In Review: White Lines

Today, we begin our sojourn into Thank You, the album of covers that Duran Duran released in 1995. As it directly followed The Wedding Album—a career-reviving hit by any standards—some have argued that perhaps doing an album of covers was a serious wrong-turn down a one-way road.

The album itself reached 12 on the UK charts and 19 on Billboard, performing reasonably well, likely due to it’s position as the album immediately following The Wedding Album. However, Thank You received a multitude of poor reviews from critics, and fans alike. There were two worldwide singles from Thank You, “Perfect Day”, and the song we will review today, “White Lines”. “Lay Lady Lay”, however, was also a single in Italy and Spain.

Typically, we listen to each song as it comes, focusing on the music, lyrics and perhaps learning a bit about the background along the way. For this album though, we will listen to the cover, then the original, and then the cover again before writing our review. The original will obviously not be reviewed, simply serving as another source of background and context. In short, we’re hoping that by listening to each original, it’ll will give us more to draw from as we review the album.

Was it truly the worst album of all time (as declared by Q magazine)? We will see.

Lyrics

Freeze! Rock!
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Aaaah…

White! Ooh-white! White! Ooh-white! White! Ooh-white! White! Ooh-white!
(White Lines) Vision dreams of passion
(Going through my mind) And all the while I think of you
(Pipeline) A very strange reaction
(Yours to unwind) The more I see, the more I do

Something of a phenomenon, telling your body to come along
‘Cause White Lines blow away
Blow! Rock! Blow!
Ticket to ride a white-line highway – tell all your friends they can go my way

Pay your toll, sell your soul – pound for pound it costs more than gold
The longer you stay, the more you pay – my white lines go a long way
Either up your nose or through your vein – with nothing to gain except killing 
Your brain

Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Aaah… Higher baby, get higher baby, get higher baby – and don’t ever come 
Down… Free base!

Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Rang-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang-diggidy-dang-a-dang
Pipeline (pure as the driven snow) connected to my mind (and now I’m having fun, Baby!)

Highrise (it’s getting kind of low) ’cause it makes you feel so nice (I need 
Some one on one, baby!)

Tell me it’ll blow your mind away (baby) going to your little hideaway
‘Cause white lines (what do white lines do?) blow away
Blow! – Rock! – Blow!
A million magic crystals painted pure and white
A multi-million dollars almost overnight
Twice as sweet as sugar, twice as bitter as salt
And if you get hooked baby, it’s nobody else’s fault – so don’t do it!

Freeze! (say rock, come on why’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on why’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on why’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on why’all) – Rock (put ’em up, put ’em up, put ’em up!)
Aaaaah… Higher baby, get higher baby, get higher baby – and don’t ever come 
Down… Free base!

Don’t you get too high, baby
(It turns you on) You really turn me on and on
(Can’t you ever come down) My temperature is rising
(‘Til the thrill is gone) No, I don’t want you to go

A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time
He got out three years from now just to commit more crime
A businessman is caught with twenty four kilos
He’s out on bail, and out of jail, and that’s the way it goes!
Cane! Sugar! Cane! Sugar! Cane!
Athletes reject it – governor’s correct it
Gangsters, punks, and smugglers are thoroughly respected
The money gets divided – the women get excited
Now I’m broke and it’s no joke, it’s hard as hell to fight it – don’t buy it!

Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, aww!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (put ’em up!)
Freeze! – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (say freeze, come on!)
Freeze! (say rock, come on y’all) – Rock (put ’em up, put ’em up, put ’em up!)
Aaah…

Video

Rhonda

I’ve always appreciated opening an album with a full-tilt, rocking song like White Lines. There is no point in easing someone in – smack them in the face and get their attention, which this song does with bravado. The “rang-dang-diggity-dang-a-dang of both lyrics and guitar immediately draw you in, and for once, I love the background sound effects created by the synthesizer. I’m not mad about the song featuring Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, either. Their presence seems fitting, bolstering the success, and legitimizing the song.

Truth be told, the original “White Lines” was a huge hit while I was in high school. I can remember dancing with full abandon in the gym while Grandmaster Flash rapped away. When Duran Duran came out with their version, I was perplexed as to why they wanted to do their own. In my head at the time, I believed there was no way to improve upon the original in any sort of meaningful way. That’s also why I think having decades between covers is sometimes smart. Generations move on, the next listening with new ears.

In Duran Duran’s version, guitar is out front, completely changing the color and feel of the song. Where bass provided the true floor of the original, funky R&B tune, Duran Duran’s version is very top-heavy with guitar. That simple change, making the bass being felt, not quite heard, takes the song to a completely different level and decade. The original from 1983 is a bit slower, and much darker (at least during each verse), playing like more of a cautionary tale as opposed to a celebration. Duran’s version is far more of a party atmosphere, upbeat, rock-forward, and definitely the updated 90s version of a classic. The true genius here was featuring Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. They bring their own brand to the song, melding the two worlds together. Bonus points for the excellent guitar solo, and the gritty, rock vibe. Overall, the cover is successful because it isn’t a re-do. In fact, it is how Duran Duran envisioned White Lines, and I applaud that.

four cocktails!

Amanda

Rhonda mentioned in the introduction to this blog post that the plan for our reviews of songs off of Thank You is to listen to the original and then the cover, in order to best review them. I’m, of course, on board with that but, for this song, I feel like I not only have to separate the original from Duran’s version but I also need to re-listen to the album track. This is one of those songs that I immediately think of its live form as they frequently play it. On top of that, it usually features a certain lead singer spewing water all over the front of the crowd during the song as well, which, as you know, we have strong feelings about. Thus, I needed to take a step back to really review, as objectively as possible.

I find it interesting that Duran Duran chose to cover this particular song because it is so iconic and important when it comes to the history of hip hop. Duran went big and bold by doing this one, that’s for sure. That said, does Duran do the song justice? Does it live up to its legendary status? Does Duran put their own spin on it and enhance the song? Rhonda points out a lot of differences between the two. The most noticeable one is the heart of the song. In the original, it is definitely the bass, especially as the song gets going while the Duran one is much more guitar. Interestingly enough, both work for me. In some ways, I prefer the original that way but then I listen to Duran’s cover and I love that, too.

The part of the song that I think one could be most concerned about is the vocals. Could Simon pull it off successfully? Could he cover a hip hop classic? I think he does but mainly because it still feels and sounds like Simon Le Bon. He is not trying too much to be something he is not. Of course, it does help that Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five participate, too. I like that.

So back to the original question. Does Duran do it justice? I think yes. They don’t make a carbon copy of the song but any means. It feels like Duran Duran took an amazing song and made it their own. They didn’t do that to reject the original or because they think they could do it better. At least, I don’t get that sense. Instead, it feels like they wanted to honor it by putting their own interpretation on it. To me, that is a pretty big message of flattery and one that works.

4 cocktails rating
Four cocktails!

Comments

  1. I always thought their version of White Lines was rather good, notwithstanding there were several fine remixes as well – the 70’s Club Mix & Junior Vasquez Mix ….

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