The Power Station Part 1: 1981 - 1984
Welcome to this special issue of Cherry Lipstick: a 3-part history of the Power Station, in their own words. Taken from a variety of sources throughout the years, the main players tell their version of events.
Cover mood board specially created for Cherry Lipstick by The Paper Goddess @Be-My_Icon
1981: John Taylor announces his manifesto for Duran Duran: “The Sex Pistols meets Chic.”
John: Chic was the first band I listened to and wanted to play that way... Bernard Edwards was my bass idol and still is. (2002a)… Bernard alerted me to the possibility that playing bass could be as cool, maybe even cooler, than playing lead - which was what I was trying to do at the time. Meeting and playing with Roger was all the further motivation I needed, and we set our hearts and minds on creating a fully functional rhythm section. (2003a)
1982: Duran Duran first meet Chic
The Independent: By 1982, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were spreading themselves too thin and Chic's records were reaching lower chart placings than before. What had been the hip sound at the turn of the decade had now become passe. In 1983 the group split. (1996)
John: [In 1982] I had an idea to do a cover of Get It On. I just worked on it with Andy using free time in various studios all over the place. (1985h)
July 1983: Robert Palmer supports Duran Duran at two charity shows in the UK.
Island Records biography: Robert Palmer's earliest work won praise for its skillful assimilation of rock, R&B, and reggae sounds, his records typically sold poorly, and he achieved his greatest notoriety as an impeccably dressed lounge lizard. (unknown date)
Robert Palmer album 'Pressure Drop' (1975)
John: I first met Robert three and half years ago and we kept saying we wanted to do something together. (1985k)
Robert: It took 3 years of logistics to be in the same place at the same time. (1985t)
12 November 1983. Canberra, Australia. Duran Duran play the first night of their Sing Blue Silver tour. Tony Thompson (ex-Chic) is playing drums for David Bowie, who is also on tour in Australia.
John: Bowie’s ‘Serious Moonlight’ tour played Sydney that same night and we partied together after the shows. I told Tony I’d love to work with him (2012) … Tony was into it. Andy was interested from the start. (1985k)
Andy Taylor: John and I had had some initial discussions with Tony in Sydney about the possibility of working together at some point in the future. (2009)
John: In Melbourne we heard a pre-release copy of INXS’s Original Sin, produced by Nile Rogers and Jason Corsaro. Now this is how I would like to hear our sound moving forward. (2012)
March 19 1984, Madison Square Gardens: Nile joins Duran on stage for an encore of Good Times. Bernard Edwards is in the audience.
Andy: Bernard saw Duran in MSG and that’s where I first met him. (1985n) Tony introduced us… We explained we were thinking of moving sideways with some of our music. (2009)
John: Towards the end of the tour I was getting disgusted with the predictability of it all. I was living in a hotel room. I was losing touch and I wanted a change. I had to get back to basics. (1985e) It was so easy to get carried away by it all. But then I don’t think I was alone in that. (1985k) It was a rocket ride from when the first single came out in Jan ’81 until this tour finished in May ’84. Every week we’d get a call about expanding the tour, because we were just exploding. At some point we went past the point of appreciating it. (2015d)
April: The Reflex single is released, produced by Nile Rogers, engineered by Jason Corsaro.
Nile and John during the remixing of The Reflex
July: John meets Cubby Broccoli and pitches for Duran to do the next Bond theme… Wild Boys recording and video shoot, produced by Nile Rogers, engineered by Jason Corsaro… Roger marries Giovanna Candone.
August: Nick marries Julie Anne Friedman
John plans to record Get It On for his then-girlfriend, Bebe Buell (Liv Tyler’s mother) to sing. There are different versions of events from this period (autumn 1984) in which Get It On is the catalyst for the band, though Communication and Some Like It Hot exist as well. Bernard is the producer, engineered by Jason Corsaro
John: I take credit for the forethought, but from that moment on, I don't think anybody knew just how it was gonna grow.' (1985w)
Andy: In late 1984, Bernard, Tony and I went into the studio together. John wasn’t around; I think he was busy crashing cars. I broke the ice by suggesting we start with a cover of Get It On. Together we came up with a new groove for it. John and I had already written and recorded an early demo of a piece of music in Paris (Some Like It Hot). We cut a new version without John’s bass. Bernard and I really hit it off. (2009)
John: Power Station was a collective with everyone diving in and doing a bit of this, a bit of that. You got to remember that Bernard was the shit hot bass player of the time. I wanted him to play something on the album and he said okay, I’ll play on Get It On. The break is me though, the solo if you will. (2007)
The plans change when John and Bebe fall out. The group continue under the name ‘Big Brother’ though this is dropped as it discovered to be the name of Janis Joplin’s backing band in the 60s.
John: I now started talking seriously about forming a breakaway faction, another band. Something ‘funkier and more organic’ than Duran. Louder guitars. (2012)
Autumn: John mixes Arena at the Power Station studios with Jason Corsaro (below), produced by Nile Rogers.
