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Top 40 Duran Duran songs

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Top 40 Duran Duran songs
Top 40 Duran Duran songs

Our rundown to the very best Duran Duran songs, from their 40-year recording career… By Rik Flynn

In all honesty, this is a list that almost writes itself. Duran Duran are, after all, amongst the finest singles bands of their day. From within the grooves of 14 studio albums, containing just short of 40 for the most part magnificent singles, there’s a wide array of nailed-down perennials at our disposal.

And while most commentators would suggest the band’s early period – at the vanguard of both New Wave sounds and New Romantic style – as the outright pinnacle, we’d propose that there’s a range of lofty musical peaks dotted throughout their later career (and one later single, in particular, that outdoes them all). 

From shining pop classics that are impossible to ignore to moonlit treasures that are far subtler in their persuasion, there’s plenty here for most tastes in our Top 40 Duran Duran songs.

Beyond the album hits, there’s a singular chart-topping satellite single, album tracks revamped with cutting-edge producers (and then put through the Duran mould) and a few B-sides that were plainly as good as any of those carefully-selected album choices.

We’ve chosen to disallow both covers (skilfully circumnavigating the much-maligned Thank You LP) and side-projects to avoid any squabbling, and there’s a lengthy list of cuts that were reluctantly consigned to the ‘bubbling under’ category.

Those that almost made the grade but deserve an honorary mention include luscious B-sides Faith In Colour and Like An Angel; the subtler end of Duran balladry in Too Late Marlene (Big Thing), Starting To Remember (Pop Trash) and Point Of No Return (Astronaut); as well as pop highpoints I Take The Dice (Seven And The Ragged Tiger) and Too Much Information (the ‘Wedding Album’).

A few moments from Rio are also absent (well, we couldn’t include them all), and newer fare such as Face For Today and Paper Gods also just missed the boat.

Nonetheless, this chronological list encapsulates a body of work that – despite the ever-changing line-ups – shows a band that survived and thrived thanks to that rare ability to adapt, and with unabated confidence. 

At times they could do no wrong; at times the critics bayed for blood and at times fans were left scratching their heads, but storms were ridden and dog days overcome.

In our mind’s eye, a reunited Fab Five are, at present, toasting these past 40 years on the deck of a luxury yacht moored in some far-flung paradise (awaiting their copy of Classic Pop). Fantasy it may be, and while those days of rude excess are all but consigned to history, it’s our vision, and we’re holding on to it.  

Stubborn, ostentatious, experimental and above all very, very talented, Duran Duran will no doubt surprise us once more when the next project comes around.

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

40 Sunset Garage, 2015

By far the chirpiest offering from Paper Gods, and likely the most outright example of carefree ‘pop’ ever made by the band. It shows their urge to constantly evolve their sound, plus their joy at still being appreciated (“How did we get so far?/ Whatever happens, we’re OK”). Mr Hudson may well be the source of the sunny vibes – for Le Bon, he “glued it all together”. Beaming melodies and meandering guitars expand into a blissed-out middle eight, before we return to the celebrations – and it’s feel-good perfection.

39 You Kill Me With Silence, 2015

Produced with, conceived by, and featuring Mr Hudson, this wrong-footed the faithful with its modish trap rhythm, but it was clear Duran Duran 2.0 were very much in effect. It had their boldest intro to date, a dirty bass, undulating atmospherics and a skyward melody that showcased the scope of Le Bon’s voice. The latest rebirth was complete and this song helped Paper Gods to No.10 in the Billboard charts, their highest spot in 22 years. Note the lyrical reference to Bowie (“To drive another lad insane”).

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

38 Pressure Off, 2015

Co-written by the entire cast that appears on it, the lead single from Paper Gods set out the stall for an unusually collaborative new era. Mark Ronson, Mr Hudson and Nile Rodgers all chipped in, while Janelle Monae was given the rare honour of sharing the mic. The result? A roof-raising chorus that’s overwhelmingly ‘up’. Meanwhile, Rodgers’ fizzing Strat brought the funk, a touch of Bowie-esque nostalgia came from Nick’s pitch-bent synth, and John offered up a bassline that had his fingers “in shreds”.

