If I remember correctly (and if my home-created Duran calendar is correct), the anniversary for the release of Notorious (the album) must be near. Again, if my math is correct, this means that the band’s fourth studio album is turning 32. Ouch. I have colleagues younger than that (who like to remind me of that fact a lot!). It is an album that marked some significant changes within the band’s history. As we know, it was first album of the three (John, Nick and Simon) after Andy and Roger left. It is also the first album recorded in which the band was managing themselves. For many of us fans, it ushered in a new phase of our fandom. No more was Duran Duran the “biggest band” in the world but one fighting to maintain its popularity despite these changes. In thinking about this album, I have some memories that capture a lot about my life and my fandom.
Buying the Album:
In late 1985, my family moved from the south side of Chicago to a small town in Illinois. My old place had Top 40 radio and MTV along with a best friend who loved Duran Duran as much as I did. The new place didn’t have any of those. I remember meeting a neighbor girl the first week I was there. I asked her about what she thought of the song, A View to a Kill. She had no clue about what I was talking about which signaled to me that I was in trouble. By the time 1986 rolled around, I desperately wanted any sign of home. The new Duran album was just the thing! I remember going with my mom to the town’s mini-mall which had a Disc Jockey record store to buy the album. As Mom drove home, I quickly opened up the vinyl, anxious to just hold the album in my hands. I loved the cover but was sad to see that there were no lyrics included. Still, I couldn’t wait to go home and listen!
A little while after the album came out, I called my best friend. At this point, not only had I moved away from the south side but so had she. We vowed to keep in touch and I was determined to do just that. So, I called her, hoping not only to reconnect but to hear what she thought about the album. My hopeful mood was quickly swashed when she told me that she hated it and decided to take down all of her posters because they just weren’t that “in” anymore. While she insisted that it wasn’t just the album that caused her to make this drastic decision, I couldn’t help but think that she had lost faith. I felt even more isolated and fears about losing her grew. Where she chose to move on to the next thing, I opted instead to hold on for dear life.
Buying the Single:
Of course, before the album even came out, I wanted to purchase the single for Notorious. One day, I saw it with its completely dark cover except for the title sitting on the shelf in the town’s newly opened Wal-Mart. I believe that it cost a dollar and some change. As soon as I saw it, I begged my grandma who was the one with me to buy it for me. She refused. Completely crushed. How could my grandma not understand? How could she be so cheap? Why couldn’t my mom be with me? All of these questions flashed in my mind and more. Eventually, I was able to get the single. Funny story. I shared this little story at my grandma’s funeral. I’m not even sure why. I guess the simple answer is that it is a very strong memory of mine. I’m sure that says more about me than her!
How I Feel About the Album Now:
I cannot help but see Notorious as a marker for transition. It was for the band and it was for me. It is funny to think about how my life sort of paralleled the band’s.
Throughout its 32 year history, my thoughts and feelings about it have gone up and down. Sometimes, I loved it like when it first came out. Then, I grew frustrated with it, probably partly because of what it represented. Now, I think I can see it with a more objective lens. There are songs that I love and some that I tend to skip over, much like how I view a lot of their albums. That said, I’m very thankful that they created it. Why? It helped them get over the hump of significant changes. If they didn’t make the album, I wonder if they would have been able to really continue. I think it also helped me get over my personal hump of moving to a new place and finding a new normal.
(I had to do it. If there was ever a moment…this was it.)
Today, my friends, is a momentous anniversary. The Notorious album turns thirty. THIRTY. 3-0. That’s YEARS. (And still I say, “How can that be, I’m only twenty-five!”)
Let’s be blunt: this is getting ridiculous. In no way should Duran Duran’s albums be getting up there in years. This is in the same way that I should not be getting up there in years, I might add. It’s obscene at this point, and I think it is getting offensive.
