By now, everyone has heard Duran Duran’s cover of David Bowie’s iconic song “Five Years” which they released on his birthday – only two days before the five year anniversary of his passing. Released in conjunction with the Just For One Day virtual tribute show over the weekend, the band delivered a fitting tribute to one of their biggest influences. In doing so, the band also added to their own legacy as one of the most important bands to come out of the UK pop scene which Bowie inspired.
Choosing the lead track from one of the most important albums in the rock-n-roll canon takes confidence. Opening the classic Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, “Five Years” sets the narrative for Bowie’s story of Ziggy coming to earth to save the planet from an impending apocalypse in five years time. It reminded me of Duran Duran’s declaration all those years ago that they wanted to be the band we danced to when the bomb dropped. Well, here we are, facing extinction within the song “Five Years” and Duran Duran, just for one day, have become the Spiders from Mars.
Trying to re-create Mick Woodmansey’s drumming on “Five Years” would instantly handcuff any cover. The sound of Trident Studio in London (which was bought by Andy Taylor at one point!) as well as his timing are perfectly etched into the sonic universe. Duran Duran bringing an electronic pulse to the track not only allows for new textures, it slyly hints at the band’s own legacy in how it echoes “The Chauffeur”. If, and when, the band tours, I hope they build this up and allow Roger to add acoustic drums that grow in power to match the intensity of the song.
Another unique piece to Duran Duran’s cover is the work of Mike Garson who played with them in the virtual festival. Joining Bowie in 1973 for Aladdin Sane, Garson does not play on the original but his avant-garde style adds an unsettling vibe to the song which fits the unfolding narrative. With him on the track, Nick Rhodes is able to focus on what he does best and the song’s atmosphere ebbs and flows under his fingers.
One final word on the cover itself, this isn’t a song Duran Duran could have pulled off in their youth or even twenty years ago. Simon LeBon finds a way to deliver the lyrics with conviction and power. This will go down as one of the best recorded vocals in the band’s history and whets our appetite for what the new album might bring us. It also makes me wonder if Thank You II – Songs From the Starman might be a project worthy of consideration by the band. From “Fame” to “Five Years”, the band has nailed every Bowie cover they have done which is not something we can say about some of their other cover songs.
For fans of Duran Duran who might know David Bowie’s music on a more casual level, I hope “Five Years” inspires a deeper dive. Everything Duran Duran has ever done can be traced back to something in David Bowie’s catalogue. He was a pioneer in so many ways and bands like Duran Duran used his vision to take popular music forward in colorful directions. Each year, the world misses him a little more but the cover songs and tribute shows help us remember all the joy his music has brought as well. This year was especially moving given how hard 2020 was so thank you to all the musicians from Duran Duran to the always exciting Yungblud for sharing their Bowie songs with us.