37 Before The Rain, 2010

Yet more evidence that the Ronson-Duran match up was a favourable one, this heralded the return of the Fairlight, a machine integral to early successes. Le Bon’s bitter tale of a man surrounded by “ghosts of guilt” bearing the burden of “murdered secrets” held a direct link to the past, too. “It was very much like The Chauffeur,” remembered Roger. “Simon already had that song before he joined the band, so it was quite eerie… because it was almost like the same thing was happening 30 years later.”

36 The Man Who Stole A Leopard, 2010

Another grandiose highlight from All You Need Is Now, this was, for many, the crowning connection between band and producer. Inspired by Sixties crime thriller The Collector and with an intro that harks back to Rio’s minimal sonic palette, it slowly opens out into a stormy epic. Owen Pallett’s cinematic score and Nick Rhodes’ textured synths provided the backdrop, while an archetypal Le Bon melody provided the focus – ably supported by R&B soulstress Kelis.

35 Being Followed, 2010

One of the superior songs from All You Need Is Now, with a surf guitar motif described by Nick as “pure Bond”. “It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album,” he explained to Stereogum. “It’s like an Eastern European spy song… but actually all about surveillance.” Mark Ronson held it in high regard, too, choosing to debut this specific ‘Return to Rio’ on his East Village Radio prior to the album’s release. Their best song for some time, on their best album for some time.

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

34 Girl Panic!, 2010

Having established the follies of chasing the zeitgeist with Red Carpet Massacre, All You Need Is Now was a welcome return to the blueprint. Thank heavens for Mark Ronson, who suggested an imaginary follow-up to Rio. Nick dusted off his analogue synths, John re-installed Rio-esque basslines, and stand-in Dom Brown emulated the Chic-meets-Pistols aesthetic. Jonas Åkerlund’s video dutifully followed suit, reuniting the original Nineties supermodels.

33 (Reach Up For The) Sunrise, 2004

The Astronaut album was the first followers had heard from the Fab Five since 1985’s villainous masterpiece A View To A Kill. With Epic onboard, Sunrise was the reawakening everyone had hoped for. “We were listening to a lot of Ibiza-style dance music,” said John Taylor. “Sunrise was definitely a conscious attempt to re-style the Duran aesthetic to fit into that contemporary European dance mould.” Both single and album went Top 10. Duran Duran were back!

32 Someone Else Not Me, 2000

Pop Trash may have split fans in half, but the band’s first collection of the new millennium held pockets of genius. Yes, it was a little overproduced, but this simple lovelorn ballad rested somewhere between Strawberry Fields psychedelia and Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins. While Italy and Latvia were the only territories that got it, it’s the track that helped John Taylor decide he wanted back in, calling it “crazy beautiful”. B-side Starting To Remember is astonishing.

31 Electric Barbarella, 1999

This glittering piece of pop electronica foresaw the trash TV fetish surrounding lifelike robotic sex toys, while musically it aligned more with Nick and Warren’s side-project, TV Mania. This first single from Medazzaland appeared in worrying times, with the covers album Thank You widely ridiculed and John Taylor turning on his heel midway through recording. The song maintained a stubborn flicker of greatness, and was claimed as the first legal download.

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

30 Shelter, 1993

One of the band’s most underrated tracks, Shelter announces itself via the trademark sampled stabs mined from past glories, apposing vocals that clash and blend like the tides of a turbulent sea – and the usual killer bass from John Taylor. With spirits at their lowest ebb, the group retreated to Warren Cuccurullo’s London studio to record a batch of demos that would form the backbone of ‘The Wedding Album’, including this neglected gem (available on the unofficial Warren & Nick’s House Demos album). 

29 Love Voodoo, 1993

“It’s a twisted love story,” Rhodes told Stereogum. “At the time we wrote it, we thought we were onto something – it’s a killer chorus.” The female vocal comes from Lamya, one of the singers of Soul II Soul. After Liberty misfired, the line-up slimmed down: out went drummer Sterling Campbell, in came drum machines and a fresh outlook. “The Eighties had ended and a lot of people wanted to lock the door, and close Duran Duran in that decade,” said Rhodes. “We went back to basics and wrote and wrote, day after day.” 