Nonetheless, this is cause for celebration (and some vodka, well-overdue, I might add). At the lack of waxing nostalgic, I remember when Notorious was released. I know I began asking for the album around the time of my birthday earlier in November, and of course I didn’t get it because it hadn’t been released (I seem to recall getting the 12″ single for my birthday but I can’t swear to the timing—along with my obvious lack of memory surrounding my age <wink,wink>—my inner timeline is pretty vague these days). However, I remember hearing on the radio that the album had been released, and the timing was perfect for Christmas. I can remember sitting on the floor Christmas morning and unwrapping a flat gift and then seeing John, Nick and Simon on the cover. I was thrilled, as I always was (and still am) when I received anything having to do with Duran Duran as a gift.
Notorious, however, was different. It wasn’t like Seven and the Ragged Tiger, Rio or their self-titled debut. Notorious had a horn section, and prominent backing vocals. At that point in my life, I’m not sure I could characterize the difference in sound with words – but I knew it was not new wave, or like anything I’d heard before.
Now, I know that Nick in particular is very fond of explaining that Duran Duran likes to reinvent themselves with each album. I would agree that for the most part, they’ve always done that rather successfully. As an adult, I have grown to enjoy that about the band. But in the year 1986, I had just turned 16. I was hormonal, grappling with burgeoning adulthood – and had just gotten my driver’s license. I wanted the Duran Duran I knew, I suppose. I wanted familiarity. As much as I was excited to have some new-found independence, I can distinctly remember cradling Duran Duran in my arms, wishing for a time that had already been lost.
It took me a long time to come to grips with Notorious. Mind you, I never disliked the album or anything like that, it just wasn’t a favorite. I would be far more apt to come flying in the house after a long day at school, throw open the door to my room, dump my backpack on my bed and bend down to grab Duran Duran or Rio and put it on my turntable than Notorious. For me, I suppose that album kind of symbolized how everything was changing during a time when I wasn’t quite ready.
In the thirty years since, I’ve learned to not only appreciate Notorious, but understand the thinking behind it. I value the intricacy of the music, and naturally —I recognize Nile’s handiwork. I think Notorious is an album that depicts the three remaining members maturing and solidifying what was to be Duran Duran in the decades to follow. While I cannot lie, it is still not one of my first go-to albums, today as I listen while I’m blogging, I can’t imagine the catalog without it.
It is hard to imagine but we are finally ready to review Duran Duran’s 4th studio album. At this point, we have completed their first (self-titled) album, Rio, Seven and the Ragged Tiger and their most recent album, All You Need Is Now. We begin this week with the title track and the first single from the 1986 album, Notorious. This album, of course, is the first one after Andy and Roger had left and was produced by the funk master himself, Nile Rodgers.
Musicality/Instrumentation: There is no mistaking that this song is pure funk. From the moment you hear Nick’s syncopated keyboards, the tone is set. This is not going to be another Save a Prayer or even another Union of the Snake. Notorious seems to stand on firm musical ground all it’s own. The sound is a definite departure from previous work – going far more towards the funk sounds of Chic than the punk infused notes of DD’s first album. Even so, the recognizable guitar and bass interplaying among the synthesizers lets you know that yes, this is a grown-up Duran Duran. There are definite hints towards The Reflex, which is not surprising given that Nile produced that song as well. The musicality is more complex, but not because John plays more notes, or because there are difficult guitar riffs – it’s the arrangement of the music that is mature, all the while adding horns and subtle percussion to drive the point home.
Vocals: I love the vocals on this song. The stacked harmonies work to project at the right moments during the chorus, and let’s face it – they work well live, too. The smartest thing they did with this song was begin it with Simon’s “No, No, Notorious!” If there ever was a hook…this is it. The rest of the vocals are clean and clear, and with the rest of the song being slightly more complex, I appreciate that Simon’s vocals are allowed to stand on their own without a ton of effect, which in and of itself creates some great texture.
