Wednesday, November 15, 2006

YES, BUT WHAT IS THE REFLEX? I decided to turn over our Keltnerization of Duran Duran (first time eligible, not nominated) to The Countess Anna, a friend of several of the bloggers here, because not only is the the biggest DD fan we know, but her fandom of DD is one of the more intense fandoms I know for any of my friends with one band. Could she be objective? Do you want her to be? The Keltner Test shows all . . .

1. Was Duran Duran ever regarded as the best band in rock music? Did anybody, while they were active, ever suggest that Duran Duran was the best band in rock music?

As Moby blogged in 2003, Duran Duran “were cursed by what we can call the ‘bee gees‘ curse, which is: 'write amazing songs, sell tons of records, and consequently incur the wrath or disinterest of the rock obsessed critical establishment'."

In 1982, music critic Steve Sutherland wrote the following about the album Rio in the magazine Melody Maker: “Rio is the true culmination of the much misunderstood New Romanticism – energetic, proud, enthusiastic, joyous; something to escape fully into. It cultivates the class that makes Roxy great, it encompasses almost every trend and rhythm going, embraces everything from funk to Thin Lizzy and still sounds unmistakably like Duran Duran; an unashamed new breed of rock band, the unrivalled masters of melody. If there’s a catch, it’s that – honest to God – Rio is so good and defines such an exuberant majesty, where the hell do they go from here?”

More recently, even Rolling Stone recognized Duran Duran’s “demented genius” in its review of 1995’s much maligned Thank You album of cover songs: “As tempting as it may be to snicker at their shamelessness, think about the daring that goes with it. How many other bands would have the guts to try to update Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘I Wanna Take You Higher,’ much less work in an allusion to Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’? … Admittedly, some of the ideas at play here are stunningly wrongheaded, but it takes a certain demented genius to recognize Iggy Pop’s ‘Success’ as the Gary Glitter tune it was meant to be or to redo ‘911 is a Joke’ so it sounds more like Beck than like Public Enemy.”

2. Was Duran Duran ever the best band in rock music in its genre?

If one treats their genre as pop-rock music (and especially that distinctive brand that emerged from the British Isles in the early 80s), Duran Duran arguably offers the most impressive combination of success and longevity after U2; they compare favorably to American genre contemporaries as well. (More on that in Question 9.) There are also few bands who so perfectly capture the spirit of a whole decade, although as I posit below, they are far from just an 80s band.

3. Was any individual member of Duran Duran ever considered the best at his instrument/role?

D'Arcy of Smashing Pumpkins: “Duran Duran: I don't know if I should admit this. I wasn't a groupie or anything - I wanted to be them. John Taylor had the best bass lines. Fucking rock solid, man. He uses some stupid guitars, but he's good.”

Brandon Flowers of the Killers: “Nick Rhodes is an absolute hero of mine - their records still sound fresh, which is no mean feat as far as synths are concerned."

Grandmaster Flash, who guested on Duran Duran’s “White Lines” in 1995: “the funkiest bunch of cats since the Average White Band.”

4. Did Duran Duran have an impact on a number of other bands?

Duran Duran have been cited as an influence by the Dandy Warhols, Gwen Stefani, the Killers, Scissor Sisters (“the reason we got into music”), the Bravery, the Faint, Jonathan Davis of Korn, Garbage, Franz Ferdinand (who listen to Duran Duran’s first album to get pumped before live shows), Smashing Pumpkins, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Deftones, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Dido, Panic at the Disco, Hole, Barenaked Ladies, Beck, Gavin Rossdale, Goldfrapp, Wyclef Jean, Lostprophets, Marilyn Manson, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, The Orb, OutKast, Coldplay, the Strokes, and Pink. Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray has called himself one of their biggest fans, and he said he "wanted to be John Taylor." In concert, Nirvana has covered “Rio,” and Hole has covered “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Moby has called “Save a Prayer” a “perfect hybrid of electronic, conventional, and pop elements.”

5. Was Duran Duran good enough that the band could play regularly after passing its prime?

They are recording albums and playing live concerts to this day. Twenty years after their prime and almost thirty years after they first formed the band, they sold out Wembley in 2004 (breaking the house record) and Madison Square Garden in 2005 in support of their Astronaut album, and performed at the 2004 Super Bowl with a worldwide broadcast audience of over a billion people. They have continued to play through several lineup changes, producing Billboard top 10 songs in each of the last three decades.

6. Is Duran Duran the very best band in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?

It’s hard to compare Duran Duran to every other band not in the Hall of Fame, but one could argue that their longevity, innovation, and impact on the music business are comparable to that of the Beatles, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Genesis, Aerosmith, and David Bowie. That R.E.M. has been nominated this year and not Duran Duran is a bit of a travesty.

7. Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?

If Blondie is in the Hall of Fame, Duran Duran has every right to be. Duran Duran’s track record also compares favorably to U2 and the Police, who have already been inducted.

8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the band was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its records?

Duran Duran has always taken risks in its music and album production, and with risk-taking come both great successes and great flops. Even their much-derided flops, though, have garnered respect from other musicians, the critics be damned. They have also collaborated with some of the best in the business, including Nile Rodgers, Tony Thompson, Bernard Edwards, Robert Palmer, Sting, Grace Jones, Carlos Alomar, Dave Gilmour, and Herbie Hancock. On the production side, they have worked with Dallas Austin (Gwen Stefani), Timbaland (Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Nelly Furtado), and Don Gilmore (Linkin Park).

Furthermore, Duran Duran almost always sound better live than they do on their records/CDs (which tend to be grossly overproduced and suck the life out of certain songs, as the band themselves acknowledge.)

