Rock GPA: Duran Duran [part 1]

ROCK-GPA-DURAN

I first heard Duran Duran when my friend chasinvictoria sent me a tape letter from exotic Mableton, Georgia. When he lived in the next state for a year, we often sent tape letters salted with the latest New Wave tracks that made their way into our collections. On one tape was “Planet Earth” by Duran Duran. The debut LP had just been released in the US and Charles probably heard it on WREK-FM, Georgia Tech college radio. The year was 1981 and New Romantic [whatever that means] synthesizer music was busting out all over. As I loved the sound of synths, this was a great time to have my taste in music.

The US 1st pressing LP of “Duran Duran” was re-sequenced from the UK pressing. We lost “To The Shore” but gained the Night Version of “Planet Earth.” Charles truncated the long disco buildup of the Night Version of “Planet Earth” so I was hooked by a more succinct version of the song than what awaited me on the LP when I bought it shortly afterward. From the spring of 1981 and onward, I can be said to have been a Duran Duran fan.

I immediately snatched up the UK 7″ of “My Own Way” upon release but was disappointed to hear those overbearing disco strings. It was just a little too soon following the disco deluge of our culture and I was not in the mood to hear a disco string section at all. So I bailed on what would be their second album, “Rio.” Enter Charles one more time. He had bought their “Carnival” EP of remixes and added the incredible extended remix version of “Hold Back The Rain” to a later tape letter. This was an amazing track! Nearly thirty years later, it still stands as my favorite Duran Duran track.

This is a song, 28 years later, that I have never tired of hearing. It is close to being a perfect pop song to my ears. The arrangement is flawlessly exciting at every turn. So I came on board with the “Rio” program a bit late. After hearing “Hold Back The Rain” I bought the new album and found it to be filled with a kind of pop perfection. All of the songs were the sound of a group hitting their stride with all twelve cylinders and as a bonus, they recut “My Own Way,” the single that stopped me from just buying “Rio” immediately, in a newer, better version.

Then, in the fall of 1982, MTV came to our cable system as it began spreading across America. In short order, Duran Duran ceased to be the cult New Romantic synth group of a few malcontents. Thanks to their taste for high video production values, the group got a lot of airtime on MTV. Subsequently, they actually became a teenbeat pop phenomenon with their faces plastered across countless bedroom walls with the requisite flash mobs of teenaged girls in a state of hysteria, lurching towards the band members like some sort of rogue amoeba. This was a first for me to observe. No band I had liked had ever managed to do this. Did I mind? Certainly not! I’m not one of those people who demands exclusivity on my favorite bands! As XTC succinctly put it, “This is pop!” Good music should have widespread popularity! This is a sign that system actually works on occasion! Decent music shouldn’t be the secret of an enclave of a few hipsters.

All well and good, but widespread popularity is a two way street. As the band affects our culture, our culture also affects the band. This became painfully aware after Duran Duran had conquered the world and then made their next move. I didn’t dislike “Seven + The Ragged Tiger” because they were popular with teenaged girls. I disliked it because it had none of the confidence of “Rio” and seemed ill considered and sloppy. As a work of art it probably perfectly captured the state of their frenzied minds at the time, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to listen to it. So I bid the good ship Duran Duran another adieu.

I didn’t pay any attention to Duran Duran for another couple of years. My friend Brian gave “Notorious” a high recommendation, so I gambled on a CD in the used bins and was delighted by what I heard. This was a cohesive, rewarding album by a band who had been through the crucible of fire and managed to become tempered and even refined in the process. I was a casual fan at this point. I bought none of the 12″ singles from “Notorious” since I was CD only at that time [this would change later].

When the “Big Thing” singles hit the marketplace, they were on CD, so I bought them. They were okay, but I didn’t buy the album at this time. I did the same for the “Liberty” CD singles when I saw them later down the road. This is not unusual for me. I tend to concentrate on singles, which are harder to get a few years down the road for groups that I like. After all, I can always wait and get the albums on CD from the used bins and save a bit in the process. When paying an average of $10 for an import CD single, this is good economic sense.