Lyrics: Truthfully, I never quite understood the lyrics until much, much later. I don’t know that I gave proper thought to media and how it might affect Duran Duran, but I’m not entirely sure that this song is all that representative of that frustration – particularly because the lyrics say they don’t even “read about it, it burns the skin from my eyes” – as much as it might be representative of the band’s frustration with one another, keeping in mind that this is directly after Andy and Roger left the band. All in all, the lyrics were most definitely written during a time of great change within the band, and I think this song has a very interesting sort of way of addressing it all. As dance-beat and funk-based as it is – known for being a song to get us up and dance, in an entirely “Duran Duran” sort of way, the song also doubles as a bit of a negative commentary on the downside of fame. I love that this band creates songs like that. On one hand we’re dancing and partying, but on another, we’re dancing to their frustration. Positive coming from negative, really.
Overall: I remember the very first time I ever heard this song on the radio. To be completely honest I was unaware they had been working on an album, and out of nowhere (so it seemed) I heard the opening “No, no, notorious” and immediately knew who it was. I was in the car with my parents and we’d just pulled into a parking spot – I screamed with joy (my dad was not impressed), and insisted they keep the car running so I could hear the entire song. (which did not go over well with my parents) My point in telling this story is that for all the changes that took place between this song and say, New Moon on Monday…there was no mistaking Duran Duran, and yes – much of that was due to Simon’s voice, but even if you listen to the instrumentation of the band, or the stacked harmonies alone – you know it’s Duran Duran. I know that most people, including the band, talk about this song being the one to get people to dance. I wouldn’t disagree. I can certainly hear Nile’s signature production throughout, but I most applaud the fact that as big of a personality that Nile Rodgers has ever been – he allowed Duran Duran to continue to sound like Duran Duran, even with his signature touches. This is the difference between Nile Rodgers and many, many other notable producers out there that have allowed their ego to outstretch their musical expertise. Oddly, Notorious has never been a favorite of mine, despite the positives mentioned here. The song never hit home with me in the way that others did, and it’s a song that, if they left out of a set list, I probably would not notice.
Cocktail Rating: 3.5 cocktails!
Musicality/Instrumentation: This song is one of those songs that we hear so much that it is hard to really stop and listen, in a critical way. I want to just tell you what I think of the song without any real analysis on the instrumentation. That’s isn’t fair so I did what I always do–play the song and really stop and listen. Ignoring the “no no no” and startled sigh, the first instrumentation that catches my attention is Nick’s keyboards. While I don’t necessarily think “Nick” when I think of this song, there are definite moments when he is featured prominently, in the beginning and towards the end. That isn’t to say that he isn’t there during the rest of the song but those are the moments when he is in the spotlight. Then, of course, John’s funky bass comes in along with the guitar. Obviously, these instruments and notes are designed to make you want to move, to dance and that is before the chorus begins! The chorus, like all good ones, increases the tempo and then glides back to the verse. At times, guitar is really present. At other times, the keyboards are more noticeable. Drums are present, too, but in more of a subtle way. Towards the middle of the song, the bridge, horns are present. I have a love/hate relationship with horns. Sometimes, I love any presence from a more classical instrument. For example, who doesn’t love the saxophone in Tiger Tiger? Yet, there are others, including some on this album that I hate. In this case, the horns fit and aren’t overpowering. In general, they did manage to create a dance-y, funky song throughout.
Vocals: What about this song that sticks out, vocally? Simple. It is the beginning with the “no-no-notorious” that is also featured in the chorus. Of course, in the beginning, it is more noticeable as it is before the majority of the instrumentation has kicked in. This “no-no-notorious” sounds full, lush as it has the effect of sounding like many Simons. To me, this reminds me of the “flex-flex-flex” in the Reflex. Not surprisingly, Nile Rodgers had a hand in both. After this part, the basic verses and chorus have a solid performance from Simon. It is at a good range for him and he certainly sounds smooth and easy. Unlike a lot of earlier Duran, there aren’t a lot of noticeable layering to the vocals, for the most part. The only time is when the “no-no-notorious” shows up later in the song. Overall, though, it seems that the instrumentation and lyrics are to tell the story. I don’t mind the clean vocals that this song presents and does seem fresh after Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Lyrics: This is one of those songs that is completely obvious about what it is about. It is about music critics, the press, the media and how that machine was not kind to Duran. It won’t be the last time they reference their frustration with the media, either. While I have to admit that I am drawn more to Simon’s lyrics that are poetic or emotional or make me think, I get why, in 1986, they might have needed to write these lyrics, including the line about the “flaky bandit” in reference to Andy Taylor. In general, the lyrics don’t do much for me, despite liking a number of lines, including the one about “who says that’s part of our lives”, which always makes me think of fandom. At the same token, they don’t bother me either. They are fine.
