Duran Duran: s/t (1981) Special Edition DVD

Duran Duran SE DVDSynopsis: The Special Edition (2 CD and DVD) of Duran Duran’s 1981 debut is a limited edition collectors set, released by EMI on March 30, 2010. The DVD in the Special Editions collectors comprises of music videos, footage from four BBC TV shows broadcast in the UK, Top of the Pops, Muli-Coloured Swap Shop, Get Set For Summer and Old Grey Whistle Test.

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Duran Duran: s/t (1981) Special Edition DVD 8.0

eyelights: Girls On Film (Long version). Night Boat. these first looks at an emerging superstar band.
eyesores: Top of the Pops. the lack of sophistication of these early videos.

For a few years, in the early ’80s, Duran Duran were the hottest band in the world. From their infectious radio singles to their poster boy good looks to their timely and then-innovative use of music videos to support their releases, this quintet was so popular that they had been branded the “Fab Five” by the media.

Duran Duran was the first band that I listened to. And, without a doubt, it was the one I was the most passionate about in those first few years when I discovered pop music. Along with Rick Springfield’s LPs, their albums were the very few that I had on hand, so I listened to them incessantly.

What really cemented their appeal, aside from their awesome music, was twofold:

1) Their videos played all the time on the local music video show, Video Hits. At the time, there wasn’t much else, so the few decent videos were always in high rotation. Every day, I would tune in to see where my favourites ranked. Invariably, Duran was always in the top 5 with one single or another.

2) There was this new girl at school that had totally caught my eye (isn’t it always the story?). I was mad about her and she was passionate about Duran Duran. So, invariably, I started to take them even more seriously. The intertwining of sickly-sweet teenage puppy love and music make for a strong bond.

When the band separated, like most of my friends, I was compelled to follow their side-projects, Arcadia and The Power Station. The Arcadia album, in particular, with its gorgeous LP artwork and succulent artpop caught my ear; I wore down that vinyl in little time, and it remains one of my all-time favourites.

I even followed Duran to some degree well after they tanked. When ‘Liberty’ came out, and was received with utter indifference, I still bought the tape and played it more than it deserved (it is, admittedly, one of their weakest efforts). I was a fan to the bone, even if I wasn’t a die-hard like some.

Over the years, I followed their career, bought albums and countless singles, video releases, and kept the flame alive even if they sometimes seemed disinterested in sustaining their legacy. I made myself video compilations, re-edited their under-appreciated 2004 comeback vehicle ‘Astronaut’ and played them heavily.

In 2010, EMI released a series of limited edition remasters of Duran Duran’s early catalogue. These small boxed sets included two CDs and one DVD each. While the CDs for the first albums were lambasted by the online community for their compression, the sets nonetheless disappeared from the shelves.

As a long-time fan, I was immediately intrigued. But these sets were pricey, considering that much of the material was repackaged from previous sources. I was particularly stoked to watch the DVDs, which included not just each album’s videos, but a bevy of other treasures.

I waited, and with time I was able to get the first set, for the 1981 self-titled album, at what I considered a reasonable price. The DVD that was released with Duran Duran’s debut featured alternate videos for the same songs as well as television appearances that were until then unreleased on home video.

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Planet Earth: Wow… can you say low budget? This video consists of one set and cheap effects; it’s so ’80s. But it’s effective: it’s static, yet doesn’t feel like it thanks to imaginative direction. I particularly loved seeing the data/stats about human life scrolling by – that was inspired. However, the New Wave couple dancing in the background dates the video even more.

It’s funny to see their hair colours then, because they later settled on their trademark looks and this isn’t it (I just can’t get used to Andy’s blonde flip. Not one bit). The only one who’s got it together here is Simon; he’s got it right out of the gate. He’s it. He’s a star and he looks it. The rest are still finding their groove, shaping into stars in the public eye. 8.5/8.0

2. Planet Earth (Club Version): This is merely an early club performance by Duran Duran with the track dubbed overtop it. It consists of tons of freaks dancing – the emphasis of the video being them, not the band. Go figure. There’s not much to it, but it’s fun to revisit that era. Duran seem very raw, here, with even Simon trying to find his feet. 8.5/6.5

3. Careless Memories: This video is very basic in its composition and it features some bad lip synching, but it’s driven by a terrific song – one that I initially ignored but started to truly enjoy after I noticed Andy’s guitar work on it during live performances; it had much more heft. Anyway, I had never seen this video before picking up the DVD – for some reason, it never played back in the day and wasn’t featured on either of the Duran video collections ‘Decade’ and ‘Greatest’. There’s some pretty good photography here. But the ending is cheesy. 8.5/7.75

4. Girls On Film (Long Uncensored Version): This is an unusual video that shows the band playing on a soundstage while female models are getting prepared for various photo shoots. It was slightly controversial because of its content, which includes women in various stages of undress and a fair bit of frontal nudity. But it’s devastatingly erotic – it leaves an impression no matter what you think of it.