28 Come Undone, 1993

Duran Duran had dropped off-radar before Ordinary World and this brooding classic heralded a fresh purple patch. The song evolved from Cuccurullo’s heavily-flanged riff, originally intended for a side-project with Bush singer Gavin Rossdale. The addition of a drum loop from The Soul Searchers’ Ashley’s Roachclip was inspired, while session star Tessa Niles delivered a perfect vocal counterpoint. Despite the seemingly morose imagery, Le Bon wrote the lyrics for his wife as a birthday present.

27 Ordinary World, 1993

This epic ballad introduced a bold new chapter as the initial transmission from ’The Wedding Album’. The lyrics found Le Bon at the height of his powers. “We’re surrounded by the desire for the super ordinary – super man, super life, video game explosion,” he told VH1. “I wanted to say that the ordinary world is actually the most beautiful thing.” The world agreed and a US No.1 spot beckoned, as did a mismatched duet with Pavarotti, who belted it out with Simon in Modena with full orchestral backing.

26 My Antarctica, 1990

The Durans know how to nail a good ballad, and this is Liberty’s other clear frontrunner. While the group were far from happy with the album, Le Bon commented that it birthed “two of the best songs Duran’s ever come up with”. A hypnotic piano hook cuts through the ambience, while shimmering guitar ensured My Antarctica a place in band history. “As a song it’s exquisite,” Rhodes said. “Warren played some incredibly beautiful ambient reversed guitars on it. He’s really like a magician, as well as a musician.” 

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

25 Serious, 1990

Commandeering the soulful inflections of George Michael at his best and with guitar lines plucked straight from the Johnny Marr songbook, Liberty’s second offering chose an uncharted route of attack. The decision not to tour in support of the album and any lack of real marketing meant that, despite Liberty’s initial Top 10 placing, it was quickly lost to the ether – and with it went this sparkling piece of sophisti-pop. Serious managed a paltry UK No.48, and any further Liberty singles were called off by EMI.

24 Palomino, 1988

For Big Thing, the boys bid adieu to the funk-pop of Notorious and fixed their sights on a harder-edged sound. On an album inhabited by the hi-energy pop-rock of Too Much Information (with eyes on the stadium) and the heavily-sequenced All She Wants Is (with eyes on the club), this ballad was a restorative oddity; Palomino bathes in soft, ethereal synths before a stunning chorus surfaces through the panorama. Le Bon took inspiration from Picasso and, with John as his co-writer, fashioned this hidden gem.

Duran Duran: Making The Wedding Album

Enjoying our feature on the Top 40 Duran Duran songs? Then read our feature on Duran’s cover art

23 All She Wants Is, 1988

Beginning with the title chanted over sequenced hi-hats, this anomalous second satellite from Big Thing found Duran deviating into Krautrock-influenced territories. Live bass was exchanged for a glossy, Numan-esque low-end pulse, while Warren’s ‘lead vamp guitar’ circled dreamily around the whole affair. Its original working title of Sex perhaps explains the erotic leanings of the lyrics (and the moans over the outro), while the stop-motion video also contained plenty more sexual imagery.

22 I Don’t Want Your Love, 1988

Big Thing’s biggest hit, I Don’t Want Your Love married airy funk with stuttering electronica. A case of writer’s block for Le Bon left Nick Rhodes to pick up the slack lyrically, while new guitarist Warren Cuccurullo sparred with sessioneer Chester Kamen’s “noise guitar”. Another hired gun – ex-Average White Band drummer Steve Ferrone – took up live duties, and a single mix from Shep Pettibone did the rest. The album’s pacemaker lit up the charts – UK No.14, US No.4, and No.1 in Italy. Eccellente!

21 Skin Trade, 1987

Simon, Nick and John felt this Prince-inspired funk-fest would further prove that three was as strong as five, but it fell short of their expectations. Taking its title from Dylan Thomas’ unfinished book Adventures In The Skin Trade, the track married syncopated guitar and Purple Rain synths with The Borneo Horns liberally peppered throughout, while Le Bon’s newfound falsetto prowled across this rhythmic plateau to understated yet potent effect. It clawed its way to No.22 in the UK… a major flop in Duran terms.