Overall: In general, this song is an enjoyable one. It does make people want to dance and have fun despite its less than happy lyrics. It won’t move you to think or feel some deep emotion. It does what it was supposed to do. It was supposed to be a funky song in which the listeners will want to dance while Duran expresses some frustration. Nile’s touch is obvious in the production with elements like the “no no notorious” part as well as the funk. All of that said, I do think that this song live might be needing a break to keep it fresh and exciting for the fans.
On this date in 1987, the song, Meet el Presidente, peaked at number 70 in the U.S. It was the third song off the album, Notorious. According to Duran Duran Wiki, which you can read here, the single version was different from the album version. Another fun fact, according to that page, this was the first single to be released as a CD single. How about that?! Obviously, this song did not chart well. Do you think it was a bad choice? If so, what would have been a better song to go with for the 3rd single off that album? If you thought it was a good choice, why do you think it didn’t chart better?
Like the song or not, it seems to me that today might be a good day to go ahead and watch the video. Enjoy!
Sometimes, I think Duran Duran albums talk to each other. Specifically, they talk to their predecessor. I remember the first time I listened to The Wedding Album and hearing the line “You rescued me from liberty” in Love Voodoo, and wondering if I was reading too much into the lyric to wonder if Simon wasn’t taking a shot at the last album. Or the beginning of “Hold Me,” when he starts with “This time…” — somehow I got into my head that “Hold Me” was one of the first songs written for Notorious and that line/ad lib was basically Simon’s way of expressing the uncharted territory the band was in, now down to a trio. Additionally… all the lyrics to “Still Breathing,” which I took as a declaration against the previous lineup of the band. I can’t prove any of this, it’s just in my head when I listen to these songs and albums.
This topic circles in my head for a few reasons. First, we are between albums. Speculation abounds about the sound of DD14. We know the band never does the same thing twice. We also know that, on AYNIN, they finally felt comfortable “reclaiming” some of that old ground/sound. So what will happen on the next album? In what way will it be a reaction to what they did on AYNIN?
Additionally, Notorious, the album, has been in heavy circulation on my iPod for the last few months. I think there are a lot of parallels between Notorious and All You Need Is Now. Both feature very strong title tracks that will likely be a staple of the band’s live set as long as they continue to tour (I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that the song AYNIN will continue to be featured, but you never know). Both were heavily anticipated after a pause in the band’s career in which it was uncertain what direction they would take. Both were heavily influenced/co-written by the album’s producer, and both featured a mix of guest musicians on other tracks (and in the case of Notorious, it remains the only Duran album that features the work of both Andy and Warren).
Why do I bring up these parallels? I am trying to draw conclusions about DD14, and I think we might gain insight by understanding the relationship between Notorious and its follow-up, Big Thing.
I’ve always viewed Notorious as being a very solid, “orderly” album, with perfect alignment between the A and B sides, the Hitchcock theme, and the neatly packaged video that tied back to the album artwork. Big Thing is the exact opposite. It’s noisy, disorganized, loud (at least the first half), moody (the second half) and unconventional. Notorious features a virtual all-star cast of guest musicians, including Nile Rodgers, Andy, Warren, and Steve Ferrone, not to mention the album cover featuring super model Christy Turlington. Big Thing boasts no such lineup—it is the truly the first (and ultimately only, as it would turn out) Taylor-Rhodes-LeBon collaboration, with Warren sprinkled in, albeit in a non-writing role. On Notorious, the songs tend to follow the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/outro format, which the exception of Winter Marches On. On Big Thing, it’s the exception when a song follows that format. Notorious is defined by its title track; the song Big Thing mocks itself and the music industry in general, and is probably one of the more forgettable songs on the record.
