Duran Duran: My Own Way UK 7″ 
- My Own Way [7″ version]
- Like An Angel
I was an early convert to the church of Double Duran [R.I.P. J.J.Jackson]. My friend chasinvictoria initially sent me a tape letter in 1981 that contained an edited recording [missing the long disco intro buildup] of the “Planet Earth” night version available on their US debut album and I was quickly won over. I bought said album almost immediately, and by 1981, was already savvy to the glory of import singles. When I saw a new single on the local import 7″ bins, I pounced on it. It was “My Own Way,” a new song not from their debut album. That was pretty quick!
When I played the record, I was not quite prepared for the overbearing disco string section that kicked the number off. When I heard the full “Planet Earth” 12″ mix after buying the album, I could smell the disco on its breath with its Chic-inspired bass solo right in my face, but even though it was almost too soon after the Disco Wars to be diving into that particular bucket again, I felt the gestalt of the track was well balanced enough between rock and disco with the middleman being the synthesizers of Nick Rhodes uniting the two opposing genres of music.
By comparison, “My Own Way” was hitting the disco bottle hard with one of my least favorite disco tropes; the gratuitous string section. While even in 1981, I could point to disco material that was undeniably classic, said material generally didn’t sport a string section. Moreover, I personally felt that string sections were redolent of the lazy disco material that did so much to give the genre a bad name. Even before I had enough of disco, there was a huge M.O.R. contingent of the genre that did nothing for me. I associated it with disco novelty material like “A Fifth Of Beethoven” or indeed any other bolting on of a disco rhythm section on a timeworn musical chestnut and sold to the indiscriminate rubes clamoring for more. String sections were de riguer for musical monstrosities like Andy Williams releasing a disco tune or… Ethel Merman. That Duran Duran were leaning this hard on this particular musical crutch on just their fourth single really took the wind out of my sails.
The strings, obtrusively scored by Richard Myhill, were the dominant factor of the track. When I looked up Myhill’s profile I found two mid-70s EMI disco albums, and about 30 library music discs. It figures! Every player on this track is subordinate to the strings, though Andy Taylor’s rhythm guitar almost gets a notice here. His solo on the outro had to fight the strings tooth and nail, but at least he got close to a draw.
The single’s B-side fared a little better in that at least it didn’t have a disco string section being shoved down my throat. “Like An Angel” was still a M.O.R. ballad, though. I couldn’t help shake the feeling that vocalist Simon Lebon was hedging his bets in case this whole “New Romantic” thing happened to blow over. It was slice of Duran Duran at their most mainstream yet. It helped that the song was at least pretty, but in 1981 I was expecting big beat synth dance monsters from this band. Nick Rhodes presence was relegated to string patches used for textural effect. I recall wondering what was up with this diffusion of the energy.
Once more, the sweetly sustaining seaside guitar of Andy Taylor was the big winner here, though I believe this may have been the first time that John Taylor had used a fretless bass on a song. Roger Taylor got to bust out the congas to add some extra percussion here, for a stretch. With the benefit of hindsight, the song now reminds me of the sort of vibe that they had reached for earlier on “Khånada” but I had not yet heard that song in 1981. It was still a year or two into the future. It’s best to think of “Like An Angel” as another trip to a well that was getting drier. “Khånada” I’d put on a DD compilation as a perfect deep cut. This one, in comparison, was missable. Simon LeBon’s vocals here lacked the poise and confidence of his [not bad] singing on the A-side. This was more typical of his widely variable singing. I thought the whistling solo was a Bryan Ferry appropriation that was a bit of thin ice. Fortunately, it’s only two bars.
The best thing about the single, for me at the time, was the cover design! The sleeve was the first instance of collaboration by two of the primary sleeve art stars in my world: Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville. “My Own Way” was not the last time the twin titans of graphic design collaborate, either. In 1983 they teamed up for two highly superior works: OMD’s “Dazzle Ships” and Howard Devoto’s “Jerky Versions Of The Dream.” But this sleeve was a decent first time for these friends and colleagues to collaborate. I suspect that Garrett was responsible for the layout with typography falling under Saville’s duties. The scratchboard/lino cut illustration riffed off of the “dancing with the bulls in any old way” lyric effectively enough. I appreciated the use of gold ink for the band’s name. It’s an effective four color [but not full color] design. The “double d” logo on the label/back cover was another good idea. Better than the string section, in any event!
The net result for buying this single as soon as it made it over the Atlantic was that I cooled on Duran Duran going forward. I shied away from buying more discs from them and this was only my second at the time! I thought that they had lost their way after a strong enough debut album. It remained until I got MTV a year later and they began exposing American brains to “Hungry Like The Wolf” before I was ready to give Duran Duran one more chance; thus setting the tenor of the relation that I [and thousands] of discerning fans would have with the band for decades to come.
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