It’s filled with gorgeous ladies: There’s girl fight in lingerie, a girl sumo wrestling badly (but her mawashi is sexy), a nurse giving a massage, a cowgirl riding a black stallion (literally and figuratively), then washing his toned, tight body, a girl drowning in a wading pool, with Simon (as a lifeguard) giving her mouth-to-mouth, and even some mud wrestling. What’s not to like (if you switch off your feminist side)? 8.0/9.0

5. Girls On Film (Short Censored Version): This is a clean version of the video. It’s been completely re-edited and they added footage of revelers partying at the end. It’s still fun, though, if wholly nonsensical.
Frankly, I prefer this mix over the long remix (a.k.a “Night version”), if only because it’s punchier (although the original album version is obviously better). 8.25/7.0

6. Night Boat: I love this song, but it’s peculiar that they’d make a video for it; it’s so weird, eerie. Basically, the video is about Duran waiting on a pier and, as the night comes, strange things begin to happen. Oowoohoo! It’s funny that the sound effects/ambient noise are part of this video; it adds a surreal quality to it. It’s a super cool video, but it’s not what you’d expect from Duran Duran; it’s out of character. But then, so is the track itself. 8.0/8.25

7. A Day in the Life: This is a very short featurette, a promotional bridge between their first two studio albums, comprising of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. It’s cool as an archival piece, because Duran Duran were just about to explode internationally, so it’s nice to see where they were at by then.  na/7.5

8. Planet Earth (“Top of the Pops” TV Performance – March 5, 1981): Top of the Pops was a British music chart programme that featured appearances by some of the hottest artists. Those appearances consisted of studio performances mimed to a tape. The show ran for four decades, but was likely redundant by the end of its run, since music videos had been popularized by then.

This is Duran Duran’s first appearance on the show, and it’s rudimentary; there’s a nice backdrop, some smoke, but not much else. You can totally tell that they’re miming. I wonder if the audience cared that they were getting jipped. They look like they don’t. 8.0/6.75

9. Careless Memories (“Top of the Pops” TV Performance – May 21, 1981): For this second Top of the Pops performance, the band looks a bit slicker, but the set-up is even more rudimentary than the first was. 8.25/6.5

10. Girls On Film (“Top of the Pops” TV Performance – July 30, 1981): For some reason, this performance on TOTP feels more like a real performance, with the band on a central stage (with a then-large screen behind them) surrounded by dancing fans. At least there was palpable energy; it wasn’t sterile like the prior times. 8.25/7.25

11. Night Boat (“The Old Grey Whistle Test” TV Performance – July 7, 1981): The Old Grey Whistle Test was another influential British music programme that featured performances by “serious” artists – not just chart material. Consequently, the performances were recorded live – even if they were in a studio. Without any frills. Or even an audience.

I was particularly fascinated to watch Nick run the tapes and keyboards at the beginning of the song – firstly, because this indicated that it would be live, but also because electronic music used to be instrument-based – it wasn’t just a matter of pressing a button on a laptop. It was evidently live, but imperfections are better than sterility.

This remains a strange choice for the band to highlight, given that they’re mostly known for their hooky pop-rock confections, and this is more atmospheric, bass and keys-driven – but I loved every minute of it. 8.0/7.0

12. Anyone Out There (“Old Grey Whistle Test” TV Performance – July 7, 1981): This track was recorded in conjunction with the previous one, in a one-two punch. It’s a nice follow-up to previous song because it works thematically and because it’s more upbeat, but it’s also a strange choice because it’s not a single.

Simon was in good form here, while the others were still clearly learning their craft. It’s funny, because in this recording they don’t look like the stars we knew them as; it looked like they were on a day off. Perhaps that was intentional, to tone down the glamour and make them look more serious? 7.5/7.0

13. Girls On Film (“Get Set For Summer” TV Performance – August 8, 1981): This is a weird TV appearance, because ‘Get Set For Summer’ was a Saturday morning kids show, featuring celebrity interviews, cartoons, pop bands, …etc. You see the sort. So why were Duran performing ‘Girls On Film’?

Anyway, this footage was recorded outdoors on a small stage, to a tape, and in front of a few dozen kids. It’s a strange set up to start with, but Simon made it even more unusual by singing in a walkie talkie instead of a mic proper. Perhaps they were taking the piss out the event? 7.5/6.5

14. Friends Of Mine (“Multi-Coloured Swap Shop” TV Performance – February 27, 1981): Duran Duran appeared on yet another kids programme, ‘Multi-Coloured Swap Shop’, performing “live” in the studio with some inserts of the band hanging around in a cafeteria. This Duran is the slick one we always knew: made up, with slightly teased hair and elaborate dress. These guys look like stars! The performance is still raw, though. 7.0/7.5

15. Girls On Film (“Multi-Coloured Swap Shop” TV Performance – February 27, 1981): This is the same set-up as the one before, but this time with inserts of models and celebrities. The band was in okay form. 8.0/7.5

The thing that struck me the most while watching all of this is how much the band grew from their early appearances to the release of the second album, the international sensation ‘Rio’. By then, all their videos were top-notch (for the time) and they had their groove one. Here, we find a band learning their tricks.

It was interesting to note how they were still trying to define their individual styles – in particular their hairstyles. It was kind of funny how they changed hair from one video to the next, as though they had nothing better to do. Jiminy Crispy, they hairdresser bills must have been high. Priorities, I guess…

Anyway, this one hour DVD was a lot of fun to watch because it brought back memories for me, but also because there was enough new stuff for me to sink my teeth into. And even if I had seen it all before, the quality of the presentation is well-worth the purchase – the video was solid and the audio was crisp.

Unfortunately, this DVD is only available as part of the limited edition release of their self-titled debut album. While some of the videos are available elsewhere, approximately half of the footage is not. And that’s not accounting for the various outtakes that are also on the CDs.

For fans, this is well worth tracking down a copy. This package is more than a collection of a few careless memories.

Date of viewing, January 2, 2013

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