[…continued from last post]
The last post, we set out the notion of compiling a Duran Duran disc that might be a good listen for someone who had preconceived notions of the band due to their often unfortunate image, which sometimes gets in the way of the music’s merits. By cherry-picking deep cuts and the occasional B-side, we might be able to circumvent the band’s image and sometimes crass pop sound. Shall we begin?
Is There Anyone Out There?
The band’s penchant for an adroit and sophisticated melodic sensibility has, thankfully, been apparent from day one. Strip away the JAPAN-goes-RockDisco trappings of their debut album and there was already an example of their penchant for a beautiful melody manifest. Some bands would eschew such movement. Beauty is not always a hip thing, but DD had no reticence to explore the pleasures of a beautiful melody. The pull of Nick Rhodes’ synth washes and the bass ganks of John Taylor gave a strong foundation to one of Simon LeBon’s better early vocals. Credit EMI Brazil for being the only territory who saw this as single material, at least as far as the scarce promo stage.
I can imagine that “Khanada,” the B-side to their second single, “Careless Memories,” was among the tracks recorded for inclusion on the “Duran Duran” album, but that it lost out to “Is There Anyone Out There?” for ultimate inclusion. The vibes of the songs were similar, but LeBon’s multi-tracks vocals were a big difference here. As was the jazzy fadeout with sitar [?] licks from Andy Taylor pushing the band further afield.
Last Chance On The Stairway
The band’s sophomore album took them from the UK top 10 to top 10 charts worldwide. Along with the patented Double Duran rock disco monsters like “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the title track, were their first example of a lighter waving ballad single in “Save A Prayer.” But we are digging deeper than that. Instead we will opt for the insouciant pop of “Last Chance On The Stairway.” Andy Taylor’s guitar chords were tougher here than so far in the program, but the xylophone solo by [presumably] Nick Rhodes showed that this band would be fearless in plowing forward with sounds that were not a part of their image.
While DD fell far out of my favor with the “Union of The Snake” single [and album that followed], if the listener flipped the pre-release single over, they were rewarded with one of the best non-LP B-sides ever in “Secret Oktober.” The A-side was a crass re-write of “Let’s Dance,” but the hastily recorded B-side [written/recorded in the last 24 hours before the band began their pre-sold-out ‘Seven + the Ragged Tiger’ world tour] caught the band with their disarmingly finest foot forward. A gorgeous melody was given a sensitive and subtle framing by the arrangement that might have been just Rhodes himself frantically playing all of the parts. Unlike the album it prefaced, none of it sounds rushed and haphazard. If “Seven + The Ragged Tiger” was an overcooked mess, the speed and economy that led to the creation of “Secret Oktober” belied all of the panic and cocaine that set the tone for the album itself. It is the perfect picture of zen calm and poise. One of the band’s finest ever moments.
Next: …Scientific American
If I were a betting man, I’d attribute the xylo solo to Roger or an uncredited session player before pegging it as Nick’s work… unless it was played on a Fairlight or Emulator, but there is no other evidence of this tech elsewhere on the album.
Very interesting that you chose this deep cut over New Religion or Hold Back the Rain, both quite strong tunes that weren’t single material in most territories. I think Stairway is also the only Rio-era cut for which only one version exists.
JT – Yeah, xylophone is both a melodic and rhythm instrument. Traditionally the purview of a percussionist but I think it’s more melodic than percussive. But yeah, it’s hard to reconcile Nick playing something physical like that! As far as samplers, I daresay that Nick didn’t touch one until recording the third album. “Hold Back The Rain” is the strongest of tunes for DD, but one that sits firmly in their dancerock wheelhouse; hence its omission here. This will be a cohesive compilation with an overriding mood. That mood is quiet. Introspective. Sensitive. Suffused with beauty and delicacy. There will be no room for the band’s more typical upbeat/brash material, no matter how successful it was.
Yes and also the xylo isn’t in Nick’s melodic or rhythmic style. It just doesn’t sound like him. His strength is atmospheres and textures. Has Nick *ever* taken a lead-style solo (in the style of, let’s say for example, Penthouse and Pavement or the solo in Sleepwalk by Uovx)? I can’t recall one off-hand. He’d rather do a surreal textural interlude with a programmed sequence chattering away underneath… of which there are many examples in the DD discog. Imagine that xylo part played on a synth. There isn’t a single other moment in the DD repertoire that would be a stylistic counterpart (although it would fit right in on an H17 record). He’s just not that type of lead player. He grew up listening to too much Richard Barbieri!
LikeLiked by 1 person
JT – Good point. When listening to this compilation, I was struck by how Nick was ALL atmospheres and textures. Driving home from work listening tonight I was thinking how he is the furthest thing from a Billy Currie. But the singularity of the xylophone in the song was what made it stand out to me. It dramatically flouted the DD expectations. Which is what this exercise was all about.
50/50 on my matching my car DD CD that goes for the same sort of thing.
I traded The Sound of Thunder for Anyone Out There (AOT didn’t make the cd cut due to time limits) and Like An Angel for Last Chance on the Stairway.
There’s some interesting concert takes on Sekret Oktober over on YouTube (which I know you avoid…) as well as a choice fan made mix or two out there.
Tim – I see that in the “Ultrachrome Latex + Steel” live Thanksgiving 1997 Pleasure Island RSD album that came out a few years back that they played “Secret Oktober” on that “Medazzaland” tour. The question remains… where was I during that show? We saw the “Pop Trash” tour at Pleasure Island [1999?], but maybe the tickets for the earlier show were pricey given the holiday weekend? That’s my only guess. Or maybe my wife and I were traveling. Bummed that I missed the tour where they did their best B-side!
