Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Duran Duran's Best Song Wasn't A Single?

I don't remember hearing Duran Duran songs as a child. Later, when people would say, "Oh man, remember the 80s? Remember Duran Duran?," I had to admit that I didn't exactly.

For a long time I got Duran Duran mixed up with Depeche Mode, and I wasn't the only one; I remember looking at a friend's mix tape in the late 90s, and on the back of the case, she'd credited "Enjoy The Silence" to Duran Duran. Both groups used synthesizers, both groups' names consisted of two words, and both groups' names began with "D." But I later realized that Depeche Mode and Duran Duran were very different bands.

When I finally did hear songs like "Rio" and "Hungry Like The Wolf," I was hard-pressed to define their appeal. Guess I just had to be there? With Duran Duran, I think the videos might have taken precedence over the music itself; according to member Nick Rhodes, "Video is to us like stereo was to Pink Floyd." Well that's all well and good, but I can't "listen" to frilly shirts and Sri Lanka now, can I? On its own, the music sounded kind of thin and brittle. There wasn't enough bottom. It was like dance music that I couldn't really dance to.

Now that all varieties of '80s pop music have grown on me like a fungus, I find Duran Duran (made up of Simon Le Bon and twelve guys named Taylor) somewhat more appealing. Is it just me, or did Michael Jackson nick the verse melody of "Black Or White" from "Hungry Like The Wolf"?

Still, I laughed a little bit on the inside when I saw that Pitchfork had included a Duran Duran song on the Pitchfork 500. Come on, were they really all that "significant"? And they went with an obscure Rio album track called "The Chauffer"? Jesus, Pitchfork, quit trying so hard. Then I actually listened to "The Chauffer," and a funny thing happened: I liked it.

From Wikipedia:
In May 1980, while the band were working for Paul and Michael Berrow, who at the time ran the Rum Runner night club in Birmingham, one of the Rum Runner bar maids recommended her ex-boyfriend to be their new lead singer. Simon Le Bon auditioned in May 1980, bringing with him a book of poetry and lyrics, including the lyrics to the song which would eventually become "The Chauffer."[2]
Try this on for size:
Out on the tar planes the glides are moving
All looking for a new place to drive
You sit beside me so newly charming
Sweating dew drops glisten freshen your side

And the sun drips down bedding heavy behind
The front of your dress all shadowy lined
And the droning engines throb in time
With your beating heart

Way down the lane away living for another day
The aphids swarm up in the drifting haze
Swim seagull in the sky towards that hollow western isle
My envied lady holds you fast in her gaze

And watching lovers part I feel you smiling
What glass splinters lie so deep in your mind
To tear out from your eyes with a thought to stiffen brooding lies
And I'll only watch you leave me further behind
For Duran Duran, this was pretty weird! He's mixing up "sun," "drips," "drops," "glisten," shadowy," "haze" - the jumble of imagery is impressive. How can a seagull "swim"? How can a "plane" drive? Simon Le Bon, you're blowing my mind!

Top it all off with a heavily phased spoken word sample at the end a la "I Am The Walrus," and the track is almost - dare I say it - uncommercial.

Now that I thought about it, I had to admit that I probably liked this song more than Duran Duran's actual hits from the period. Hell, if I'd heard songs like "The Chauffer" earlier, I might not have made fun of them so much. It's not even on their Greatest Hits. There are a lot of bands whose best songs weren't singles, but I didn't think Duran Duran would be one of those bands. (I'm excluding from this "best" designation their two excellent '90s comeback singles, "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone," which in my mind are almost part of a different career.)

But to conclude that "The Chauffer" was Duran Duran's best song would be to ... agree with Pitchfork! Oh God, what had I done? In the end, I had to grit my teeth and admit that, however reluctantly, Pitchfork might have actually been on to something.

Then there's the video, which according to Wikipedia was "inspired in part by Liliana Cavani's 1974 film, The Night Porter, and the photography of Helmut Newton":
A woman in an erotic costume is driven in a vintage car by a uniformed chauffeur. Elsewhere, another woman dresses herself carefully in lingerie and walks through the streets of London towards a rendezvous in an abandoned multi-storey car park. The chauffeur watches while a third woman (Perri Lister), a topless blonde in an open-bust corset, performs a sensuous dance to the accompaniment of the instrumental coda of the song — clearly an homage to Charlotte Rampling's topless "Dance of the Seven Veils" in The Night Porter.
Oh, clearly. I wonder why this didn't get played too often on MTV.

"The Chauffer" may be the rare instance of an '80s music video that doesn't look dated in any noticeable way. I mean, if Duran Duran had put this much effort into their actual music, we might be having a different conversation here. I'm always down for some weird, European, upper class kinky sex; add in the black and white cinematography and we're all set. But I just imagine some innocent guy trying to get into his car and thinking, "Whoa man, I must have ended up in the wrong parking lot."

1 comment:

Lauren said...

I appreciate your detailed opinion of Duran Duran. I personally am not one for The Chauffeur. I discovered the band with Ordinary World and have been a fan since. I will say that I am also a fan of Depeche Mode. At any rate, your critique is intriguing.