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Making Duran Duran: Rio – Classic Pop Magazine

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Duran Duran: Rio epitomised the 80s with its aspirational glamour. But it wasn’t all style – the record itself was packed with classic songwriting… By Mark Lindores

Duran Duran Rio

When Duran Duran touched down on British soil having returned from their first headlining tour of the US in September 1981, they did so with a relentless fervour and enthusiasm to achieve their ambition of global domination.

The trip had seen them taste the high life they craved and, with the outline of what would become their magnum opus firmly in place, Planet Earth would soon be theirs for the taking. 

“That trip to America was the most exciting thing that had happened to us,” Nick Rhodes told VH1 in 2002. “We had just come back when we started work on Rio, so that energy that you can hear throughout the record is a direct result of that trip.”

Needing a follow-up to maintain the momentum of Girls On Film, the group went into the studio to record a standalone single, My Own Way. It reached No.14 in the UK and, although it wasn’t meant to be on the next album, it was later re-recorded and included.

On returning from their US tour, far from being burnt out by life on the road, the band was desperate to begin their second album. “We already had a lot of material ready and we knew as soon as we started working on the songs that there was something in our chemistry that just kept coming up with more and more music,” said Le Bon.

Having absorbed a wide range of influences while travelling, Duran Duran had cultivated a sound uniquely their own, amalgamating heavy funk polyrhythms, percussion effects and harmonically complex synth riffs. Though they were not part of any ‘scene’ that was around at the time, their distinctive sound incorporated elements of them all and was reflected in the naming of the album.

“To me, ‘Rio’ was shorthand for the truly foreign, the exotic, a cornucopia of earthly delights, a party that would never stop,” John Taylor wrote in his book In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death And Duran Duran.

Once again with producer Colin Thurston at the helm, the sessions went incredibly smoothly, an outpouring of creativity bristling with energy.

“It was a combination of a band at the top of its game who were just having so much fun playing together every day, with a producer who knew exactly how to channel what he was hearing,” says John Taylor.

Sure enough, the Rio sessions at London’s AIR Studios produced a plethora of stadium-sized anthems that would provide the perfect soundtrack for Duran Duran to fulfil their ambitions of graduating from Hammersmith Odeon to Wembley to New York’s Madison Square Garden at 12-month intervals. 

Though Rio is marked by the triumvirate of career-defining hits Hungry Like The Wolf, Save A Prayer and Rio, a high standard is maintained throughout the album. Cuts such as Hold Back The Rain, New Religion or Lonely In Your Nightmare were likely to have been monster hits had they been released as singles, while a last-minute addition to the album, The Chauffeur, highlighted the band’s darker, more experimental side. 

Released on 10 May 1982, Rio reached No.2 in the UK and spawned a further three Top 10 singles, establishing Duran Duran as the biggest pop group in Britain.

Although regarded as pop’s hottest pin-ups, it was unusual that there was no photograph of the band on the front cover; instead, the sleeve of Rio carried a painting by US illustrator Patrick Nagel (they turned down an offer from Andy Warhol “because he had already done it for The Rolling Stones”) with graphic design from Malcolm Garrett, resulting in one of the most famous covers of the era.

Although their meteoric rise had them marked out as The Beatles’ successors in terms of Britpop ambassadors, Duran Duran were keen to hang on to the club crowd who had embraced them as a dance act with their first hits.

Read our article on Duran Duran’s Seven And The Ragged Tiger

Read our feature on Duran Duran’s 1990 album Liberty

They became one of the first bands to take advantage of the art of remixing songs, recording alternative or extended ‘Night Versions’ of songs, specifically for nightclubs, often available as 12” singles or EPs.

“We always did the Night Versions of the songs for clubs, but at that time we had to record them live,” recalls Roger Taylor. “You couldn’t cut them up on the computer and make loops as you do now. We played them live, and as some of these mixes were over 10 minutes long, they were quite difficult to do. If someone made a mistake, we’d have to go back to the beginning and start all over again.”

The Night Versions were important for the band, particularly in the US, where Duran Duran was marketed as a dance act. As Rio had underperformed Stateside on its initial release, an EP of remixes, Carnival, was offered that met with a much better reception.

Deciding to push the dance side of the band in the States, EMI hired producer David Kershenbaum to remix the album. A remix of Hungry Like The Wolf reached No.3 in the US, their breakthrough hit there, while the new version of the album also fared much better, peaking at No.6.

Any doubts the band had as to whether they had broken America were cast aside when 12,000 fans descended on a record store signing in New York.

