were)
Get in the swim - seems to be the motif of month, with a micro-buzz for splashing about in our local venue - Runnymede. Originally built for swimming competitions, with an Olympic size pool and a deep end for competition diving - but no viewing gallery! Smart moves donuts!!
On a similar riff, one of the design faults/or bonuses (depending on your view - literally) of our school's PE changing rooms were the boys/girls interconnecting radiators, which, mirrored each other on either side of a breeze block wall - joined by a copper pipe running through a small 'I-spy' hole in the brickwork.
Those that were sly-eyed, prepared to kneel, squint and take a faceful of raging radiator heat - could tune into the the other side's fruity doings like a fox staking out a hen house. Unless of course, some quick thinking gal had hung a towel over the 'hers' side of the rad's. Although no such barrier was in play when Chaselton settled himself in for a righteous eyeful on the 26th.
Chaselton (nickname:Mullen - don't know why) was the sort of boy you wouldn't get away with tagging as Educationally Sub-Normal now, but could in 1980. Mullen moved with the lumpy rhythm of stop-motion animation and was usually paired up with Turnidge - who, looked like Graham Garden and gave a gritted peeled-back, grin, but never spoke. Together these two odd-boys bobbed around the school grounds in their own outsider orbit.
Until Mullen, like the rest of us, heard his hormones calling and took a turn peeping into the wee gap of mystery and magnificence - only to have his beady-eyed freeview hand-braked by the untimely tapping of the PE teacher on his cringed shoulder. For a few over-heated moments, Mullen had finally come into alignment with the rest of us and was one of the gang. The gang being a rolling collective of sweaty faced fidgeters, knee-shifting like snipers for maximum accuracy.
Of course, the moment his lusty bubble burst, Mullen was once again the same old sack-like lad... who, later that year, we locked in the school greenhouse with pal Turnidge, bolting off to leave them silently shouting through the misty panes and tomato plants. Cruel, yes - but that was kids in the 80s. Who were probably just as cruel as kids of any other decade.
Appropriately given this month's radiator tales: singles bought were The Angelic Upstarts, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Vapours..
Angelic Upstarts - Out of Control
Stiff Little Fingers - At the Edge
Chartwise the rundown for this date in 1980 looked like this
Top 75 Singles
Top 75 Albums
Possibly the most bizarre album chart in human history - with Des O'Connor (17), snuggled betwixt John Foxx and The Clash. Dare to go below 40 and it's an all-out mind-fry. You have been warned pop pickers..
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
And there's no stranger arrangement than this semi-official, white label Look of Love twelve inch. Trevor Horn - the Joe 90 of pop production - punches every programme on the rinse 'n' spin remix machine: backward loops, varispeed vocals and Fairlight slams make this something of a pop curiosity from the ABC catalogue. Although the whirring blur and boom-box beats all pull tidily into place by the closing coda.
ABC - Look of Love 12" (Special Remix) *offline temporarily*
A Merchant Banker Bonus
I’ve seen the future, I can’t afford it.
Yuppiedom and Sloanies come full circle. With the Blue Meanies in office, tax hikes, library closures, charity snatching and the privatisation of forests (oi Cameron get off our land) and billion pound banker bonuses - this undervalued tune fits the mood of the moment perfectly
ABC - How To Be A Millionaire 12" (Wall St Mix ) *offline temporarily*
The regulation 7 inch edish, sounds like.....
ABC - How To Be A Millionaire
Friday, February 11, 2011
Perhaps it was Chas Hodges honky-tonking roof-raiser at The Railway a couple of weeks back, but I've been on something of a buzz for Jump Blues and Boogie doings lately. Louis Jordan, Sunnyland Slim and Frank "Sugar Chile" Robinson have all been beating eight to the bar round at our juke joint..
One tune never that fails to put some zip in your zoot suit or a tap in your spats comes from our old chum Smiley Lewis, writer of One Night (raunch version) and name-checked on the first podcast from Piley and I. (See if you can spot the lyrical connection with Tuesday's Eno post)
Smiley Lewis - Shame Shame Shame
Back in Ye Olde Days of Crocs Sam Butera's Bim Bam was a surefire floor-filler uniting punks, skins and blitz kids in a multi-cult shakedown
Sam Butera - Bim Bam
If you're in the mood for some live jiving, hotfoot it down to The Railway this Saturday where you can swish the night away with a vintage swing night
Chas Hodges: rocking at The Railway.
Liberace: camper than a Christmas cake
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Planet Mondo and the Acme Corporation are proud to bring you the Instant Brian Eno Kit (72-74 edition)*
This deluxe and delightful easy to assemble three-part package has been lovingly crafted in Woodbridge and comes ready prepared with everything you need to become a self styled rock boffin or for generating your own Enossification and Cybernetics. Contents include...
A VCS3 (Putney) Synthesizer. Downloadable here..
One Starway Guitar (snake guitar in Eno-speak)
A full set of Oblique Strategy Cards. Try before you buy here..
Simply post a blank
Frank cheque to St John, le Baptiste, de la Salle, CPL5 93H allowing 28 days for delivery.. and you to can be squeaking, bleeping and remaking/remodelling glamouramic art project-pop like this
Brian Eno - Blank Frank
*Ostrich feathers and leopard skin items not included
Friday, February 4, 2011
Well done to Simon and Office Pest for knowing but not naming - and close but no button-down to John Medd. Right, I'm off for a blow out at Blow Up tonight, where I'm sure there'll be plenty of vintage Shermans shaking a retro-leg to Baltic Fleet, Silvery, The Bongolian and Big Boss Man..
If you are rocking at the Relentless Garage tonight, I'll be probably bar-bothering in an overly-patterned check shirt. However if you're not hoofing Highbury Corner way, why not drop in at Davy's or Drew's for a Friday night scoop and a tune..
But, before bolting I'll wrap up with someone who's hugely overdue for logging in the blog..
Fabienne Delsol - Mr Mystery
You know him! You do - well his name anyway. But who is he?
A couple of pointers for you...
He's a non-music biz contributor to pop culture.
Born in Brighton, died in 1987.
And a hint expressed through the medium of Lee Perry
The Bleechers - Check Him Out
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Digging through the John Barry back catalogue I ran across his take (well the John Barry 7's take) of Watch Your Step...originally a Bobby Parker single that Lennon openly admitted was lifted and rejigged by The Fabs for I Feel Fine (more on that here). The Beatles shuffle 'n' bump arrangement is literally just a shade away from John Barry's Brit-Beat twist on the tune.
His first take appeared on The John Barry Sound EP, released just a year after the Beat Girl soundtrack, an album constructed from similar trebly Anglo-twangs and speedy hipster rhythms
Fast forward to 62, where The John Barry Orchestra re-oomphed Watch Your Step for Beat Girl star Adam Faith, an updated take flip-siding his Lonesome single. The opening note - an extended sax honk - is almost a pre-feedback version of The Beatles legendary intro.
Exhibits A (Adam) B (Barry) C (Cheeky Beatles) are below. Take 6 of I Feel Fine, the instrumental version, is the one to lend a quizzical ear to...
John Barry 7 - Watch Your Step
The Beatles - I Feel Fine (Take 6 and 7)