20 Notorious, 1986

Dubbed “the survival song” by the band, Notorious announced a new phase of their career. With the caustic circumstances surrounding Andy’s departure and a burnt-out Roger also out, things could have gone south. Instead, this stoic riposte not only weathered the storm – while supposedly poking fun at Taylor (“Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit”) – but also helped the three-piece emerge triumphant. Exposing their funkier influences with ‘The Hitmaker’ Nile Rodgers at the helm was a masterstroke.

19 A View To A Kill, 1985

James Bond fanatic John Taylor scored the commission after a drunken encounter with producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, who installed the five-piece in the studio with composer John Barry. Personality clashes meant problems, but the showdown between Barry’s traditional approach and the band’s modern thinking made it work. “We wanted to give it something very contemporary and very Duran Duran,” Taylor said. “We didn’t really think about what we had to follow.” It’s the only Bond theme to ever score a US No.1.

18 The Wild Boys, 1984

Written for Russell Mulcahy’s film adaptation of William Burroughs’ novel The Wild Boys: A Book Of The Dead, this took on a life of its own when that project fell through. Nile Rodgers was armed with a brief to concoct an “extreme drum sound”, so he gathered raw audio and samples to put through his futuristic new Synclavier sampler. Thanks to Mulcahy, the band inherited a wealth of ideas to use in the ambitious video. The sole studio track on the Arena live album, it made No.2 on both sides of the pond.

17 The Reflex, 1984

The Reflex blended club-bound rhythm, jagged chords, errant (slightly out-of-tune) steel drum synth sounds and Raphael Dejesus’ percussive genius with a disorientating narrative that even Simon Le Bon didn’t understand. The label wasn’t convinced, but Nile Rodgers’ pioneering revamp brought the whole thing to fruition. “It blew my barn doors off,” Le Bon told Billboard. The single snatched the UK No.1 from Lionel Ritchie (Hello), and toppled Cyndi Lauper (Time After Time) for the US crown.

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

16 New Moon On Monday, 1984

Following its serpentine cousin into the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic, this oft-overlooked single is a top pick with devotees. Bowie’s influence is clear in its China Girl-aping verse, but the chorus with its portrait of dancing fire and lonely satellites is most certainly Duran Duran. John Taylor called it a “much more subtle seduction” than their previous material. Do track down the filmic 17-minute ‘movie version’, Ian Little’s Dance Mix, and our pick – Chicago producer Peter Beyer’s groovesome Catbirdman version.

Duran Duran: Making Seven And The Ragged Tiger

Enjoying our feature on the Top 40 Duran Duran songs? Read our feature on the making of Rio

15 Secret Oktober, 1983

In amongst the stadium-friendly hits, this slender, atmospheric ballad creeps into the consciousness via more subtle means. Inexplicably, it never made it onto Seven And The Ragged Tiger, becoming the flipside to Union Of The Snake. Imagery of fireworks, speeding trains and distant thunder combine with circuitous synth and a constant bubbling sequence, while spoken word dips in and out, like Le Bon’s shadowy second self. Played over the end credits of the Sing Blue Silver documentary, this has become a fan favourite. 

14 Union Of The Snake, 1983

Sessions for Seven And The Ragged Tiger – an album conceived in the Côte D’Azur and cut on Montserrat – were marked by round-the-clock debauchery (including “getting blasted on Martinis” with Elton John in Cannes). This lead single emerged from the chaos thanks to Nick’s state-of-the-art Fairlight synth and his toying with its “outer limits”. Le Bon has been tight-lipped about the lyrics, offering only that they were inspired by Jim Morrison and tantric sex – but who cares when it has a sax solo as glorious as this?

13 Is There Something I Should Know?, 1983

It took a more minimalistic approach to grab the UK top spot. Nick Rhodes had helped Kajagoogoo to No.1 with Too Shy from the other side of the desk, and it’s likely that this was designed to equal it. With The Beatles’ Please Please Me as a starting point, the song came to life in speedy time. “It was our fastest-selling record and probably also the quickest to write,” wrote Andy Taylor. “It felt as if it only took about 10 minutes.” It has since been played on Mars by the Mars Rover. 