When John, Nick, and Simon hosted an hour-long countdown of their favorite Duran videos on MTV in 1988, they commented that on Notorious, they were very polite to each other and trying to figure out how to function as a band. Not so during the Big Thing sessions, where “we were all screaming at each other.” This is not surprising. The trio had weathered the uncertainty of the Notorious era; they had put out an album and toured and had success despite the loss of Andy and Roger (of course, they were no longer the biggest band in the world, but at least they knew there was still an audience for their music, albeit a smaller one than before).
So, with that out of the way, they pushed themselves creatively on Big Thing. What resulted was an album of disparate sides: the first consisting mostly of noisy, dance “house” music, and the second slower, moody ballads. Side one featured the hit single “I Don’t Want Your Love,” that is possibly the band’s most underrated and forgotten hit (and one of my personal favorites), and the follow-up single “All She Wants Is” which didn’t chart as well, but did see a lot of club play. The B-side is built around the lush anthem “Land,” one of the longer Duran songs in the catalogue that clocks in at just over six minutes. Preceding it are the haunting “Do You Believe in Shame?” and airy “Palomino.” I remember first listening to Big Thing and strongly disliking the second side, and then about a week later I had a strange tune stuck in my head…and it turned out to be “Palomino.”
Conversely, I did love “Edge of America” the minute I heard it, and still do to this day. And I always have considered “Edge of America” and “Lake Shore Driving” to be one song, even if they have different titles and are on separate tracks. It’s an unconventional way to end Big Thing but it works, as the Nick’s synths and Warren’s guitar bring the proceedings full circle to how the album started.
There are many other details about Big Thing that we could cover (the two different producers, the controversy over the mixes of “Drug” that highly annoyed John, etc.) but those can be left to another blog. The question is, how can Big Thing’s differences from Notorious inform us as to DD14’s differences from AYNIN?
For starters, I suspect that there will be more of a balance between ballads and dance songs on DD14. AYNIN was heavily skewed toward upbeat music (much like Notorious) with several well-placed slower songs to even out the album’s pacing. I think it’s natural for the band to be inclined to write some more moody material after an album as upbeat as AYNIN.
And speaking of the band…by all accounts, it’s just them, just like it was on Big Thing. Or at least it’s more of “just them” than the AYNIN sessions, which included Mark Ronson, Ana Matronic, Kelis, Owen Pallett, and Nick Hodgson, as well as newscaster Nina Hossain. There was a report that Ronson worked with them initially but every quote I’ve read since indicates that it’s just the five (Rhonda says four…because we certainly don’t hear much of Dom being there lately. Just saying..) of them in the studio.
Is this a good thing or not? I think time will tell. Duran has made some tremendous music when they close ranks and keep it “in house”—see Big Thing and The Wedding Album and Astronaut, at least as originally conceived. But therein lies my concern: Duran Duran also seems to make ill advised decisions when there is no outside producer to referee things. (I’m convinced that Ronson or even Timbaland—yes, Timbaland—or any of us, for that matter—would have told them to keep “Beautiful Colours” and “Salt in the Rainbow” on the Astronaut album. As it was, they went through three producers on that one.)
Do you think I’m reading too much into the relationship between Notorious and Big Thing to infer anything from AYNIN and DD14? And are you worried about the apparent lack of an outside producer tied to this project?
C.K. Shortell is a lifelong Duran Duran fan who lives in the northeast with his wife and two sons, one of whom loves watching concert footage of the band. When he’s not struggling to explain to a two year old why the guitarist always looks different or just what exactly Nick is doing, C.K. is constantly reminding co-workers and friends that the band never broke up.
