Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I heard you making patterns rhyme

The Fab Four once proclaimed, "It was 30 years ago today...". Slowly but surely, it crept its way into becoming an appropriate rock n' roll catchphrase as the youth of the 1960s began to slip into adulthood.

Now, one band I've been following since the very beginning is celebrating a landmark moment in their career. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of "Planet Earth", Duran Duran's debut single.

I distinctly remember the very first time I saw the video. As I've mentioned previously, my dad used to work at a production house in NYC that duplicated UK sourced videos for US labels. Everything was transferred from PAL to NTSC and lovingly delivered to the record companies for distribution to clubs and a fledgling cable channel called MTV.

The site of Simon Lebon prancing around in a tea towel made me feel a bit sexy before I explored the real meaning behind that twitch in my loins. I was very taken with Lord Nicholas Of Rhodes and his sense of "fashion". The pink feather duster wig. The frilly shirt. He looked like a futuristic, colonial soldier. Roger's awkward shyness and plain attire made him seem at odds with Duran's visual aesthetic. Still, he was droolworthy and I needed an endless supply of hankies. For my overactive saliva glands, natch.

Somehow, their rag tag look worked. The band were made up of distinct individuals not characters. The sum of their parts pulled all the threads together in a cohesive sonic and visual unit.

As a teenager in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline, I had no clue about the New Romantic movement. The music spoke to me. The Rum Runner and Blitz Club didn't even make a ripple on my radar until I started reading i-D and The Face, THE essential Brit mags for a self-proclaimed Anglophile. That was about two or three years after "Planet Earth" touched down on my small home stereo.

But what about the song? I remember being obsessed with the sound of it. I could pick out bits of Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk and Chic. The chorus could've been lifted from an old Bay City Rollers single. The past, present and future collided in one swift three and a half minute pop opus.

And what about the b-side? Strong enough for an a-side! I couldn't believe "Late Bar" had been relegated to the flip of "Planet Earth". In fact, when "Late Bar" didn't appear on Duran Duran's debut longplayer, I was shocked. I remember making a cassette tape of the elpee and adding the b-side to the end of it. There are few bands that boast b-sides as a-side contenders. And the mighty DD has had many of them.

So, here we sit with our lattes and iPads as Duran Duran release their thirteenth longplayer, "All You Need Is Now". Certainly a strong album. One worthy of their long and distinguished career. And "Planet Earth" doesn't sound out of step with the current league of electro flavored pop stars. It's deliciously retro and super fresh at the same time.

In terms of a timeline, imagine if The Beatles had released a new album in 1994. That's the length of time between Duran's debut and their current elpee. That blows my mind. I think I need to rest my weary head after that little realization.

And I'm not the only who can't bend their brain around that. Check out John Taylor's thoughts as he ruminates about that inaugural pop explosion. You can read his recollections over at the official Duran Duran website.


  1. Ah, yes, I first heard the Double Duran [r.i.p. - J.J. Jackson] by way of their Night Version of this debut single, so just like OMD, I was on board with this band from the very beginning. Oh, the ups and downs I've seen and heard in lo, these many years. These many vintage years!

  2. I got a kick out of your comment about redoing the album with Late Bar appended.

    A hobby of mine is re-imagining albums with the b-sides and remixes integrated into them. Not like what you see on Amazon digital downloads nowadays where you have an old 80s album and at the end of it here are 6 mixes and b-sides, I try to figure out a place where this stuff fits (sometimes rearranging the original tracklisting to accommodate).

    Some of the mixes I use I made myself and others I've pillaged from sites on the web where folks do they same thing, my basic rule is I want something that is a 'night version,' i.e. a longer version with an instrumental break, not something that is so technofied that you are unable to recognize the original song.
    I call it the 'Re-made, re-modeled' project and so far I've done the entire Pet Shop Boys catalog, the old Tears for Fears stuff, Depeche Mode up through about '93 and all sorts of odds and ends, some Bryan Ferry, Thomas Dolby, Swing out sister, ABC, David Sylvian, the Blue Nile...whatever grabs me when I decide to start working.