As visual identity was becoming a more predominant force in the industry, the aesthetics of the group became a major factor in their appeal, with the Duran HQ turning into a creative hub of music, video, fashion and design.

“We really made an effort with the videos, the style and the artwork,” insists Nick Rhodes. “We saw ourselves as more of a multimedia corporation than a rock band.”

A meeting between director Russell Mulcahy (who had directed the video for Planet Earth) and Paul and Michael Berrow resulted in the decision to join the group in Sri Lanka – where they were holidaying to unwind after their US tour – and Antigua to film a series of promos originally planned as a ‘video album’. This was something of a revolutionary concept.

Russell, a self-confessed “frustrated film director”, was assigned with creating the images that would transform the way pop music was processed. These videos were no longer just a marketing tool to promote a single: Russell’s vision – with James Bond and Raiders Of The Lost Ark as reference points – was for a series of ‘mini movies’. 

Hungry Like The Wolf, Save A Prayer and Rio all garnered heavy rotation on the new 24-hour music station MTV and made Duran Duran the first idols of the video age.

The channel gave them a platform to create a vivid visual landscape in which they portrayed themselves as Price-clad pop playboys, pursued across tropical seas by body-painted beauties. 

Read more: Duran Duran Superfan

Read our feature on Duran Duran’s cover art

As Britain faded to grey, gripped by a recession, record numbers of unemployment and the Falklands War, these vibrant videos proved the perfect antidote to the bleak times. “We didn’t have an axe to grind, we didn’t have a political agenda,” says John Taylor. “We just wanted to have fun and wanted everyone around us to have fun.” 

With eventual sales of six million copies, the success of Rio launched Duran Duran to the top of pop’s premier league.

The epitome of style and substance, they were at the forefront of the second British invasion of America, where they were dubbed the “prettiest boys in pop” and “the Fab Five”, while back home they sparked scenes of hysteria that hadn’t been seen since Beatlemania, with John Taylor’s five-year residency at the top of the Most Fanciable Male category in the Smash Hits Winners Poll confirming him as the band’s heart-throb. 

After three decades of hits, Rio is regarded by the band, their fans, and their former nemeses the critics as a pop classic and the pinnacle of Duran Duran’s career. 

Writing in his autobiography, John Taylor describes the album as “the sound of what happens when a group of passionate, music-loving, fame-hungry guys are given some support, nurtured and put to work harder than any of them thought possible. Every one of us is performing on the Rio album at the peak of our talents. THAT is what makes it so exciting.” 

Duran Duran: Rio – The Songs

Rio
Opening with a cataclysmic crash – actually a recording of Nick Rhodes throwing iron rods into a grand piano, played backwards – Rio has a driving beat, a funk-inspired bassline, rocky guitar licks and innovative arpeggiator synth sounds and displays all the trademarks of the ‘Duran Duran sound’.

A hybrid of an early demo, See Me, Repeat Me and Stevie’s Radio Station by TV Eye (a band featuring ex-Duran singer Andy Wickett), Rio reached No.9 in the UK. The song has a double meaning: “Rio” is both a metaphor for America and for the band’s desire to make it big there.

My Own Way
Intended as a single-only release to bridge the gap between Girls On Film and the band’s second album, My Own Way is a slice of spiky new-wave pop recorded at London’s Townhouse Studios in October 1981 and released as Duran Duran’s fourth single, peaking at No.14.

It was remodelled and slowed down in 1982 for its inclusion on Rio. The song is one of the band’s least favourites; it is ignored by both 1989’s Decades and 1998’s Greatest compilations and has rarely been performed live on any of their tours.  

Lonely In Your Nightmare
A firm fan favourite, this downbeat, guitar-driven affair perfectly showcases Andy Taylor’s skills. It was remixed by David Kershenbaum for the US album, with extra lyrics and longer instrumental sections. A singles video was shot, but the plan was vetoed and it was only included on the Duran Duran video album. The shoot took place in London and Sri Lanka alongside the Hungry Like The Wolf and Save A Prayer videos.

Hungry Like The Wolf
According to Andy, this was the result of “fiddling with the new technology that was starting to come in”. Completed in one day, it featured a Roland

TR-808 drum machine and a Roland Jupiter 8 synth, plus a Le Bon lyric comparing the pursuit of a lover to the wolf from Red Riding Hood. The song took Duran Duran’s career to a new level, reaching No.6 in the UK. Six months later, a remixed version reached No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Hold Back The Rain
An all-time Duran Duran highlight, this perfect fusion of stadium rock and punky pop was written during the US tour as a plea from Le Bon to John Taylor to curb his hard partying.

