Tag Archives: Notorious album

Too Much To Know

Are there moments of Duran history that you just sometimes think about and wonder what it must have been like? On the positive, amazing side, I think about what it must have been like when the band was looking through record deal offers or when the band waited to hear where a song charted. I cannot begin to imagine what it was like to hear one’s song on the radio for the first time, for instance. On the other side of the coin, there are times that must have been challenging. What was it like? How did they push through? Did they recognize the moment of challenge or did they live in ignorance? Did it help that they had each other?

The first moment like this that comes to mind was in 1986. At this time, the members of the band ended their side projects and were looking to come back together to record another album. From what I know, it seems like Roger informed the band that he was not returning early in the year, in the spring. They did not have to wonder, to question whether or not they could or should rely on him. Andy, on the other hand, seemed to drag out either his decision or his telling them his decision to go solo, from what I have read. Now, before I dive any deeper into this time in Duran history, I want to be clear that I’m not judging Andy or Roger or the rest of the band. I suspect, for example, that the decision for Andy to leave must have been difficult and emotional even if he knew/felt it was the right thing for him to do. After all, he had experienced a lot of success with the band as well as many monumental moments. So, I can even understand if Andy didn’t declare his leaving quickly and early. I bet that he must have had many moments of indecision, which led the rest of the band to be in somewhat of a state of limbo.

Did John, Simon and Nick know that Andy was thinking about leaving? Would that have been easier for them to know or was it better to maintain hope that he would return for as long as possible? Is it better to know than not to know? On one hand, not knowing can keep hope alive that maybe he would change his mind, that he would return. Decisions regarding a guitarist would not need to be made and they could focus on other things, Duran and non-Duran related. So what about knowing? If they knew, they could figure out their guitarist situation earlier and differently, maybe. I’m pretty sure that there was some grieving done, too. Knowing probably meant some sadness, some fear of the future, some anger and frustration. Did this change the feel of the next album? I don’t doubt it. Still, was it better that they knew?

You are probably wondering why now am I asking these questions. Do I have a new fascination with the Notorious album or Duran history from 1986? Am I worried that someone is leaving the band? The answer to all of those questions is a big no. Instead, it is a much more personal situation. As I have mentioned a couple of times on here, I have been dealing with some health related issues over the last few months. At first, I thought the problem was figured out and everything was fine or would be. Then, something else would pop up leading me to wonder if there wasn’t something more going on. This week, after ending a long period of denial, I finally reached out to my doctor who agreed that we should run some tests, which have now been completed. I now await the results. Did John, Simon and Nick want Andy to leave? I suspect not. Was it better when they knew for sure that he was going? Maybe. They could grieve, deal and move on. I guess I am at that point now, too. Is it better for me to know? If the results are what I think they are, will I be facing what Duran faced in 1986 with some grief, fear of the unknown while doing what must be done? Probably. I can only hope to be like them with their determination to move on and continue to be successful.

In thinking about that time period, I have to wonder if it helped them that they were not alone. It happened to all of them and not just one of them. Were they all able to support each other enough to be strong? I often believe that the best part of being a member of a team is that not everyone has to be awesome every day. When one person struggles, the other(s) can be strong with them or for them. Is this what Simon, John and Nick did for each other in 1986? As I learn of the results, I can only hope to have the support of others as I get comfortable with my possible new normal. (By the way, I should mention that what I’m being tested for is not life-threatening but still will affect life moving forward.)

-A

Post-imperial funk: Notorious

In 2010, Pitchfork contributor Tom Ewing helped define the concept of imperial phases as it applies to popular music. Coined by Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, also a music critic, it’s the sort of term that obsessive music fans and writers grasp immediately. Ewing laid out certain parameters for what constitutes a band’s imperial phase while also noting that empires eventually crumble: “it holds a mix of world-conquering swagger and inevitable obsolescence.” On October 20, 1986, Duran Duran released the single “Notorious” and rose up from the rubble of an empire in tatters. 

Without discrediting their success in the UK, the entire concept of an imperial phase implies an empire that stretches beyond borders. For Duran Duran, that meant conquering the United States and the world. I would make the case that the band’s imperial phase began in March 1983 when “Hungry Like the Wolf” peaked at #3 in the U.S. and came to a close with “A View To A Kill” becoming the band’s second #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 in July of 1985.

For those twenty-eight months, Duran Duran possessed the three traits required of a band’s imperial phase as laid out by Ewing. The band’s sense of command was impeccable. The original idea of a band that blended Chic and Sex Pistols had become a reality. The New Romantic scene was left behind and the band was creating a singular style all their own where over-driven guitars and textured synths could dance in harmony. Secondly, they had permission – the world was listening and the hysteria was deafening. Finally, the band’s imperial phase set the tone for the rest of their career. Within the sounds of Rio and Seven & the Ragged Tiger are the seeds of everything that would come after. 

It was the unpolished performance at Live Aid in July of 1985 that put all the internal issues of the band in front of the world and they were overshadowed by everyone from Howard Jones to U2 that magical day. The fragmentation into two camps: rock (The Powerstation) and art-pop (Arcadia) were both successful but the band’s imperial phase was grinding to a halt. The loss of Roger and Andy should have been death blows to the Duran Duran empire. Can you imagine The Beatles moving on if Ringo and George Harrison had left? It was time to burn out or fade away. Thanks to a little help from a friend in Nile Rodgers, Duran Duran emphatically chose to do neither.

The release of “Notorious” thirty-three years ago this month ushered in the band’s post-imperial phase. As Tennant once said, “what’s interesting is what you do after” and Duran Duran lived up to that immediately with a funky single that introduced us to a leaner, more mature band. While the single performed admirably, the album stalled outside the Top 10 in both the UK and America even though it remains one of the deepest albums they have ever released. From start to finish, there isn’t a song on there that makes you wonder if maybe they could have found something better for the album. 

The follow-up singles to “Notorious” are two of my favorite Duran Duran singles, especially “Skin Trade”. The fact that it barely nibbled the Top 40 remains one of the biggest mysteries in their career. The video, the bass line, the vocal, everything came together on “Skin Trade” but most people had already made the decision to either move on to new bands and styles as the decade wound down. It’s a shame. Things were starting to get really interesting….

Question of the Day: Monday, September 2, 2019

Our voters own Seven and the Ragged Tiger in the following formats:

  • 30% own it on compact disc
  • 26% own it on vinyl
  • 19% own it on cassette and digitally
  • 3% own it in a different way

Which of the following formats of Notorious do you own? Like the previous polls, include other formats outside of the typical and if you do not own it.

[socialpoll id=”2566597″]

Notorious Memories

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.

-A