Sunday, February 27, 2011

Durandatory Duran – Abandoning What Isn’t Working

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

There are so many things I like about Duran Duran, and some are obvious like their music, the lyrics, the videos, and whatever else you might like about any other band you like. One of the less obvious is that every time I get to looking at Duran Duran stuff online, I find something that I’ve never heard or seen before. Sometimes it’s just an interview from some European show that I would have been hard pressed to ever have seen before the internet, sometimes it’s a b-side I knew existed but never found in a store, sometimes it’s a remix someone did, and a surprising number of times it has been a song I didn’t even know existed.

I’m going to take a weird creativity process/almost self-help direction with this in a little bit, so if you’re interested in that just give me a moment while I speak to my fellow Duranies for a moment.

I got into Duran Duran around “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” though I was already familiar with them, but “Union of the Snake/Secret Oktober” was what prompted me to buy an album finally. I soon owned the first three albums, and a borrowed copy of “Arena” that I had to give back eventually. When I heard Arcadia’s “Election Day” I was in the car with my parents, and I said, “That sounds like Simon Le Bon,” and I was right. I soon owned “So Red the Rose” as well. On Vinyl. Which was a good thing, because every cassette version I ever found would become screwed up, I’m guessing because the cassettes were not well constructed and wore out quicker than most cassettes.

I could go on and on about my history of listening to Duran Duran, because I’ve been there all along starting in 1983, even when I was slow to get an album, and even when they released “Thank You.” But I’m going to stop at the next piece of history for now, and deal with where it led for me. I found a used paperback book called “Duran Duran” by Toby Goldstein. I bought it, and I read it. It was a pretty good book actually. It was fluff, and it concentrated on things that were stereotypically female-centric, like what they wore when the performed for the Queen and how devoted they were to their girlfriends, except Nick of course who was the ladies man. But aside from that kind of PR kind of writing, the book had some truly interesting facts in it. For instance, they spent about 1,000 in the studio working on “Seven and the Ragged Tiger.” That put a weird perspective in my head about the kind of work professional musicians put into their albums. More about that in a bit, but the other thing in that book was a discography that spans only to Arena, and as I found out, was somewhat incomplete anyway. I became obsessed with the fact that there were b-side tracks like “Secret Oktober” except that I hadn’t heard them.

What I like about Duran Duran is that I finally got hold of a copy of “To the Shore” years later, not because I found the original single, but because they put it on a CD single of “Come Undone.” “To the Shore” song is every bit as amazing as I imagined it would be when I saw it listed in that book.

But Duran Duran didn’t stop there. One day I was looking on You Tube and found out that there was a seventeen track collection of “Astronaut” demos, which Nathan got a copy of, and I’ve spent many happy hours listening to.

But there’s more. I keep finding things. An early demo of “Do You Believe in Shame” with very different lyrics. And then I found out about some collection of five songs that they never completed. They were from the same general time period as “Liberty” but I don’t think any of the songs were worked on for Liberty. There was a quote from John Taylor saying that he had forgotten that they recorded some of the tracks, and was kind of excited by hearing them, even though they were incomplete. Really, John? You were excited? How do you think I feel? Well, it’s probably just excited in a different way.

What I guess I wonder is why they were never completed. So I started speculating a bit. The first thing that occurred to me is to ask myself why I have incomplete projects, but that was insufficient as an answer because with me it’s a total lack of focus. But Duran Duran, coming up on their 30th year as a major label band, and longer as a working band. They have the passion and the focus. They set out to be one of the biggest bands in history, and they succeeded. They then set out to be interesting and relevant for years beyond their initial success, and I believe they succeeded there too.

So how do songs not get completed? “Dream Nation” is an entire song, but it’s just a demo. It’s a good song. Listening to the demo for “Do You Believe in Shame” you can see that each had to have the same potential in the eyes of the band. But “Do You Believe in Shame” was completed and released.

I’m not even saying that these songs had to be album tracks, but even to have completed them as potential b-sides would make sense to me as an outsider. I have to guess that they just weren’t excited by the songs, or were more excited by other songs. Or that maybe they understand the self-help mantra of priority, and decided that if not to be used as an album track or a b-side, then not to waste time developing them. Who knows how many songs they never even recorded as quick demos over 30 plus years. They spent 1,000 hours after all on “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” and I’ve heard at least one incomplete demo, which was meant to be the title track, from that session. After 1,000 hours, why not spend another 100 hours trying to perfect a track that wasn’t working? The only answer I can think of to that question is only reasonable in hindsight when years and years later it would be nice to see how these songs would have turned out. But in the moment, I’m sure that doesn’t seem reasonable at all.

But I love Duran Duran for letting these incomplete tracks be made available to their fans. Most of these songs are good even as demos, and on some level maybe it’s even better to try to imagine how they would have turned out, rather than just hear it.

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