Simon wrote the lyrics on a sheet of paper and put them under the door of John’s hotel room; they have never discussed them to this day. As a B-side to Save A Prayer the song garnered heavy airplay, leading many to hail it the great “lost Duran Duran single”.

New Religion
The closest Duran Duran ever got to John Taylor’s dream of blending punk with Chic, New Religion mixed dark synths and guitars with a funk-driven bassline inspired by Stay from David Bowie’s Station To Station.

Lyrically, the song is “a dialogue between the ego and the alter-ego”, translated by using multi-tracked vocals to represent the protagonist’s inner turmoil.

Last Chance On The Stairway
Perhaps the most overlooked song on Rio, Last Chance On The Stairway is an ode to sexual desire, lifted by a superb guitar solo from Andy Taylor and a hint of the bizarre (a marimba?!).

The hook-laden melody and perfect lyrical structure are testament to how tightly Duran Duran were operating as songwriters and musicians at this point. Any track from Rio could have become a Top 10 hit, and this underrated gem is no exception.

Save A Prayer
As Duranmania began to explode, Save A Prayer, though a ballad, was just too good to leave languishing on an album. The lush melody, the multi-layered harmonies, Nick’s exotic synths, Andy’s guitar and Simon’s melancholic vocals all built into a glorious yearning chorus; it’s a resounding pop triumph which evokes Roxy Music, and it is perhaps their greatest moment.

Le Bon’s lyrics are a lament to seduction culminating in the live-for-the-moment line “Some people call it a one-night-stand, but we can call it paradise”. Reaching No.2, it was their biggest UK hit to date, only kept from the top spot by Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger

The Chauffeur
Originating from the notebook of poetry that Simon Le Bon presented to the group at his first audition, the Rio version of The Chauffeur was very different from its demo.

Originally an acoustic-based song, Nick Rhodes stripped it back and rebuilt it with a sequencer, reinventing it as the most experimental moment on the album – a sinister synth-infused comedown after the fervent non-stop energy of the rest of the album. Despite having no single release, the song is often cited as one of the band’s best.

For more info on Duran Duran check out their official website here

Read more: Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside interview

 

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Top 20 80s Cover Versions

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Cover versions are sometimes bad, sometimes great. Here’s Classic Pop’s rundown of the very best cover versions of some of some of the 80s’ very best songs.

Cover versions

It’s a testament to the skyscraping songwriting achievements of the 1980s that its music is constantly being revisited by today’s artists. Since 31 December 1989, the highlights of that decade have been continually plundered by singers and bands eager to capture a little of that 80s magic. Some are by artists who lived through that special decade, while others are by those that weren’t even born back then. Here, then, is our pick of the best cover versions of 80s hits. Strap in tight…

Our countdown of the Top 20 80s cover versions

20
Sonic Youth – Into the Groove
Original: Madonna

Credited to Ciccone Youth, this improbable Madonna cover by Noo Yoik noiseniks Sonic Youth was cut from The Whitey Album, an LP built around their fascination with the Material Girl. We’ve chosen not their take on Burning Up but their version of Maddie’s 1985 smash, Into The Groove.

Staggeringly, it’s as loyal to the discordant, feedback-heavy Sonic Youth sound as it is the pop majesty of Madonna. Her opinion of this most unique of refits, however, remains sadly unknown.

19
M WardLet’s Dance
Original: David Bowie

Let’s Dance is one of David Bowie’s slickest tracks, a glorious, clear-eyed slice of party-funk that won him his biggest hit in years. M Ward’s 2007 cover version, recorded for Taika Waititi’s comedy flick Eagle Vs Shark, strips back all of that Nile Rodgers tinsel, reclaiming it as a tender folk-blues number.

It’s worth checking out the covers album Ward made in 2014 with Zooey Deschanel, Classics, under their She & Him alias, where they revisit 13 favourite songs with the help of a 20-piece orchestra.

18
Calexico – Love Will Tear Us Apart
Original: Joy Division

There have been oh-so-many cover versions of Joy Division’s signature number (including Squarepusher, José González, Fall Out Boy, Nouvelle Vague, Soul Asylum and, of course, Paul Young), but our pick comes from alt-country oddballs Calexico who recorded this Americana-inflected take in 2005.