The order of events by which Palmer is recruited is confused from various sources.
Rolling Stone: They worked up more material - mostly Andy's and John's, though Edwards threw in a tune (Lonely Tonight), and they also redid the Isley Brothers' Harvest for the World. But still they lacked a singer. The Taylors suggested Robert Palmer and met with resistance from the Chic contingent, who wanted to use a variety of guest vocalists. Tony Thompson, who'd just finished playing on Mick Jagger's solo album, had even approached the head Stone about singing a cut. But they agreed to give Palmer a shot. (1985w)
Version 1 - Andy: When John surfaced he loved the results [of Get It On] and enthusiastically set about sending a copy to Robert. (2009)
Version 2 - John: I found myself on a plane with Robert. I told him about the Power Station project and that we were looking for different singers. I gave him a cassette tape of one of the songs we had recorded [Communication]. He popped it into his Walkman there and then and after four or five listens, scribbled a rough lyric about our relationship. (2012)
Version 3 - Robert: John sent me a tape of one song [Communication] to my home in Nassau and as soon as I heard it I knew it was happening and I jumped on the plane [to New York] and wrote the words. (1985i)
Version 4 – John: I flew to Nassau in the Bahamas, which was where Robert lived at the time, and played him the demo that Andy and I had written and said, “We’ve got this idea that we’re calling ‘Some Like It Hot.’” And he just looked at me and said, “And some sweat when the heat is on.” [Laughs.] I was, like, “Yes! That’ll do…” (2012b)
Version 5 - Robert: John first came to me and said that he didn't care what I wrote as long as it was called Some Like It Hot. (1985j)
Robert flew out to New York to effectively audition for the Power Station and provide a vocal for what would become ‘Communication’. The common version of events recalled in 1985 was that after this went well he was asked to try the vocals for Get It On.
Robert: I tried several approaches [to Get It On] and thought, to hell with it; it's got to be all personality.' (1985w)
Tony: He came in and blew everybody away, and we said, "Heck, we don't need anybody else. Jagger who?'' (1985w)
Bernard: Stop looking. You've got your singer. (1985c)
Robert: We had one idea to do one song and it snowballed. (1985t)
Rolling Stone: After settling on Palmer, the project was assembled in pieces: basic tracks were done in London; overdubs and embellishments at the Power Station in New York; and most of the vocals in Nassau. Palmer wrote lyrics to fit the existing music, sometimes while jetting to the studio. Rarely were all four in the same studio at the same time. (1985w)
John: What we really wanted to do was put Tony out there in a way that we felt he deserved, so Some Like It Hot particularly was sort of designed to really showcase him. (2012b )
Tony: Everyone always assumed that there was some kind of special knobs turned when we did that first Power Station record. All it basically was, was a brand-new Yamaha kit (which I still play) in a very live, brick, recording studio in London called Mason Rouge. I hit the drums very hard. That’s it! [laughs] We did Some Like It Hot, and everyone had all these stories, saying all kinds of things, about tricks that were going on. Samples weren’t even around back then. So, bottom line, the sound came from a good kit, hit hard, in a nice live room. (2002)
Roger Taylor: John felt sorry for me. He said, 'Of course we've got work for you.' He flew me and my drum tech to New York on Concorde and put us up in a 5-star hotel. After 14 days, I finally went to the studio and I played these drums - called Octobans - on Some Like It Hot. (2008) The drums on the chorus that go ‘blat blat-blat blat BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT’!!!! (2002a) These are the drums that I used on Wild Boys that look a bit like drainpipes but sounded great - they were very big in the 80s for about 5 minutes! Bernard had heard the Wild Boys drum sound and thought it could work for Some like it Hot. Why they are credited on the album sleeve as ‘drum effects’ is anybody’s guess. (2002b) I hit the drum maybe five times. That was it. Concorde flights for two, 14 days in a 5-star hotel... the most expensive bit of drumming in history. (2008)
Sonic Scoop: I listened slack-jawed as Jason Corsaro recounted mixing The Power Station album, especially that record’s unforgettable single Some Like It Hot. In some sections, he had performed intricate, precisely-timed punch ins and outs of reverb on every single hit of drummer Tony Thompson’s parts, leading to the huge but totally controlled rhythmic drivetrain. It was a firestorm of artistry, athleticism and commitment that resulted in one of the most distinctive recorded drum sounds of all time. (2017)
21 November: A View To A Kill is recorded. Produced by Bernard Edwards, engineered by Jason Corsaro
John: You have to have stop-gaps. [Duran] have to slow down as a band or we'll burn ourselves out. I think we can go on forever, but then again we could break up tomorrow. (late 1984)
Andy: [Duran] are going back to America next year  and doing an even bigger tour. I think it's easier for a man to leave a baby than a woman. I've got to try and continue as normal for me and my child's future (late 1984)
Back at the Power Station recordings…
