On today’s date in 1981, Duran Duran wrote Last Chance on the Stairway.
This isn’t a song that I personally have seen many times live (if ever??), although the band did incorporate the song into the ElectroSet that they performed during the Red Carpet Massacre tour. I envy those of you who had the opportunity to see that ElectroSet as I did not have the chance. At the time, I was at home, very sick, and “incubating”.
In any case, let’s watch a video, shall we? I found a few different clips of the ElectroSet, and this one – while not necessarily the most clear visually, struck me because Simon’s voice sounds fantastic.
We keep moving on with our Duran song reviews. As you know, we are still working our way through Rio, one of the band’s most significant albums. This time, we take a long look at one of the non-single tracks, Last Chance on the Stairway. Unlike many of the songs on the album, this not only wasn’t a single, it did not have a video associated with it. Thus, it is one that might not come to one’s mind as quickly as many of the other songs on this album. Nonetheless, we take the time to really look at this one.
Rhonda: Musicality/Instrumentation: I adore the way this song begins It’s just a simple line of keyboards and the sound of a cigarette being lit. I think that gives just enough intimacy to the beginning that it beckons the listener in. I love it. This song also has this incredible bass line. I know I talk about that a lot, but it’s because it’s so unique. Other bassists tend to oversimplify, creating more of a rhythm than anything else, which isn’t necessarily wrong – it’s their job – but I like that John adds more to the music than just helping to provide rhythm. This is another song where Andy wrote the guitar part to be more rhythmic than lead. I still say this is a perfect example of the lack of ego for the band. The goal was to be a band, not be five individuals that insisted on equal time during the song. The result is that you can hear guitar, but it’s not overpowering everything else, and you really do need all five “voices” to create the full sound. There is no “star” in this song, musically. There’s been comments made on nearly every message board I’ve been on about how back in this day – Andy and Nick’s writing was like dueling instruments, complete with creative tension. I must point out that on this song, I hear none of that. There’s not really as much of a pronounced call and response between guitars and keyboards – it’s more of a collective voice here, which makes this song unique even amongst the back catalog of DD. I also have to make mention of the bell ring I hear between verse and chorus, and even the sound of waves (or it really kind of sounds like someone pouring themselves a drink…???) I hear in various parts of the song. Those sounds continue to provide that sense of intimacy I mentioned earlier. Another very innovative creative move for this song – instead of using a guitar for the solo, they used a xylophone (actually I think it is a Marimba, which is a type of xylophone). The sound is mellow, which is perfect for the overall feel of the song. There aren’t many bands out there that would have dared go that route in the 80s or even today (even if the marimba is a keyboard effect). I like the way the drums even take more of a backseat here – keeping the rhythm without standing out. I would describe it as “feeling” the beat rather than hearing it.
Vocals: This song really shows Simon’s versatility, giving him full exercise in all parts of his range, and even with the way he handles the chorus section….”can you look at me” sung as though it was an offhand, side-comment like my (very overused…HA!) parenthetical statements here on the blog! I like the last thirty seconds of the song when he chants “Last Chance on the Stairway” and it’s echoed as though the entire band is chanting – in fact, it really could be the whole band. I don’t know….and let’s face it, the entire song lends itself to fans singing along when we hear (IF we hear) the song live. Who doesn’t want to sing along with the chorus or even at the end of the song??? Another one they should play live again and unearth from the depths of the catalog.
Lyrics: This is a song that I tend to listen more to the music than the lyrics. I don’t know why that is – but John is truly competing with Simon for my attention here, and John wins a lot of the time. Even while doing this review, I’m trying to force myself to concentrate on the lyrics and yet it’s not long before I’m realizing that once again, I’m grooving in my head to the music and I haven’t really absorbed what Simon is singing. Why is that? What’s even funnier is that when I finally do force myself to listen – I know this song. I feel this song. It’s about attention, or wanting to get the attention of someone. Sure, in Simon’s case it’s a female…but in my head as I relate? Well, I was always one of those people that tended to blend into the background. I think I still am, actually. I’m not really noticed, and I can remember what it felt like to be a teenager, never quite being one of the “beautiful” people, yet very much wanting to meet boys and not really knowing how to get their attention. Good times. Makes me wonder how on earth I ever met my husband at a dance club (of all places). I’m shy by nature (no, no, this is the truth – typing on the internet is a completely different thing that gives a false sense of security and comfort), and yet this song speaks of everything I wish I could do – asking someone to look at me, etc. Never. Gonna. Happen. I have had a difficult time just asking a certain guitar player for a guitar pick – I did it once, freaking out the entire time. Thank goodness I wasn’t born male, because I would have never gotten the nerve to ask girls to dance or go out. I’d still be single!! I think Simon sings that he’s known this girl a while, but he’s come to the point where he knows he needs to act on his feelings – you know that point of no return where it’s either you do something or you walk away with regret?? I think that point is exactly what this song is all about. Anyway, you get my point – or at least what I get out of this song. What about you?