Audaciously refashioning the central melody, it’s a rosier, sunnier version than the introspective, intense original and no worse for that. Quite what Ian Curtis would have made of it, though, is another thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDPMWb89AK4

17
Nada Surf – If You Leave
Original: OMD

Recorded originally for John Hughes’ cult romcom Pretty In Pink, If You Leave became Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s highest-charting single in the US, where it peaked at No.4 in May 1986. When noughties teen drama The OC fashioned an episode around Hughes’ film, they reached out to alternative rock band Nada Surf to cover OMD’s iconic, movie-closing track.

Jettisoning the towering synths of the original, they give the song a lovingly indie makeover.

16
The Flaming Lips With Stardeath And White Dwarfs – Borderline
Original: Madonna

Recorded in 2009 for a Warner Bros tribute album by sonic adventurers The Flaming Lips and experimental crackpots Stardeath And White Dwarfs, this unsettling version of Madonna’s 1984 classic turns the song inside out.

A scuzzy, disorientating take, it hoovers out all the pop and reinvents the song as some kind of avant-garde noise project – a sort of sweaty, night terrors take on La Ciccone’s rainbow-hued original.

15
Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal
Original: Michael Jackson

The awfully-named Alien Ant Farm have failed to make much of an impact after this, their – admittedly dope – debut single.

A guitared-up take on Jacko’s 1988 dance classic, it was certainly an MTV favourite in the early noughties (with its video depicting frontman Dryden Mitchell frolicking with a pet monkey and pastiching Jackson’s iconic crotch grab) and propelled the simple-headed frat-rockers to No.3 on the UK singles chart.

14
STRFKR – Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Original: Cyndi Lauper

It’s worth noting that Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 single was itself a cover of a song written and first recorded in 1979 by new wave muso Robert Hazard (he reportedly dashed off the track in just 15 minutes whilst in the tub). Lauper, however, took the number to soaring chart heights, creating an effervescent feminist anthem.

Three decades later, indie outfit Starfucker (politely abbreviated to STRFKR) put out this sympathetic cover, retaining the bouncy fun of Lauper’s version while dialling back the synths.

Read our Classic Album feature on Cyndi Lauper’s She So Unusual here.

13
Ian Brown – Billie Jean
Original: Michael Jackson

“You’re never going to improve on a Michael Jackson song if you cover it,” so proclaimed former Stone Rose Ian Brown, a brave man who took on not just one, but two Jacko classics at the turn of the millennium. A fully Brownified take on Jackson fave Billie Jean was released as a double A-side with his similarly idiosyncratic version of Thriller.

Eschewing Quincy Jones’ silky production for his own trademark do-it-yourself home-studio sound, Brown’s cover acquits itself nicely.

12
Johnny Cash – Personal Jesus
Original: Depeche Mode

The Man In Black’s American Recordings series threw up a plethora of bang-up covers, some blindingly obvious and some that were, for a sexagenarian country legend, rather more leftfield. It was producer Rick Rubin who suggested this sleazy, sinister cut off Depeche Mode’s Violator album for Cash’s 2002 long-player, American IV: The Man Comes Around.

Cash mined something very different for his bluesier interpretation, calling it “probably the most evangelical gospel song I ever recorded.”

Read our Classic Album feature on Depeche Mode’s Violator here.

11
Weezer – Africa
Original: Toto

In December 2017, a Twitter account was set up with the sole purpose of convincing American alt-rockers Weezer to wax a version of Toto’s MOR favourite Africa. Just to be contrary, the band first put out a cover of Toto’s Rosanna, before succumbing and releasing their irony-heavy version (they even brought in “Weird Al“ Yankovic to replace singer Rivers Cuomo in the video) of Africa in May 2018.

The song netted the band their biggest hit since 2006. Result.

10
Faith No More – I’m Easy
Original: The Commodores

We can’t imagine Faith No More are particularly happy now, 27 years down the line, that I’m Easy remains their biggest worldwide hit. Although they were most likely pissing themselves in the studio, it’s a surprisingly – no pun intended – faithful cover of the Lionel Richie-composed original.

Which is probably why their fans detested it so much, regularly flipping the band the finger when they played it live. Originally released in 1977, we’re sneaking this in on the basis of its reissue a decade later.

09
The Postal Service – Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)
Original: Phil Collins

Phil Collins’ chart-conquering power-ballad has been covered umpteen times, mostly by bands and singers who do little to put their stamp on it (we’re looking at you, Mariah Carey and Westlife).

That’s not an accusation you could ever lob at electro laptop misfits The Postal Service – they being Death Cab For Cutie vocalist Ben Gibbard and DJ Jimmy Tamborello – who delivered this appealingly angular reinterpretation for the 2004 big screen thriller Wicker Park.

