The Power Station: Video EP 7.5
eyelights: Some Like it Hot. the many interviews.
eyesores: the quality of the videos.
In 1985, while Duran Duran was on hiatus, John and Andy Taylor hooked up with Robert Palmer and former Chic band members Tony Thompson and Bernard Edwards to form The Power Station. Although intended as a fun side-project, it gathered much attention due to the Duran connection, resulting in a high-profile release that landed them two hit singles.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard of The Power Station. A few of us were at a friend’s house, getting ready to head out, when the video for “Get it On (Bang a Gong)” (a T. Rex cover) played on his telly. I don’t know where I had been, but somehow I had completely missed out on the first one, “Some Like it Hot” – despite being a Duran fan.
In fact, I had no clue that The Power Station was even related to Duran Duran. Some of my friends were adamant that John and Andy were in the band, but they had to point them out in the video for the rest of us to actually believe them; we couldn’t even conceive of Duran Duran as separate parts, let alone in completely different groups. We were so naive then.
This was a full eight months before the release of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor’s own side-project, Arcadia, so we still held on to the belief that all was well with Duran Duran: after all, they had just scored one of their greatest hits ever with “A View to a Kill” (which was released just one week after – by the time we saw “Get it On”, Duran were on another roll).
Frankly, I was never that much of a fan of The Power Station. It’s grown on me over the years, but “Some Like it Hot” has always been the only song that I really, really dig. And, at the time, since all I wanted was more Duran Duran, it failed to enthuse me with its blend of rock and funk; it lacked the synth-pop quality that I loved about Duran.
Still, as a fan, I just had to have it in my collection (much like I bought some of John and Andy’s solo albums – and other side-projects, like Neurotic Outsiders). When The Power Station’s debut album (yes, there was a follow-up) was re-released in 2005 with a small complement of bonus material, including this DVD, I just had to snatch it up.
The DVD consists of the reissue of 1986’s ‘Video EP’, a VHS tape featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the album, as well as their three videos. It’s a bare-bones disc with the lone extra being a live performance that the group did on Saturday Night Live on February 16, 1985 – the only live performance featuring Robert Palmer on vocals.
At the onset, we are taken into The Power Station recording studio (from which the band took their name). It looks like they’re having fun, enjoying the music. Robert says that they couldn’t possibly have squeezed more life into it. It’s very clear that this project was borne of passion; it wasn’t put together for commercial reasons.
In fact, Andy says it’s a one-time thing, that they never intended it to be anything more than that (although he’d be happy if it was a hit). He added that one thing he really enjoyed was to be able to record in the mixing booth instead of the tracking room, because he got feedback right away – he didn’t feel disconnected from the process.
John talks about his influences, on how he started on guitar but picked up the bass after hearing Chic – so it was thrilling to play with two of the band’s members, even if he found playing with Bernard intimidating (we get to watch a short bit with the two of them jamming together). Robert says that Bernard gets more out of performers.
We also get to watch Tony play drums. Robert, John and Andy talk about his skill: they consider him tight, powerful – he’s an orchestrator. He certainly makes it look effortless. Tony talks about his time in Chic and how The Power Station is like his baby. John is described as the ideas man, and Andy as the abrasive one, the fire.
There’s a small bit showing the making of the “Some Like it Hot” video. John says they’re letting the videos grow organically, just as they did with the music. The rest is incidental stuff, like Robert and Tony chatting in the make-up room, and the Taylors commenting on model Caroline Cossey’s phenomenal height – especially given Andy’s stature.
(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)
Some Like it Hot: I’ve gotta say that this is by far my favourite song of theirs. By far. The problem is that it’s also the opening track on the album, so it leaves me with about half an hour of “lesser” material to sift through. But it really does kickstart the album; it’s a great choice. It features a killer Duran-esque rhythm section (think “Hungry Like the Wolf”), with the addition of horns. It has a very sweet groove. Unsurprisingly, it was a pretty big hit at the time.
