By C.K Shortell
When asked which Duran Duran songs were his favorite, Simon famously compared them to his children, claiming that he simply could not choose one over the others. While this is both understandable and a little disappointing (You’re sick of Hungry Like the Wolf! Admit it, Simon!), it’s also slightly deceiving. The band does, in fact, pick favorites when it comes to their songs. They choose which songs to include on the album and which to leave for b-sides. That is the focus of today’s topic: that body of work that falls under the nebulous heading of “non-album” tracks.
I use the term “non-album” to refer to b-sides, demos, leaked songs, and yes, even tracks that appear on special editions of albums. Basically, any song that’s “out there” and not on the physical copy of the basic, non-special edition of the CD is fair game for this analysis. However, I’m going to exclude remixes and live versions – just looking for separate, unique songs that the band decided, for whatever reason, to not include on the CD. To make this more interesting, let’s not only choose a b-side that should have made the final album, but also justify which song it would replace. Rather than go in chronological order, I’ll get us started with some of the most egregious examples of songs that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Beautiful Colours (2004, Astronaut): They say never make assumptions – but I have to assume anyone reading this blog has heard this song. It was leaked with some other demos in 2003, and the band played it live on the 2003-2004 tours. It was the subject of an “Ask Katy” in which Simon testily (if that’s possible to convey via the written word) claimed the song “was unfinished”. In fact, Beautiful Colors has been the subject of several Ask Katy Q&A’s: http://www.duranduran.com/wordpress/index.php?s=Beautiful+Colours&cat=12
At odds with the band’s insistence that the song is “unfinished” is the announcement that they allowed the song to be used as part of a special video clip at The FIFA 100 Charity Auction & Tribute Ceremony on March 4, 2004: http://www.duranduran.com/wordpress/page/2/?s=Beautiful+Colours&cat=6
So, in summary: Stop asking Duran about “Beautiful Colours” because it’s not finished, it’s not going to be on the album, but FIFA can use it, and the band will promote the fact that FIFA is using it. But it’s unfinished.
I’m not trying to pick on the band. Well, maybe a little. I think the song does need some work – the lyrics on the studio version I have and a bootleg from one of the UK shows are different, and the bridge feels like it could use a better guitar solo. But with whatever warts it has, Beautiful Colours is a great piece of music. It’s the perfect marriage of Andy’s guitar and Nick’s synths. The bass and drums powerfully drive the song to that lush chorus. As I always qualify, I’m not a musician so forgive these amateur descriptions. But if there was a 21st century example of the “powerful dance music” that Duran Duran set out to create in 1981, Beautiful Colours is it.
Most importantly, for the purposes of this discussion, it quite simply is better (in my humble opinion) than most of the songs that made the cut on Astronaut. I would have put it as the opening, or at worst, 2nd track after Sunrise, and bumped everything else down by one, and probably sent Point of No Return into the b-side netherworld.
Salt in the Rainbow (2004, Astronaut): This isn’t a “let’s pick on Astronaut” day at the blog (maybe it should be?) but “Salt in the Rainbow” is a ballad in the classic tradition of Duran’s slower songs that dates back to Save a Prayer and The Seventh Stranger. As with Beautiful Colours, it too feels unfinished in places. I’m not a fan of that echo effect just before the third verse, and Simon’s voice sounds slightly off during the chorus (nothing that can’t be fixed during production!). But this is a beautiful song that should have seen the light of day. to stick to the rules I laid out at the beginning of this blog, I would have included this on Astronaut and dumped….Bedroom Toys. (And thus saved the lives of countless rubber chickens in 2004-05)
Fallen Angel (1993, The Wedding Album): I really liked The Wedding Album (and still do!). And I also enjoyed the concept of a b-side, with the possibility that I could pick up a cassette or CD single and the band would put a really good non-album track on it to make it worth my while. That being said, I need to invoke the most over-used comeback of 2012: Really? (Again, for effect!) Really guys? You hide this on one of 2 CD singles for “Come Undone”? Fallen Angel is easily better than half of the songs on TWA (specifically: Drowning Man, Shotgun, Sin of the City, To Whom it May Concern, Femme Fatale, UMF, and on certain days, Breath after Breath). I love it on so many levels; it tells a story, it’s very raw – you can actually hear and distinguish every instrument; it has that classic Simon on Simon harmony (“dangle in the blue”). I almost wonder if it would have been a better 3rd single than Too Much Information? Regardless, it should have been on The Wedding Album.