08
Foo Fighters – Down in the Park
Original: Tubeway Army

The characteristically doom-laden Down In The Park was the first single to be released from Tubeway Army’s sophomore album, Replicas. Despite bombing commercially, it’s something of a goth favourite, with starry-eyed versions by Marilyn Manson and Christian Death, alongside this take by Dave Grohl and co.

Replacing the ominous synths of the original with a wall of guitar noise, it was recorded for a 1996 LP titled Songs In The Key Of X: Music From And Inspired By The X-Files.

07
Muse – Hungry Like The Wolf
Original: Duran Duran

Sometimes when a song is so faultless, it would be almost sacrilegious to perform radical surgery on it. It’s clear then that Devonian space-rockers Muse were hot and heavy for Duran Duran’s 1982 original, so where’s the harm in doing a straight, loving, well-performed cover?

The trio first aired the song during a live TV appearance in 2018, a performance so well received that, only a few months later, they released a studio recording exclusively on Spotify. Go listen. Now.

06
Paloma Faith – Never Tear Us Apart
Original: INXS

It takes a particularly fearless artist to take on the mighty, untouchable Michael Hutchence, but Paloma Faith’s gender-swapped version of the INXS classic Never Tear Us Apart, recorded for a John Lewis ad in 2012, stands almost as tall and proud as the 1988 original.

Seductive and sexy, with a cool Western guitar bridge and a powerfully soulful vocal from one of pop’s most cherished eccentrics – it’s a must-hear cover that can be found on her second studio album, Fall To Grace.

05
No Doubt – It’s My Life
Original: Talk Talk

Talk Talk’s version of It’s My Life didn’t even make the Top 30 in the States, so when Californian ska-rockers No Doubt chose the song to record in 2003, they didn’t have to deal with too many people giving them grief for vandalising a classic.

Though it misses the sulky melancholy of the original, No Doubt’s version is a pleasingly synth-soaked, club-friendly reinvention of one of Mark Hollis’ most sublime tracks. The song reached No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for 28 weeks.

Read our Album By Album feature on Talk Talk here.

04
The Futureheads – Hounds of Love
Original: Kate Bush

There are precious few Kate Bush covers (I mean, who would even dare?) and even fewer ones that managed to prick the Top 10, with the unlikely exception being northern post-punks The Futureheads who scored a No.8 hit with this guitar-coated version of Dame Kate’s 1986 classic (which, somewhat outrageously, only managed a No.18 placing in the UK).

Despite being named Best Single Of 2005 by the NME it was, tragically for The Futureheads, their last ever Top 10 placing.

Read our Lowdown feature on Kate Bush here.

03
Hot Chip Dancing in the Dark
Original: Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s brand of blue-collar earnestness couldn’t be more distanced from the dorky, bedroom-dwelling, über-arch output of electro noodlers Hot Chip, so there was never any chance that their version of The Boss’ 1984 classic would sound even remotely similar.

Replacing Springsteen’s testosterone-drenched vocals with that of lady-voiced man-child Alexis Taylor, it’s a geeky reclaiming of a song that no speccy, pasty-faced dork would have gone anywhere near before.

02
The Be Good Tanyas – When Doves Cry
Original: Prince

The most ear-catching covers are often when a band from a completely different corner of the musical spectrum take on a song from a genre far away from their own. So it was when Canadian folkies The Be Good Tanyas picked Prince’s When Doves Cry for a hidden track on their 2006 album Hello Love.

The band’s no-frills, Frazey Ford-fronted cover is slower and more delicate, but still boss, a testament to the stately brilliance of the Purple One’s 1984 original.

Read our Top 10 Prince songs feature here.

01
Michael Andrews & Gary Jules – Mad World
Original: Tears For Fears

Sometimes a cover can dwarf the original so much that it’s the first version that tends to get mistaken as the reboot. So it is with Mad World, the original of which, by Tears For Fears, peaked at No.3 in the UK in 1982. But Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ achingly melancholic, bare-bones cover, recorded for the Jake Gyllenhaal-fronted sci-fi flick Donnie Darko, became an unlikely Christmas No.1 at the end of 2003.

When Adam Lambert sang Mad World on American Idol in 2009, it wasn’t Tears For Fears’ version that he performed.

