In 1983, Duran Duran were one of the most popular bands in the world. However, other than two UK dates in July, they did not tour until November. They were recording their third album haphazardly abroad to help management save money in UK tax breaks. Instead of continued touring and coming to terms with their meteoric rise to the top, they intensified their creative pressure by recording an album with the aim of maintaining and increasing their momentum.
Some quotes from the band at that time:
“Our stay in Sydney was a race against time”.
“Our prime objective being to achieve as much as possible in the time we had available. Pressure was building throughout.”
“The pressure we all felt started to become not motivational, but suffocating”.
“Our aim was 40 minutes” [Seven and the Ragged Tiger is 37:36]
“We needed enough material to fill an album.”
A precious, creative force should not be put under this working pressure. It can create faux artistry, forced emotions and feelings, hurried composition. Look at another Brit who did well in the US, Adele. She has released just four studio albums in 14 years. From 1981 to 1995, Duran Duran released eight.
Had the band kept their commercial momentum alive differently by touring in 1983, supported by single releases, or a live album ('Live at Hammersmith ’82' was recorded and available), Duran would have had more creative recording time in the studio. Scheduling the album for October 1984, alongside their biggest music video in The Wild Boys, would see a reimagining of Seven and The Ragged Tiger as follows:
1. Tiger Tiger
Created almost entirely in Australia at Studio 301 towards the end of making Seven and the Ragged Tiger - and the only track from the Oz sessions that Roger and John were together playing with the rest of the band - Tiger Tiger is one of Duran Duran’s great instrumentals. Andy Hamilton’s glorious saxophone is instantly recognisable from Rio, and uniquely bridges between the previous album and new.
In 1983, brand DD wanted to push on with a more mature sound – and audience. Tiger Tiger’s pacing and structure from the get-go has the desired effect to not only sound like the perfect opening for an album, but especially for this reimagined Duran Duran album and the band’s ideology at the time.
1983 was an important hybrid year in music recording with a shift from analogue to digital. Perhaps it is why the young, fresh and largely inexperienced yet tech-friendly Ian Little got the gig producing the album. Tiger Tiger is perfect for demonstrating this ‘current for 1983’ more layered and “sophisticated” production – seemingly influential on the sound of the 80s that followed (for example Tears For Fears 1985 album track Broken).
2. Is There Something I Should Know?
Enter Simon Le Bon. If Tiger Tiger is an ideal opening ‘pre-gap’ track, then ITSISK is the ideal introduction to all Fab Five playing. Le Bon’s opening anthemic inquisition “Please please tell me now!” mirrors the Mowtown classic Be My Baby by The Ronettes – “So won’t you, please be my, be my baby?” Duran are back with a bang, we’re on the roam again. Keeping with momentum of Duran’s status, it was recorded quickly (a developing theme) in early 1983. It is also the first of two tracks on this reimagined album on which Le Bon could play harmonica at gigs. These small details matter.
3. The Reflex (single version)
The album recording commenced proper at a grand chateau in France following the success of ITSISK, where Duran were expected to write an album within the six-week duration the French chateau had been rented for. Out of these time-constrained sessions were the big singles Union of the Snake, New Moon on Monday and The Reflex. The rest of the album would take months at studios around the world to finish. This must have been a creatively stressful period for the band, forcing the music under deadline and unfamiliar surroundings. At his best, SLB is very much a lyricist by way of his present or recent situations and relationships through poetic interpretation. Strong imagery, a stream of consciousness akin to the early surrealist artists. One of his great strengths is in his storytelling. According to Ian Little, Duran would be up in the chateau’s attic forming the music covered in microphones, while he would be outside in a mobile recording truck in the chateau grounds recording what he was hearing over the feeds to mix the live sound. Besides being young and inexperienced as a record producer Ian also reveals that he was an adopted orphan:
The reflex (their producer, Ian?) is an only child, who's waiting by the park (the truck outside the chateau?) The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark (the attic?) And watching over lucky clover, isn't that bizarre? (Ian is listening to their every sound trying to put a record together) Every little thing the reflex does, leaves you answered with a question mark! (Ian is mixing and forming the track with new digital tech as they play in a separate location)
Given the extra time available for this re-imagined album, we can include Nile Rodgers’ radical and daring (for the time) single version of The Reflex. Also, the album version at 5:29 is too long (especially for an opening track of a pop record!) compared to Nile’s 4:27. With another anthemic start – “The Reflex! The Reflex! The Reflex!” - we have a formidable first three tracks.
