Record Review: Duran Duran – My Own Way

EMI | UK | 7″ | 1981 | EMI 5254

Duran Duran: My Own Way UK 7″ [1981]

  1. My Own Way [7″ version]
  2. 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. < Insert chord of doom here> 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.

Duran Duran were so 1981!

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 matches 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.

Japan got a Nagel cover instead…

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!

Here’s the logo on the B-side of the sleeve

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.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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13 Responses to Record Review: Duran Duran – My Own Way

  1. Echorich says:

    MG + PS ‘friends’ and colleagues…that will get a few chuckles in my camp… Anyway, about My Own Way. I have a theory that there are a number of non-lp singles, which didn’t really make the impression they were expected to, but had something about them that the band felt ready to release and that was quickly latched on to by a smaller segment of their fan base. My Own Way really fits this category. It IS a disco/new wave track and doesnt really fit with the New Romantic angles of the debut or the “take on the world pop” of Rio. It is a particular favorite of mine because it is a really a good bit of fun as a song. It’s got a chorus you can’t help but sing along with and it makes you want to move.
    There’s another song that fits this “misfit” category like a glove as well and that is The Way You Are by Tears For Fears. It as well has little in common with the band’s debut but isn’t as big and bold as the music of follow up Songs From The Big Chair. It is my favorite TFF song and one I have no shame extolling, even if the band seemed to walk away from it after it didn’t really “do the business” in the charts.

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    • Tim says:

      The Way You Are mixes very nicely into Owner of a Lonely Heart, by the way, if you’re ever working on the perfect 80’s Mixtape for Guardians of the Post Punk, Volume 3 or what have you.

      I was a rabid DD collector from early on and it was my introduction to the 12” import bin I fell in love with their b-sides and I think that a lot of the b-s are better than the a’s Khanada, Like An Angel, Sekret Oktober….I was also boggled that these were their throwaway tracks when they clearly belonged on the parent albums.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Tim – I’m not sure “Secret Oktober” would belong on “Seven And The Ragged Tiger.” It seriously outclasses the whole album, in my view! On the other hand, I can hear “The Way You Are” fitting like a glove with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” Completely!

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        • Tim says:

          I agree with you on Sekret Oktober, I’ve already expressed how I feel that DD jumped the tiger, er, shark with that album.
          I made a mix years ago where I discovered the alchemy between the TFF and the Yes tracks. To be totally honest I haven’t listened to it in so long that I couldn’t tell you much of what else is on there or what even bumpered those two tracks, that was just the golden eureka moment of that mix that I was always proud of.

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          • Echorich says:

            I’m having a really hard time with this TFF/YES linkage….it hurts my brain…really badly. I mean, I get how they could work together in a mix, but I just can’t abide the idea. I see The Way You Are as the track that Chris “Merrick” Hughes had is most influence over while working with TFF. The opening drums on the Extended Mix have a wonderful hint of Adam And The Ants pop-tribal percussion. But it’s the circular almost quality of the song, the bits of singing in a sort of deconstructed call and response, just captures me and pulls me well into the song. Finally there is an air of isolation, frustration, stagnation that was so very much TFF’s wheelhouse that was a natural attraction to me in my early 20’s.

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            • Tim says:

              Sorry – I just don’t have that attachment to that song. It took me forever to find it, easily a decade after it came out. I love it but I don’t have the kind of history with it.

              It probably won’t help to hear that I dug up the mix to see what else was on it, Owner of a Lonely Heart outros to Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” via a mashup that I found of OofLH and PaP. It’s pretty much an 80’s mix and that’s the unifying them as opposed to a mood or biography.

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      • Echorich says:

        Tim – I have to agree with you on the quality of early DD b-sides. Khanada should have really been on the debut. It is so big a beautiful, an homage to the Glam of Roxy Music with its feet planted solidly in the future of Pop. It’s a song that shows off the serious side of their musicianship. If it was a 7 or 8 minute song it would be all the more perfect.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I’ve heard that Garrett and Saville were students in college at the same time. More like bitter rivals, perhaps?

      Good call on TFF’s “The Way You Are.” That’s IT right on the head. The false step sideways single following the first album but in no way an outlier for the second [world conquering] album. Well, these bands need room to grow. Too bad for them it’s done under public scrutiny.

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      • Echorich says:

        It’s my great friend in London who was at Uni with both MG & PS so that’s where I get my insight. As well, on a good night, MG will spin a lovely PS tale.

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        • Tim says:

          I never saw the Japanese sleeve before, quite nice and thanks for adding that. I knew that there were many iterations of Carnival and the sleeves for the singles on the 1st album but always thought that the 2nd album and it’s products were more uniform.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – There is more on Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy…
            Hungry Like The Wolf - US PS
            US PS
            Hungry Like The Wolf - JPN Spring 82 PS
            JPN Spring 82 PS
            Hungry Like The Wolf JPN Fall 82 PS
            JPN Fall 82 PS
            Rio JPN PS
            JPN PS
            Uniform, really didn’t start in the Duran Universe until album three. By which time they had the pull to get uniform branding messages across the globe…
            New Moon On Monday CAN PS
            CAN PS
            New Moon On Monday JPN PS
            JPN PS
            …almost!

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            • Tim says:

              Yeah…..really prefer the other sleeves to the band shots. The graphics age better than the 80’s fashion do. I caught the video for the lead single off of their last album the other day….seriously….they’ve pretty much fallen off of my radar. The song was ‘meh’ but they sure still know how to make vids, even if confidently mugging for the camera.
              I think it was Thomas Dolby who once commented that you either have the charismatic presence to make a vid in the 80’s or you don’t and these guys have it in spades.

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  2. Wonderful stuff. I only have to hear a couple of seconds of tracks like “My Own Way” or “Last Chance on the Stairway” and I’m instantly transported to my early teens.

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