Production: Colin Thurston was probably one of my most favorite producers for the band. I just feel that he knew how to use their strengths and weaknesses for the good of the band. Rather than produce to a specific formula, he seemed to know how to create an atmosphere where the band felt comfortable being a little vulnerable to themselves, one another, and Colin himself. In this particular song, I might find a little fault with the chorus because in parts it’s a bit overdone on the echo to where it’s nearly muddy – but in some ways I feel as though that was intended. The song was never meant to be “raw” like some of their earlier work, and in this song I think the slight muddiness of the sound is intended – it gives this filmy atmospheric feel to the midsection. It tends to make me think of floating through fog, and so while it’s not quite as sharply focused as other songs, I think it’s produced well.
Overall: I really enjoy doing these reviews for the band because it motivates me to go back, re-listen and even relearn songs…this one included. I’ve always liked this song, but hearing it with refocused ears has given me new appreciation for it – the lyrics specifically, because I do identify so well with the feeling the song conveys. I think it incredibly easy to understand, easy to dance to and sing along with, and it is probably very relatable to most people. I can’t speak for all fans, but I’m always surprised by what ends up becoming the “singles” for songs. Naturally in today’s world, a single isn’t REALLY a single in the same sense it once was, which is why going back and doing these reviews has been kind of an eye-opener for me. There were an awful lot of undiscovered, under-appreciated gems in the band’s back catalog. I have to wonder if even changing a single decision for a single or video would have changed the entire direction of the band. It’s a fascinating point to wonder. In any case, this is a song that might have done well as a single. It does stand on it’s own rather well, and has always been a fan favorite – yet the rest of the world probably has never heard the song. It’s a shame because it’s one of the many bright points on an incredible album.
Cocktail Rating: 4 cocktails!
Amanda: Musicality/Instrumentation: When this song is mentioned or when I think about this song, I don’t tend to think about it, instrumentation wise. I am more likely going to think about the lyrics and the vocals, which I will discuss later. Thus, I do appreciate this review so that I take some serious time to really listen to the song and think about its musicality. For the most part, this song has a lot of Nick and John. Roger is there, too, but it is very subtle. Likewise, I don’t hear much of Andy at all until the song is well-underway. In a lot of ways, this makes sense as the song’s mood is one that is happy and carefree and keyboards tend to showcase more of the happy, lighthearted pop sounds. John’s bass, though, forms the solid frame to the song. Nick’s keyboards start the song off with some sounds, including one that sounds like a lighter being used to light a cigarette. I always appreciate these little additional sounds. Anyway, John’s bass is very noticeable about 10 seconds into it with Nick’s keyboards still on the surface, the top layer, so to speak. In some ways, these don’t sound like they blend quite as well as many of the instruments do on this album and on the first album. I’m not sure why. As the chorus kicks in, about 45 seconds into it, John’s bass is even stronger,with Andy joining in as people may notice. During that chorus, there is little of Nick. Again, this is common with all Duran of this era with some instruments stepping forward and then stepping back, in order for other instruments to be in the front. The bridge about 2 minutes into the song showcases more of Nick until Andy really shows up. This works to create that increase in tempo that lasts through the last bit of the song until the end. Again, the instrumentation really works to create a mood, a tone.
Vocals: This is definitely one of those songs that can easily get into your head and that is all due to the vocals. The verses showcases Simon’s range well as he moves easily from lower notes to higher notes with ease. The one negative is that some of his words get lost a bit, especially at the lower end of his range here. Then, during the chorus, he is able to match the increased tempo all the while using the layers that are often found in Duran songs at key moments with the “Can you look at me?”, “Can’t you see” and more. That does create an impulse, I think, in the listener to join in, if you haven’t been already. Of course, the end is pretty significant as many voices are heard with the “Last chance on the stairway.” Another moment that would make people want to join in. It probably also worked to get it in people’s heads, too. Can we sue for that?!
Lyrics: This are probably one of the most obvious, straight-forward lyrics I can think of from early Duran as this tells the story of a guy who fell for a girl who now, at a party, needs to approach her, to get her to dance with him. The images I have definitely makes me think of a college party. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps, it is the mentioning of Voltaire, a French philosopher and writer. After all, when else do people typically refer to philosophers, but at college? It almost feels, in a way, like the guy is trying to impress the girl by this mention, to show he is an educated, well-read man. Again, that makes me think of college. In this song, of course, this party is the last chance to approach this beautiful, wonderful girl for whatever reason. Obviously, storytelling like this isn’t common for Simon, especially in this era. Yet, I am not surprised that there is no conclusion given. Did he ask her to dance? Did she accept? We have no idea.
Production: This song has many of the qualities that we have come to expect with Colin Thurston’s production, including having all the instruments present with different moments in the spotlight at different times for the individual instruments and players. I like how he has Simon use such a significant vocal range. I love the choral moments during the chorus in which “many” voices are heard to ask a question, which really works to emphasize the meaning of the lyrics, as those are the questions that need to be asked of this girl. The chanting of “last chance on the stairway” at the end works well, too. These little touches gives the song some real uniqueness. Overall: This is a fun song. It isn’t too serious, too deep. It is fun and definitely gets in your head. In fact, I suspect that most everyone who hears it would want to join in. You find yourself rooting for the guy in his quest over this highly attractive female. Yet, for me, it isn’t a favorite. It is almost a little too sweet, too obvious for me. It doesn’t move me, emotionally, or intellectually. I can’t come up with my own meaning with the lyrics. I am forced to think about the story. Cocktail Rating: 3.5 cocktails!
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