Read more: Top 20 Posthumous Releases

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The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012 review

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The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012
The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012 cover

Such was the excitement surrounding Terry Hall’s return to The Specials for 2019’s Encore that they swiftly reconvened in early 2020 to begin a new album. This – for obvious reasons – is not that album, and, by the time they gathered in September, with COVID’s second wave incoming, it was clear recording in the familiar fashion remained impossible.

So, suffering lockdown fatigue, but inspired by demonstrations about George Floyd’s death, they instead planned a fourth covers album. 

This time – just as the band needed something on which to focus – the songs themselves would have a focus, too. Protest Songs 1924-2012 gathers a dozen such compositions and demands fans see it more as a continuation of the band’s social politics than their musical style. 

This takes some readjustment: there’s little sign of, for instance, ska here – except, perhaps, the loose rhythms of Big Bill Broonzy’s 1938 tune Black, Brown And White – and few could have predicted Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows would appear, especially not so convincingly, nor Frank Zappa’s Trouble Every Day. The Specials, however, have always been by nature a broad church.

Of course, more obvious choices are present, especially Pop Staples’ civil rights anthem, Freedom Highway, with The Staples Singers’ gospel switched for a similarly instinctive rock‘n’roll arrangement, though often little more than voice and drums.

From the same era, Ain’t Gonna Let Segregation Turn Us Around (Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You Around) takes an African spiritual popularised on marches and speeds it up for shorter attention spans, its vocals and handclaps periodically punctuated by bursts of organ, guitar and drums, while Rod McKuen’s gritty pacifist song Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes gets a welcome revival, too.

Two tunes by Malvina ‘Little Boxes’ Reynolds are also unearthed, the loaded I Don’t Mind Failing In This World and, enhanced by banjo, I Live In A City, while this country styling is maintained for Chip ‘Wild Thing’ Taylor’s Fuck All The Perfect People, written in 2012. 

More controversial, though, is Listening Wind, Talking Heads’ tale of a terrorist defending his land from foreign exploiters, delivered here with minimal percussion and mournful horns, while an acoustic rendition of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up rounds things off quietly. We’ve never heard The Specials like this before, but they’ve used their time wisely. 

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Check out The Specials’ website

Read more: 2Tone Records feature

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Toyah – Posh Pop review

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Toyah Posh Pop cover
Toyah Posh Pop cover

After years of copyright wrangling, the belated reissues of her early albums has finally allowed Toyah to be reassessed. So far, Sheep Farming In Barnet and The Blue Meaning have shown just how adventurous she was among punk peers. Next up will be 1981’s Anthem, the album which sent Toyah mainstream via its hits It’s A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. 

It’s Anthem which Toyah’s 13th full album most closely resembles. It appears having her early work back out has enabled Toyah to be as at peace with her music as such an untameable spirit will ever be. 

She’s made excellent questing albums since Anthem, but none have so completely reconciled her fearlessness with a simultaneous love of bloody great big pop songs. Posh Pop’s title alludes to Toyah’s husband Robert Fripp guesting on guitar, under the alias Bobby Willcox. Such knowingness aside, it’s not a bad description for such elegant material.

Resolutely not mucking about in getting to the heart of each song, Toyah and her regular producer/co-writer Simon Darlow’s music is lean, even when the sound is as belligerent as the Belinda Carlisle-meets-B-52’s Rhythm In My House or Levitate’s pulsating groove. Space Dance is gloriously daft, as catchy as R.E.M.’s Shiny Happy People. If the overall mood is celebratory, many songs have a savage bite lurking, Toyah’s punk roots showing in Kill The Rage and the sci-fi epic Take Me Home, with its message that we’re all refugees.

And then Toyah simply devastates the listener, as Barefoot On Mars is the most beautiful song she’s ever written, describing how she reconciled with her troubled mother. 

Having become one of lockdown’s breakout stars with her and Fripp’s gloriously daft Sunday Lunch videos, Toyah has embraced their ethos by making films for each song. Included on the CD+DVD format, they range from the unlikely Devo spirit of Toyah, Fripp and Darlow’s deadpan dancing in Space Dance to a moving, meditative monkey reflecting on mankind’s inequities in Monkeys. It makes Posh Pop a worthwhile video album.

The Sunday Lunch ethos infuses Toyah’s music, too: ridicule is nothing to be scared of, as Toyah’s Jubilee co-star Adam Ant once sang. Pop music is nothing to be scared of, either. As Anthem showed 40 years ago, pop doesn’t have to be disposable. Toyah has embraced that again, and brought her hard-fought wisdom into the lyrics. Magnificent. 

★★★★

Visit Toyah’s website here

Read more: Toyah interview

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