    It's been real fun but it takes a lot of time and my wife and I just had a baby last week so I see a break from this for a while.

  3. i recall being out dancing the summer or 1981 in nyc - it was either the peppermint lounge or danceteria, i forget which, and i heard this song. disco beat, whooshing synths, and chorus filled with bop bop bops. fell in love with the song and the band.

  4. I've always quite liked them and had Rio on cassette back in the old days but never really became what I would call a fan until hearing their new album: it's the most Duran Duran album they've ever made! Been listening to the 2CD versions of their first three LPs this week and may progress to some later stuff... hmmm...

  5. DanProject76 - I know this is a shameless plug, but you could do a lot worse than to read my 6-part Rock GPA® series on the complete discography of Duran Duran for aesthetic guidance!

    Regularjoe - What can I say? Your taste is impeccable! My drive is making insanely detailed and nit-pickingly complete boxed sets of god or BSOGs® if you will, so I under stand your similarly curatorial drive.

  6. Tom in Portsmouth, NH (USA)February 3, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Ah, yes, lots of memories here. Although I didn’t join the DD club until the album was released in mid ’81. I was working in a record store at the time, and still have that original vinyl copy on Harvest Records—with the long version of Planet Earth. As I remember, the album only sold moderately well (in its first incarnation), but I did my part to promote it by playing it in-store as much as possible.

    BTW, Vinny, I enjoyed reading your post. The part about Roger being “droolworthy” was funny because I felt exactly the same way about DD’s sexy drummer! “ endless supply of hankies.” Indeed!

  7. In 1981 not one Teen Magazine in the US cared a bit about Duran Duran. I was working in the music/celebrity photo business (concert, session and paparazzi photographers) and part of my job was to "push" images at some of the Teen Mags in NYC. The agency I worked for rep'd a photographer that did a session with D2 just after the Planet Earth or Careless Memories came out and I shopped the images around. NO ONE BIT! I was really big on them and even had them on my walkman at the time at one magazine... Then I was at minor teen mag called Teen Bag a few months later trying to push a Matt Dillon session when I noticed the re-released debut album at the top of a pile of albums that the record companies had sent over. I asked the editor if I could put it on her turntable and she fell in love with them and picked up the cover and asked if I had any images...I reminded her I did (Andy had blonde hair in the pics). Well the rest is history... They were feature and cover stars of the next issue and probably 10 of the next 12 issues. Once Rio came out the following May, they were teen darlings and on MTV every 10 minutes...

  8. @Regularjoe - Thanks. I've done that ever since I was a kid. Funny how that turned into a job running the catalog department at EMI!

    I like the way you reimage an album. I might take a look at doing that myself on an album or two to see how I like it.

  9. @Echorich - Very cool story! I wonder what the catalyst was for the interest in DD before MTV launched. Clearly, there was something going on. Then their arrival on the music channel pushed everything over the edge. That kind of crossover exposure fascinated me back in the day.

  10. Hey! Speaking of re-imaging an album, by pal James [engineer @ Chicago Trax at the time] and I worked on [yet another] alternate version of "Rio" back in the early 90s. "RIOmix" featured alternate and extended remixes of each of the tracks.

    Obviously, we used the DMC edit of "Save A Prayer" since it was the only easily available alternate remix available at the time. Cheating, really. But all alternate versions of that cut are post-modern, right? I seem to recall hearing another DJ mix of "Prayer" in a early 90s club "Old Wave" night that was much better. Does anyone have any clues?

    I wish I could find my original Photoshop files for the cheeky cover art… I printed the cover art on a ca. mid-90s laser printer and can do so much better now.

    Echorich - Brilliant anecdote. Kudos for doing your part to light the fuse.

  11. Hoo Hah! I found an ancient CD-ROM with the art files for the Riomix disc my friend and I worked on in '98. Visible here:

    Whatta hoot that one was.