Tag Archives: Skin Trade

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….

Skin Trade, 1987 (and other deep cuts): Do You Remember?

So let’s get right down to it: on this date in 1987, Working for the Skin Trade debuted on MTV. Do you remember?

I know one person out there does for sure.  Patty Palazzo, owner of Punk Masters and one time assistant for someone named John Taylor, likely remembers this without much problem. A year or two ago (maybe even longer?) I interviewed Patty for Daily Duranie. During that interview, we talked about Skin Trade, or rather – her obsession for the song. I haven’t forgotten that little tidbit!

So, in honor of this special day, let’s watch the video!

 

I like the days in history where we have a song, single or video to celebrate – it gives me a chance to watch again. I’m not one of those people who will purposefully get out my collection of Duran videos (I don’t really have much of one) and watch them. There’s not enough time…which is why whenever I’m at Amanda’s house I basically overdose on Duran videos when I have the chance!

The thing is, there are a lot of other songs that I almost never think about because they aren’t singles or on setlists…and some of them don’t even have videos at all.  On Monday morning, DDHQ asked what should have been a simple question: what is your favorite “deep cut” by Duran Duran. Deep cut meant a song that wasn’t a single.

My first thoughts were Late Bar and Secret Oktober, as always. But..DOH!…those were both B sides ON singles. Do they count? I’m always afraid of posting an answer and then realizing that I didn’t answer the question correctly. The last thing I want or need are 50 other fans telling me that I didn’t answer right (and yes, there are always some that take a certain amount of glee in setting someone straight). So I checked out some of the other replies before posting. I decided that no, I probably shouldn’t post those two songs because while technically they weren’t singles, they were B-sides and not even on the albums. sigh So what to choose?

My brain went blank. Amazingly, peacefully, blank. I might not have even been able to remember my name at that point. Seriously. What in the hell was (is…I mean IS) wrong with me?  So, I went album by album in my head. What was on the first album? I thought of those songs. Nothing really jumped out at me. Went on to Rio – what was on there? That’s when I came upon Hold Back the Rain. Always did like that one. Almost never hear it live. Hmm. Then I thought about other albums. Notorious was never one of my big faves (sorry). Big Thing was fine – shoot, now as I’m writing, I’m thinking I should have probably picked Land or Palomino. Wait, are those singles? (No, no they weren’t. I’m an idiot and need a brain transplant.)

So…I could have done that all day, as it turns out. I settled on Hold Back the Rain rather quickly because of two reasons: A. it is a good song and one I really like. B. I was trying to hurry.  But, I did think about Paper Gods. One of my most favorite songs off of that album is a pretty deep cut that you don’t even get unless you buy one of the exclusive versions – Planet Roaring.  That’s another one that I would probably give my eye teeth to hear live. (well, maybe NOT my eye teeth. I’d look strange without them. How about a molar??) The big fan in me wishes they’d play it live. It’s anthemic, it’s easy to sing along with them, and it would get the crowd going…or at least the crowd in the first three or four rows. sigh.  I hate it when my brain knows something my heart wishes to completely disregard.

So, go on then…what’s your favorite deep cut?  No pressure…we’ve got time…answer in the comments!

-R