So I was casually keeping up with Duran Duran but some time in 1992, a line was crossed in my mind. That year, I became aware of all of the music that might never make the leap to CD. Singles, in particular, are filled with rarities that won’t make it to CD. I was also aware that recordable CD technology was at the doorstep. It was at a record show when presented with a bin full of Duran Duran and Arcadia [whom I missed entirely] 12″ ers priced at 2/$5 that I thought that it was time to really collect the Duran singles in a way that I hadn’t at the time. So I bought a handful of “Rio” era UK 12″ers and a few Arcadia singles as well and this was good timing, because by 1992, my Ultravox collection seemed complete, and I wanted a new collecting challenge. I can laugh at my naiveté now, but you must remember that the internet wasn’t there yet.

In 1993 my Duran Duran fandom busted wide open. First, I met lots of new friends who were also into the band, and secondly, they released their powerful “comeback” album [a.k.a. “The Wedding Album”] that saw them rocketing back into the top ten in a big way. That was also the year I finally got to see Duran Duran live in concert. As it happened, there were three opportunities on the seemingly never ending “Extraordinary World” tour. I caught the Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando shows. By this time I was seriously collecting the band and bought a couple hundred rarities and back catalogue items via ads in Goldmine and catalogs since it was still pre-web. I finally bought and heard the “Big Thing” and “Liberty” albums. By this time I twigged to the reality that Duran Duran were going to have a wildly variable career, to put it mildly. Let’s take a look at the graph…


The line tells the tale. For every high point, there’s a low one. Sometimes two. After tabulation, their final ROCK GPA® is: 2.62, a B- average.

Next: We dissect Duran Duran, album by album…

[Note: this final ranking has been changed  on 12/29/10 from 2.57 due to the upranking of the 2007 album from 3.0 to 3.5 after further consideration.]

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
This entry was posted in Core Collection, New Romantic, Rock GPA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Rock GPA: Duran Duran [part 1]

  1. Brian Ware says:

    Well well well… I’ve been looking forward to this. I’m not too far from your grades in most cases. I’m glad to see the passage of time has perhaps softened your opinion on “Liberty”. I’d give it a 3.0 and a 3.5 for “Big Thing” and “Astronaut” . However, I’m freakin’ gobsmacked at your grade for “Red Carpet Massacre”, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading your analysis of that one. Clearly it’s tapped into something for you that I wasn’t able to connect with at all.

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  2. ronkanefiles says:

    I encountered them when I saw the name on a release sheet from England, for “Planet Earth” – “Why would anyone name themselves after something / someone from a creepy old science fiction movie? They better have synthesizers!”. They did, and I listened, noting that their producer had also worked with Magazine, a band I adored.

    UK copies of the first album came and went, I never made it to “Rio”. Salacious video clips were always entertaining, but…I had to watch “Girls On Film” unedited on my Betamax Hi-Fi. They took too long to come, so I lost interest, and never saw them live.

    Everyone I know who went to The Roxy and saw ’em the first time reported that Simon had tremendous stage charisma, but that the band were dogged with technical problem etc.

    I went to New Zealand and promptly forgot about bands coming out of England, for the most part…

    For 30 years hence, DD – yes. First album (UK vers.) all the way, the edited CD + DVD “Best of” for the rest of my collection. I kept some 45’s and variants – want me to send you a list?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      @ronkanefiles – They’ve been the proverbial “little girl with a curl” to me for decades. When they’re good they’re very very good, but when they’re bad they’re horrid. My wife says they use the psychological conditioning technique of intermittent reinforcement to keep my interest, and I think she’s right!

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  3. chas_m says:

    I’m flattered to finally rate a mention on the blog, but I must correct you on a minor matter — Duran Duran would have been played on WRAS, the Georgia State station I was doing some work for (and soaking up like a sponge) at the time. WREK was at that time the world’s first “iPod shuffle” station, playing all genres completely randomly in free-form whenever they didn’t have a regular program on.

    On to your critiques: I think I would rate the third album a little higher, and I thought Arcadia was terrific. “Big Thing” was a jolt but a good one that has now stood the test of time.

    My personal favourite Duran tune is pretty hard to call, but it might be “A View to a Kill” which I just never get tired of. Trying to out-do Art of Noise? That takes balls.

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