The album is over on digital platforms and I just checked out the sample on Amazon – that’s the same take I heard on YouTube, it’s a lot longer and a more ambient mix.
I don’t remember your specific circumstances but Kenna and I saw them on that tour at the Carol Morsani Hall in Tampa on 11/28/97 and they most definitely played “Secret Oktober”. All that Medazzaland material sounded way better live.
Mr. Ware – I can only imagine that “Medazaland” material [which on the live album in question, was heavily represented] would take on a whole new complexion live. That album was so psychedelic on disc. There’s no way they could do that sort of thing live. So you saw them in Tampa. Cheaper tix than Pleasure Island? Or did they add the Orlando date after you had already bought out of town tickets? And you can’t answer why I wasn’t attending either show can you? Maybe I was so damaged by “Thank You” I sat it out for that reason. Now that makes some sense to me!
I’m always amazed at Kenna’s total recall. She reminds me that it was a babysitting issue. Gillian was only 18 months old so that’s why we opted for the Tampa show. As to why you weren’t at either one we don’t recall.
Mr. Ware – Sonnuva…!!! Now that I hear that …I do believe that WE were the sitters!!!
I have to cop to being a big Duran Duran fan up through “Rio” (they completely lost the thread after that album)–and “Last Chance on the Stairway” is one of my favorites of theirs. I particularly love this surprisingly good lyric, too:
“Funny, it’s just like a scene out of Voltaire/Twisting out of sight/’Cause when all the curtains are pulled back/We’ll turn and see the circles we’ve traced…”
Looking forward to more of your proposed tracks for this collection!
Steve Shafer – Wow. Out of context that lyric really pops! Even I underestimate LeBon and I’m a fan!
This is from over on Mashstix, someone took a stab at making a Burning the Ground that uses some of the newer material. Tangential to the topic but posters here may enjoy it. There’s a video for it on YT as well (unless the copyright cops nailed it).
Tim – Hmmm. Copyright Cops. Are they anything like the Promo Police I lived in fear of during the Eighties? If they busted me then, there went a quarter of the collection!
The Promo Police have been too busy busting people who took the tags off of their mattresses, all these federal agencies are short staffed as the swamp is being drained you know.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Can’t argue any of your choices. But I would’ve struggled with picking ‘stairway’ vs ‘lonely in your nightmare’. Probably my two favorite tracks on that amazing album.
I agree with earlier comments about Nick not playing big solos. But when you listen to what he does on the opening of something like ‘save a prayer’, he’s already overshadowed so many other ‘more up-front’ synth operators…. how do you compete with THAT?
Glad you’re not shying away from the b-sides. It was your site that got me to recognize just how good they are. Nice idea for a post and looking forward to your subsequent picks!
Bpdp3 – In truth, “Lonely In Your Nightmare” could have been there but the xylophone solo in “Last Chance On The Stairway” was too atypical to ignore and it won me over. But we had to double dip into some later DD albums, as we’ll see.
Hmmm…Last Chance On The Stairway…THE MOST JAPAN, that Duran Duran may have ever gotten. Sure, Simon can’t help but sing/shout some of the lyrics, but this is beyond influenced by Sylvian and the boys. If David had sung this song, he would have used is “modulating” vocals all over the places where Simon’s get a bit out of hand.
Now none of this is actually negative in my mind. I’m glad it’s not carbon copy Japan. It shows a bit more depth to the pop of Rio and Hungry Like The Wolf – a sort of middle ground between those massive hits and Save A Prayer and or Lonely In Your Nightmare (more Japan pretending, in my mind, but maybe really more Roxy in execution – especially Andy’s guitar.)
Now Is There Anyone Out There? is a brilliant choice. I have always loved the slight echo on Simon’s vocals. The reggae feel of Andy’s guitar plays off well with the melody and then there’s John’s brilliant bass playing on the final coda. I used to play it on a mixtape with She’s Got Claws by Gary Numan, Stranger Within by Ultravox and 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall by Simple Minds. Looking back, it was a time where you could blur the genre lines so very easily between Pop and Rock and Post Punk and Synth Pop.
Hey just curious what happened to part 3?
Here yesterday gone today.
tim – EXPLETIVE DELETED!! Thanks for sending that message! I was trying to use the “copy draft” function in WP after nearly 2K posts over 9 years to make formatting the 4th part easy, and it did NOT work as expected. So I just squandered my lunch hour frantically trying to get a full backup and re-post it. Amazingly enough, the comments are still there!!! Oops. Part 4 [started] will be appearing tomorrow.
I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m very glad I did – going to spend hours here. I’m afraid I was a hopeless Durannie up to 7 and the ragged tiger, and Lonely in your nightmare still makes mea bit teary. There have some good’uns since then but you do have to do some searching.
juliemac1012 – Welcome to the comments! So it’s ten years after my book review and I’m still “Talking To Girls About Duran Duran.” Amazing. Well, you’ll find a lot of love [among some heavy eye rolling and even tooth gnashing] about Double Duran around here. Many other regulars in the comments are also fans, so read up. I’ve been here for ten years and there’s a lot of DD postings. All I ask is that you afford some kindness to the first draft scribblings that comprise PPM. There will be typos and mangled syntax aplenty. If you found the blog from a link to this posting, at least you started at the top! I’d been thinking about that thread for years before finally writing it. And be a hopeful Durannie. There’s always the chance that their next album could be a winner. They’re working with Mark Ronson again, and also Giorgio Moroder [!], but it’s the third guy [Erol Alkan] in the producer’s chair that I’m worried about. He’s a DJ who has produced a few tracks by The Killers, whom I hear are a modern Duran-influenced band. Hmmm. Join us when it’s out for the analysis.