The video begins with animation that is based on the album artwork design, with a dancing girl and the band in purple monochrome. We finally get to see the band proper in time for the chorus, performing on a blue stage with a couple of cardboard cacti. For some reason, Palmer is wearing a Minister’s garb (It looks great, though). The rest of the band are in their usual rock mode. Meanwhile, Caroline Cossey poses, shaves her pits, and puts make-up on. Geezus she has long legs. She’s really impressive to look at, whether or not you like her style. That’s it. That’s the video. 8.0/6.5
Get it On (Bang a Gong): I had no idea that this was a cover of a hit T. Rex song (originally titled “Bang a Gong (Get it On)”) until decades later. In fact, I didn’t even know of T. Rex, so for a long time I thought it was an original. Honestly, I’m not disappointed to hear it isn’t because, although I love its rock edge (its riff, in particular), this version is really repetitive; it’s good for about 90 seconds – not five and half minutes! This was less of a hit than “Some Like it Hot”, but it was a huge one nonetheless.
This video also starts with animation based on the album artwork. Then a girl starts to dance in monochrome before the band appears with skyscrapers and planes in the background (the girl will reappear in the background throughout the video). Robert is reading a newspaper at a cheap makeshift kitchen set and a model serves him breakfast while trying to get his attention. During the bridge, the model sits in hairdresser’s chair and her head catches fire while Andy plays guitar. She also passes by Tony and John while they’re playing. Sadly, she doesn’t spontaneously combust then. 7.0/6.5
Communication: The final single from The Power Station was a flop. Ironically, it was the song that Taylor, Taylor and Thompson had initially approached Palmer to sing, as their intention was to have a different singer on each track. When he heard their intention to record “Get it On”, he asked to give it a shot – they soon decided to do the full album together. “Communication” is a good song, actually. It’s a catchy one, even. But it’s way too middle-of-the-road musically – especially after the other two.
I don’t really know what to make of this video. It consists of tons of industrial stock footage cut together – lots of it are phone operators, but there’s tons of unrelated stuff too. The band only appears in the studio footage on some monitors, as does a dancing girl. It doesn’t feel like a band video at all, but I suspect that this was the result of Palmer bailing on the band to record his solo album – he was probably unavailable to film a video. Honestly, I’d have been disappointed to see this back in the day. 7.0/4.5
Some Like it Hot: The band only publicly performed two songs together before Palmer decided to go his own way. Both were recorded for Saturday Night Live and were broadcast on Feb 16, 1985. For some reason, the second track, “Get it On (Bang a Gong)” is not included here. It seems like a lost opportunity, as there’s likely no other context in which it’ll be released. It must be a right issues, being a cover.
There’s not much to the presentation here: we find Palmer and the backing band all suited up – he in gray, the singers and horns in darker hues. The Taylors are in rock star garb and Tony is dressed casually. Palmer is beaming for most of the track, seemingly digging the moment. He’s super cool: with him as a frontman, this would have been a wicked live band. The drums are very present, thundering through. Nice. The horns are a bit off, though. God, I wish there was more to it than just this one performance. 7.75/7.5
Following the release of their hit album, The Power Station decided to go on a summer tour. Robert Palmer declined, deciding instead to hit the studio for his next solo effort, which would be ‘Riptide’, the biggest solo hit of his career. Despite this, the band members contributed to his album and forged ahead with their tour, enlisting Michael Des Barres as a replacement.
Des Barres would also be featured on one studio recording, a track called “We Fight for Love” (now retitled “Somewhere, Somehow, Someone’s Gonna Pay”, which was featured in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ‘Commando’. But The Power Station would disband soon thereafter and all its members would focus on various other projects.
They would reconvene ten years later for a final album, ‘Living in Fear’. But it wouldn’t be the same: John Taylor had to pull out after writing and arranging the songs, so he was replaced on the album by Bernard Edwards. The subsequent tour was thrown into a tailspin when Edwards suddenly died of pneumonia. Unsurprisingly, few are aware of this album’s existence.
The only true incarnation of The Power Station remains on the first album and in the SNL footage. And it’s all we’ll ever get: in 2003, both Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson passed away unexpectedly, leaving only John and Andy as the flag bearers for the original band. Still, for a while, we got see a side project, a sort of supergroup, explode onto the scene – a rare feat indeed.
For some of us, especially the Duran Duran fans, that’s plenty.
Date of viewing: June 7, 2014