4. New Moon On Monday
Its placement here is fitting early on into the album. Like its video it has a sense of revolution (“I light my torch and wave it for…”), a new sound and new beginnings for the band with “the new moon” metaphors, and a new edge with imagery of “fire dances through the night.” There are some great funky mixes of this track out there with the bass ramped up even more.
5. Union Of The Snake
Another track that came out of their first recording sessions in France, and influenced by Bowie’s Lets Dance (released 14th April 1983). Ian works out the kick drum sequence, plays it to Roger who makes the beat his own which then John and the band followed. It feels right having this in the first half of the album. It fulfils Nick’s ambitions for the album to have a more mature direction and again Simon metaphorically announcing that they are on the climb, moving up, gonna break through the borderline. 5 tracks in and this is a suitably ambitious record for Duran Duran.
1. The Wild Boys
Their biggest music video = release the album. It is now October 1984. The Wild Boys now fits firmly in the middle of the album not only as a grand centrepiece but also as part of the album’s evolving storyline. Revolution turns into party and another anthem: “Wild Boys! Wild Boys! Wild Boys!”
2. Shadows On Your Side
For me, this is the magnum opus of Seven and the Ragged Tiger. More guitar heavy than most of the album, it would have been interesting to see how this would have charted in the guitar-favoured USA. Seeing videos of it performed live, it once again seems like a track on this record that has an anthemic impact. The Mysteron-ic lower-tone chanting at the end is reminiscent of the start of Friends of Mine. This is the other track on the album that SLB plays a wicked Roxy Music-esq harmonica live. A potential US number 1?
3. Of Crime and Passion
Listening in this sequence, Of Crime and Passion plays better following on from Shadows. The two more guitar-based tracks on the album are together, it has energy and style with strong dynamics. It’s a rockier, heavier, more adult sound the band were after. And following our reimagined album’s story we have had the arrival, the revolution, the party and now “Liar! Couldn’t cut me deeper with a knife if you tried” the guilt, the lows, the downward spiral into…
4. Secret Oktober
The other gem we would have got on the album with a slight restructuring of time given to recording the album. Story-wise for the album, this is the hangover: “sudden silence, the dancing is over.” Now it becomes one of their best ever album tracks, no longer a B-side.
5. The Seventh Stranger
The best end to a Duran Duran album (yes, including The Chauffeur). Credit to Rafael de Jesus on the bongos at the end. The Seventh Stranger completes the other half of the album title bookended with the opening Tiger Tiger. This final track is now the conclusion of Seven and The Ragged Tiger’s cautionary tale in the 80s music biz - “In every city such a desolate dream” and the final parting shot – “I'm changing my name just as the sun goes down, walking away like a stranger…”
In this sequencing, the whole album becomes more interesting. We have a Babylon; the excess and the glory to the wickedness and consequences of being at the top of the music industry in the early 1980s. It’s a metaphorical celebratory yet cautionary tale for life at the top of the music industry. This is Duran Duran’s story of the track listing to fit the album title: Re-arrival – Revolution – Party – Aftermath - Hang Over - Parting.
Finally: To Whom It May Concern – the omitted tracks:
I Take The Dice: I don’t mind it but doesn’t fit in with the story or tone of the album reimagined here. Out it goes but a good single B-side for sure.
(I’m Looking For) Cracks In The Pavement: To quote Ian Little: “One of the more interesting songs on the album… not commercial or substantial to be a single…. their willingness to embrace the idea of something so plainly bonkers!” Out it goes then…
By 1985, Duran Duran were everywhere. They might not have realised at the time, but they were certainly burnt out and bruised themselves as individuals. After this level of world domination I would then have released a reimagined Arena album in 1985 with A View To A Kill on it. Then give the Fab Five some well-earned rest and time off away from themselves after their achievements. Marriage and kids were happening to them. God knows I’d appreciate a decent length of time off with a young family of my own!
I was only 3 in 1983, so there is no nostalgia here. It is nice to just submerse oneself in Duran prime. This reimagined third album is now a mini greatest hits, an album that includes six, potentially seven, massive hit singles - a worthy follow up to the first two albums.
Now listen to this re-imagined 10-track album on Ben's Spotify playlist.
And you can order Ian's book here
Or you can order Cherry Lipstick's interview with Ian from September 2020 as a digital download (for FREE until 11 August 2023) here