Andy: We thought it sounded pretty good for a set of guys who hadn't worked together before. (1985w)
Robert: About halfway through, we knew we were onto something, so we battened down the hatches and just kept it quiet. Their management thought we were just goofing off. (1985w)
Andy: I've never been a big fan of Robert's. I've been more of an admirer. (1985w)
Robert: They know I'm not a big fan of Duran Duran. Our musical tastes clash, but when it came down to the overview, we were in total agreement. (1985w)
Andy: Recording was a good mixture of fun and focus, very different from the laborious plodding of recording Seven and the Ragged Tiger… The music that John and I made in the Power Station was partly born out of frustration at not being able to play the way we wanted in Duran Duran. (2009)
Then there was the lifestyle that surrounded the making of the record:
Nick Rhodes: I wasn't there for those sessions, but The Power Station certainly felt like it was boiling over. (2015c)
Quietus (music website): The making of The Power Station album cost in excess of $500,000. The sleeve of the finished LP bore the inscription "Conceived, written and recorded in Paris, Nassau, London and various bars around the world" The studio even used a phoney bike courier service, through which 23 different types of drug could be ordered from a menu, attached to photographic sheets. (2015c)
John: I'd never seen more drugs in my life, the access to cocaine was unlimited. (2015c)
Peter Martin (Smash Hits journalist and friend of John's): I was asked to write sleeve notes for the Power Station album, so I spent five days with John Taylor over Thanksgiving. Boy George and his friends were going apeshit on heroin at the time. Me and John crashed a party of theirs. It was a gang of clubby, post-New Romantic people all on smack. John was quite horrified. He was quite happy in the coke / being Axl Rose-type scenario, but suddenly it was getting a bit dark. (2003b)
John: Cocaine was my drug of choice. And ecstasy and valium. Downers, too. (2003b)
Nile Rogers: That was the life: girls, drugs, wild parties. It was a way of life, and it was every day. There was never, 'Oh, my God, it's Sunday, let's not do that today.' We were limited only by supply. (2003b)
Denis O'Regan (band photographer): It was great. There were a lot of girls. The phrase ‘pig in shit’ comes to mind. (2003b)
Back at work, and presumably not helped by what was going on outside the studio, Bernard was tougher for John to enjoy as a producer than as a fan:
John: Bernard wasn’t really an ass-kicker, except insofar as I was so fucking… [Hesitates.] I mean, at the time, I was just so… My head was in the clouds, so I did have to sort of be anchored down. I had to be, like, strapped to the desk if I was gonna get a bass line finished, because I was just all over the place. It was just such a mad, crazy time. But, yes, he was very inspirational. (2012b)
Andy: Bernard’s such a positive producer – it’s ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ He doesn’t comfort you or pat your back. It’s like, ‘that sucks’ or ‘that’s great.’ Really you couldn’t ask for any more from a producer. (1985n)
John: I left the studio one night in tears. It was like a kick in the bollocks really – having to knuckle down and be told what to do. We’d just come off a huge tour and my ego was like – wooah! It could have been terrible, I could have hated it. But it was probably just what I needed. (1985k)
Andy: Bernard really grilled John, made him work hard (1985j)
But things were coming together:
Robert: I got to New York and said 'who's the guitarist? You don't realise Andy is such a world player cos he's just a layer in Duran, No-one can hear him. (1985i)
Bernard: Andy just goes and attacks things, that’s his attitude. He can be abrasive at times, very nice, but usually he’s, er, (laughs) pretty angry and rowdy, but it’s fun because that’s the kind of parts he plays. A lead guitarist’s personality is usually fire. (1985b)
Andy: I played so many different things, I just found I had the demand for different sounds. There’s a bit more guitar in there than there usually is with Duran Duran! Nick’s approach is a style sort of thing which doesn’t necessarily include some of the things that I learned. (1985n)
Tony: I gathered from the start that this was something really special. It was one of those things that was supposed to happen (1985i)
Andy: We were playing for about 8 hours a day and I learned a lot of things because they were different guys. I ended up having all cuts and things. It was like being on tour, except you didn’t have 20,000 chicks in front of you to take the pain away! (1985n)
Robert: We didn't have an end product in mind, we weren’t thinking of making a hit single… it just sort of roller coasted. John had always harboured this idea of a mixture of r'n'b and rock, but when it came to it, it was the chemistry of personalities that made it work. (1985i)
Andy: John’s art-school credentials came out when he planned the album cover, whereas in Duran he’d been stifled by Nick, Simon and EMI. (2009)
John: It's surpassed everyone's expectations. We'd nearly finished the album before anyone took any notice, they all thought we were jerking ourselves off – until we sent them a bill for the photo session, then they said hang on a minute...(1985i) But as soon as they heard the tapes we'd done they went Wow! (1985j)... It's only now I’m starting to think, hey, I hope it's a hit. (1985i)