On this dark Hallowe'en night, please enjoy this latest Cherry Lipstick Forgotten Horror from our new contributor, Dee Cooke. Battered cars, killing jars - and one sacred cow is in the crosshairs.
A particularly pleasant aspect of Duran fandom is the importance we place on band members’ birthdays; late October, as a result, is always a noteworthy time in the Duran world as fans celebrate the birthday of Simon Le Bon. Prominent among the well-wishes are the ubiquitous YouTube shares and lyric quotations from this song: ‘Secret Oktober’. It seems to be as much a staple of the season for some fans as darkening evenings, leaf mulch and arguing with your spouse about whether it’s cold enough to put the heating on yet. However, a Hallowe’en novelty song this is not. It’s wistful, it’s melancholy, and *whisper it* it’s kind of dull.
But before I delve into the dreariness of the song, I need to get something out of the way. What is going on with that ‘k’? Why is ‘Oktober’ spelt the German way? I’m an editor / proofreader by trade and the whole thing makes me a bit stabby. Being partial to whimsy, I could forgive it if the lyrics were about a day out sampling beers at Oktoberfest rather than a birthday party – but as it stands there’s no rhyme or reason to it. The most generous explanation I can come up with is that it was meant to be ‘poetic’ and fell short at ‘random’. What’s worse is it has resulted in the even more infuriating tendency for people to forget where the misplaced ‘k’ is (or assume there are two) and thus we get people talking about ‘Sekret Oktober’, which is just horrifying!
Onto the track itself, then, which was composed in less than 24 hours by Simon and Nick when it was realised that ‘Union of the Snake’ was missing a B-side. It is thus sometimes held up to support the argument that Duran make better music when working under pressure than when they’re allowed to mooch about in the studio at leisure. That may be true, but this is not the example that proves it. The thrust of the instrumental melody is a muddy, repetitive synth line that melts itself into a relentless blur and only lets up in the last few bars, when it finally breaks free into a series of sad little spikes. The vocal melody, meanwhile, is tedious and dirge-like with forgettable verses. I get what the track is trying to do – it’s trying to be epic and sweeping and beautiful in the magic way that Duran songs sometimes are – but this attempt, for me, falls flat.
The song is about needing to escape a birthday party (allegedly – it’s one of Simon’s more difficult-to-read works in terms of lyrical content, and while there are many fans who love the songs with completely unintelligible lyrics, I prefer it when I can at least semi-make sense of things). I think this theme of escaping from a crowd and feeling melancholy at a celebration is a highly relatable premise (though it’s perhaps surprising that it came from the mind of the outwardly-gregarious Simon), but also a pretty depressing one. Not one you’d play at an actual birthday party, unless you wanted people to feel as glum as the narrator does here!
On the whole, given that most of the band’s B-sides are great songs in their own right, ‘Secret Oktober’ is…well…it’s just a bit mediocre, and it feels more so every year. Maybe one day they’ll write another autumn/birthday song and we can all quietly move on from this one. (Or maybe they’ll rebrand this particular October secret with a ‘c’? I can dream).