I must apologize for the SUPER lateness of today’s blog. Life has been BEYOND crazy for me lately. On top of teaching full time, I have been volunteering in a political campaign. This is really more than a volunteer job as it has become so time consuming that I have worked enough this week to make it a full time job! Of course, I’m also trying to get ready for my trip to the UK, which is coming up quickly! Cannot wait!!! Despite my hectic schedule, I have seen a few people mentioned today’s anniversary/birthday. 25 years ago today the album, Notorious, was released.
I can think back to going to the local “mall”‘s record store after the album was released. How excited I was!!!! A new Duran Duran album! My 11 year old self could *squee* with the best of them at this point! I so looked forward to this album as it was going to be my oasis in a desert of lameness that I was currently calling home as my family had moved from the Chicago suburbs to this small town in Illinois. I was “desperate for something new.” You see this town felt so incredibly backwards to me. It did not have top 40 radio (where Duran and others were constantly played) and it did not have MTV. I felt so completely lost there for such a long time. I clung to Duran then. Their music reminded me of “home” and the best friend that I had left behind who was also a Duranie. I didn’t care that no one in this dumb town knew or cared who they were. They were my favorite band and that’s all that mattered to this opinionated pre-teen!
Despite my focus on Duran, I couldn’t help but notice that there were changes surrounding the band and their fans. I knew that Andy and Roger had left. I was able to shake that off without too much of a problem as Andy never seemed interesting to me then and I had no opinion about Roger. I was all about John then (I’m sure you couldn’t have figured that out!). Thus, if John was still in the band, it was fine. I suppose it was good to have Simon, too, since he had the voice. Nick didn’t matter to me one way or another. I was an optimist and was able to ignore all of those articles and interviews surrounding the return of Duran that openly wondered if Duran would still be able to cut it without Roger and Andy. Didn’t they see that Duran was stronger than that? Didn’t they know how much the band mattered to me and others? Of course, they would survive! They would not only survive but be better off! I know that is what the guys said many times in interviews during that time period. Yet, looking back, you can tell that they were trying to convince themselves as much as the rest of the world. I was, too. I ignored the little voice in the back of my mind that said that things were not as rosy as I wanted them to be.
I knew that there were changes and I was prepared to accept them. What I wasn’t prepared for was watching people and friends walk away. I saw them not believing what the band was saying about being better than before. I saw how confused they all were by Power Station and Arcadia. Heck, I remember distinctly having a conversation with my best friend at the time about how she was taking all her Duran posters down because they were no longer cool. I remember being shocked by this. I didn’t understand how she could so easily abandon them. I also remember feeling sad that I would no longer be able to share Duran with her. We wouldn’t have this interest between us. It also meant that I now seemed to stand on the side of the road that was marked, “uncool”. As much as this bothered me, I wouldn’t let go of my fandom. I couldn’t. They were helping me survive.
Obviously, a lot of time has gone by. Duran has seen a lot more changes, including the return of Roger and Andy. Andy has also left again. Was Duran better in 1986 than in 1984 or in 1982? I don’t think so, but they couldn’t be. They had suffered serious losses of not only band members but also of their managers. I remember hearing in an interview that they had lost their innocence then. I think that is true. They did. I could relate, though. I, too, had experienced losses. I had to leave my best friend and my hometown. I had left a culture I was familiar with and liked, one that was urban and diverse, to one that was rural and lacked diversity in all forms. I was also growing up at the time and there is always much hardships then. Did I really think that my life was better in 1986 than in 1984? No way. I did believe like Duran in that I was going to be better. I thought that, too. I just needed to survive the new town and I would be better, cooler.
Duran survived, too. They survived their losses and have been able to manage at least 25 more years in the music business. While I don’t know that Notorious is the best Duran album, it is still important. It marked the beginning of a new era for Duran, one in which they survived and showed that they were committed to keep going. Thus, Notorious should be celebrated for what it was. It told the world that they didn’t end and that they were going to keep going for a long time. It showed that they had weathered this really horrible storm. They might not be as perfect but they were still there and that is what mattered most. I discovered the same thing by the time I left that new town of mine. I wasn’t the same person but I did survive and that is always worth celebrating.
An outspoken examination and celebration of fandom!