Secret Oktober (1983, Seven and the Ragged Tiger): I think this is probably one of the most famous Duran Duran b-sides for a number of reasons: It was released on the height of their popularity during the “classic” ’81-’85 era; it’s markedly different from the album it supports (at least superficially – more on that in a minute), and it’s got a cool name. The story behind this song was that the record label needed a b-side for Union of the Snake. Since SATRT only had 4 songs on it, (I kid, I kid – they actually hadn’t finished writing the album yet), Simon and Nick, along with producer Alex Sadkin, had to come up with something new. Secret Oktober was recorded over a 24 hour period, just barely meeting the deadline. (One would have hoped that Mr. Rhodes saw that great music can actually be made when written and recorded quickly….but apparently that wasn’t the case). For a summary of the various Ask Katy’s on Secret Oktober, see the following link:
As noted above, the song’s slower, haunting tempo, driving by Nick’s synths, is in contrast to the largely bubble-gum pop that would occupy much of SATRT. But as Amanda and Rhonda have discussed recently, many of the lyrics on that album are about loneliness, wanting to “get off the ride”, and the band dealing with the pressure of their fame. Simon talks of smiling
“as the butterfly escapes the killing jar”, which is an allusion to both the pressure and public scrutiny facing the band. In this regard then, Secret Oktober is very much in step with the songs on SATRT. (It’s also a precursor to the moody Arcadia project). Rules are meant to be broken, so I’m going to break mine and not swap Secret Oktober with any song on SATRT. Besides, it just feels wrong messing with the early albums. I tend to agree with the band when they say that maybe the song is all the more special because it “escaped” being on the album (see link above for that reference). Ultimately, if I were to include it on SATRT, I would put it after Crime and Passion, as either the closing song to the A side or the leading song of side B. (Those pesky cassettes and their running times!)
I Believe/All I Need to Know (1988, Big Thing): Is it me, or do some albums/eras produce a ton of non-album tracks, while others produce very little? This falls into the latter category as the lone b-side from the Big Thing era (the Krush Brothers LSD edit notwithstanding!). One thing I miss about the pre-CD era is the distinctive nature that different sides of albums had (the topic for another blog, come to think of it!). Nowhere is this more pronounced in the Duran catalogue than on Big Thing, which involved two different producers and, basically, a “fast”, up-tempo dance side and a slower second side. I Believe bridges the gap between these disparate portions of the album – I think it could fit on either side and not feel out of place. Ultimately, though, I know exactly how I would include this: I would eliminate the song Big Thing, bump every other song up one place and put I Believe after Drug. (And thus create 25 years of people trying to figure out why the heck the album was called Big Thing.)
Cry Baby Cry (2007, Red Carpet Massacre): I realize this was not hidden on some CD single, but available to anyone who bought the iTunes version of the album. That being said, my feelings on this song are best expressed via the type of analogy you would find on the SATs: Cry Baby Cry is to Red Carpet Massacre what Fallen Angel is to The Wedding Album. Or simply put, WTF people?!?!?!? How is this not the 3rd or 4th song on the first side? Or even a single? This one has John written all over it – as if he dragged Roger and Dom and the others into another room and surreptitiously recorded this while Timbaland was trying to figure out the bridge to Nite Runner. Let me give you the songs I think are better than Cry Baby Cry: Falling Down, The Valley (live version only)….Box Full of Honey (only on certain days)…(silence). Maybe She’s Too Much every now and then. (more silence). Did I miss any? This is a great song that I would kill to hear the band play live; I picture John with that rapturous “it’s all about the music” look on his face playing this.
My Family (1990, Liberty): Liberty didn’t have to be the misfire that almost ended the band’s career. The Liberty Demos bootleg, aptly titled “Didn’t anybody tell you” (after the chorus of “My Family”) reveals an energetic and fun album in the making. Several tracks failed to make the cut and “My Family” is by far the highlight. A fun dance song with a catchy chorus, it easily would have been the 3rd or 4th best track on the album. I’m not saying that it would have completely salvaged “Liberty” but at the very least, “My Family” would be in the same category as “Serious” and “My Antarctica” as great songs on an otherwise disappointing album.
This list merely scratched the surface. What songs do you think the band should have included on various albums? And what should have been dropped?
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.