9. Is it the best band in its genre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

If one defines Duran Duran’s biggest genre competitors in their prime years as U2, the Police, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Spandau Ballet, Wham!, Tears for Fears, and Blondie, only the first two (U2 and the Police) have earned more Grammys, and Duran Duran have more songs in the Billboard Hot 100 than all of those bands. U2, the Police, and Blondie (who have zero Grammys and zero songs in the Hot 100) have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

10. How many #1 singles/gold records did Duran Duran have? Did Duran Duran ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Duran Duran nominated?

Platinum Albums –Rio, Seven & the Ragged Tiger, Arena, Notorious, Duran Duran.

#1 singles: "The Reflex", "View to a Kill". Also hitting the top ten are "Girls on Film", "Hungry Like The Wolf", "Is There Something I Should Know?", "Union of the Snake", "New Moon on Monday", "Wild Boys", "Notorious", "I Don't Want Your Love", "Come Undone" and "Ordinary World".

1983 – Best Video, Short Form – Girls on Film/Hungry Like the Wolf
1983 – Best Video Album – Duran Duran

11. How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Duran Duran have? For how long of a period did the band dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did they appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?

Lowly music peasant that I am, I would not dare suggest which Duran Duran songs are Grammy-level (not least because the Grammys don’t have the best track record in predicting transcendent music talent). The song "Ordinary World" did win an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting and is considered one of their best (and not from the 80s, incidentally).

One cover of Rolling Stone Magazine – “The Fab Five?” ( Vol. 414, February 2, 1984).

Length of domination could be measured in different ways, but Duran Duran had top-ten songs in Billboard’s Hot 100, Modern Rock, Mainstream Rock, or Club Play charts in each of the last three decades (13 in the 80’s, 3 in the 90s, and 2 in the 00’s), and their touring success endures as well.

12. If this band was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?

Duran Duran are best appreciated live, because they sound more rock and funk-like in concert where bass and guitar dominate acoustically in a way they do not on Duran Duran’s overproduced albums. The difference is perhaps most startling when one compares the recorded versions of the songs “Notorious” and “New Religion” with their live performance counterparts.

13. What impact did the band have on rock history? Was it responsible for any stylistic changes? Did it introduce any new equipment? Did it change history in any way?

Although bands like Japan, Roxy Music, Ultravox, and Simple Minds were already experimenting with different fusions of funk, rock, disco, and electronica, Duran Duran were arguably the first to fuse all of them with such great commercial success and transcend so many decades, particularly when their side projects Arcadia and Power Station are thrown into the mix.

Duran Duran are the first truly multimedia band: first to use video cameras and screens in concert, first to use flash animation in a video, first to offer a song for sale as download, one of the first (if not the first) to use 35mm film for music videos, first to use a unique 360-degree panoramic video and 10.2 channel audio recording system working with Dr. Tom Holman (famous for creating Lucasfilm's THX audio standard), first to film in exotic locations and prevail in court in the UK to deduct video production expenses against revenues, and one of first (if not the first) to create an avatar band in the Second Life virtual world.

Their influence also endures in popular culture, with their songs having been featured in numerous movies and TV shows, including A View to a Kill (the only Bond song to reach #1), Monster, The Saint, Tequila Sunrise, Donnie Darko, American Pie 3, Heist (TV), Las Vegas (TV), and – in what is perhaps the greatest use of a song in film -- Layer Cake.

And finally, Duran Duran can rightly take credit for the initial success of MTV. Theirs was one of the first videos to go into rotation when MTV was airing only in New Jersey, Texas, and Florida. According to Les Garland, senior executive VP at MTV in 1982: “We had our weekly meeting to hear new music on Tuesdays – back then it was a fledgling industry and we’d get maybe ten videos a week and everyone would gather and sit through them all. I remember our director of talent and artist relations came running and said, ‘You have got to see this video that’s come in.’ MTV wanted to break new music and ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ was the greatest video I had ever seen.” It later became one of the 15 most played videos ever. In 2003, the band were awarded an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award.

14. Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Strikes against them: one could argue that they were one of the first to coarsen the culture of a whole generation with its video for “Girls on Film,” which MTV refused to air until they created a tamer (though still raunchy) version. (Throwing a bone to the Cultural Studies crowd: note that the video as well as the song lyrics are rather woman-affirming by questioning and subverting the paradigm of the porn film.) Assorted substance abuse problems have plagued some members of the band, although they are rather clean-living these days. They are active participants in charity events (two-time appearances at Live Aid/Live 8, Amnesty International, Fashion Rocks, Gland Slam for Children, etc.), and most recently donated $25,000 to a local elementary school in New Orleans during their trip there for Voodoo Music Fest 2006.

And last but not least, of all the glam-rock bands to emerge from the UK in the early eighties, Duran Duran are unique in their celebration of America. Indeed, their song “Rio” is its tribute song. According to Simon LeBon, “American can be colorful, open and honest. So instead of calling her America, we called her ‘Rio.’” And as British music critic Steve Sutherland wrote in 1984 when Duran Duran sold out Madison Square Garden in three hours: “If Madison proved one thing… it’s that Duran are now unashamedly an American band working to American standards.”

Conclusion: Even if their success and contribution to pop/rock had ended in the 80s, Duran Duran could justly take credit for having launched and defined a whole era in music. Detractors will continue to treat them like musical lightweights and a flash in the 80s pan, but the band's track record, history of innovation, continuing influence on other musicians, staying power, and collaboration with some of the industry's finest suggest quite the opposite. They have proven themselves to be in a completely different league from the vast majority of their 80's contemporaries, most of whom have landed in the "Where Are They Now" bin. Given that U2 and the Police have already been inducted, Duran Duran deserve to be next in line in representing the best of the genre.

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