12 The Chauffeur, 1982

Simon’s 1978 poem about a driver’s obsession with his passenger won him his place at his Duran audition. “It was an important stepping block,” said Nick Rhodes. “It was the first completely electronic thing we’d done, and it’s turned into this sort of strange cult [hit].” There have been covers by Deftones, Sneaker Pimps and LA’s Warpaint, who cut it for the 2014 Duran tribute Making Patterns Rhyme. The song features Le Bon on ocarina, samples from an entomology documentary, and synth from John Mulligan of Fashion.

11 New Religion, 1982

The big singles were the pillars that made Rio a classic of the era, but tracks like this ghostly epic grew steadily in stature once the lustre of the main events had worn off. Funereal synths give way to a pulsing groove, enclosing John’s slap-heavy bassline, while Andy’s slanted hook is up there with his finest and Le Bon weaves his characters into a hypnotic altercation via rhythmic swaps from rap-like staccato to a drawn-out drawl. Seek out the 1981 Manchester Square demo for a window into the band’s writing process. 

10 Hold Back The Rain, 1982

Rio’s grandiose fifth track runs deep, and while we’re sure it had Princess Di singing into her hairbrush, its tone was murkier than most. Behind it lay Simon’s heartfelt plea to John; he was “staying out too late, taking too many drugs, drinking too much, going home with the wrong kinds of people,” Le Bon explained to VH1. Hedonistic cul-de-sacs aside, Taylor’s propellant bassline was integral to the track. In 2001, the song was played on Space Shuttle Atlantis as it prepared to land at Cape Canaveral.

9 Rio, 1982

The eye-wateringly decadent yacht video somehow defined the Eighties (and the band), but none of that overblown escapism matters a jot. Rio’s verses were adapted from early track See Me Repeat Me, while the chorus took inspiration from Birmingham peers TV Eye. The end result is an effervescent clash of arpeggiated synth, rhythm-clinging guitar stabs and an intricate, wandering bassline inspired by Sly and the Family Stone. Add in Le Bon’s dynamic lead and lyrics, and it’s one killer calling-card.

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

8 Save A Prayer, 1982

The third, most sophisticated single from Rio was a masterstroke of cool – and the first ballad they’d unleashed. With the fuzzy mise-en-scène of a fleeting dalliance and another MTV-friendly video, it was a surefire hit, only denied the UK summit by the imperishable Eye Of The Tiger (we’ll forgive them that one). The song was released by Eagles Of Death Metal in memory of the victims of the Paris terrorist attack in 2015. Duran Duran donated all the royalties they gained from the cover to the campaign.

7 Hungry Like The Wolf, 1982

The first US hit shows the rocky intentions of a band in the throes of a world takeover. Conceived by Le Bon and Rhodes at EMI’s demo studio with the use of cutting-edge tech (supposedly while suffering hangovers), it was finished in record time – or, as John Taylor surmised, “it was probably written by cocktail hour”. Simon’s Red Riding Hood-inspired narrative traces the guitar motif, a Jupiter-8 synth orbits its popcorn arpeggio, and Simmons and Roland 808 drum machines underpin an animalistic groove. 

6 Anyone Out There, 1981

More evidence of Duran’s early prowess, from a revolving buffered guitar riff to soft, swirling synths and the Bowie-aping slap bass that plays out the track. This ode to lost love and loneliness conjoining Roxy Music, Japan and Chic, was first aired at the band’s inaugural Birmingham show and would appear on their debut album. Beyond the eye shadow and billowing shirts synonymous with New Romanticism lay something far more special. It made Nile Rodgers’ playlist of his favourite Duran tracks. 

5 My Own Way, 1981

A simple, brilliant coalescence from the flawless Rio album. This slower-paced version is the most natural; the Carnival mix adds weight to the rhythm, but why the band ramped up the tempo so much for the single remix is beyond us… and the formulaic disco strings stripped the song of any semblance of cool. The band seem to agree: it’s absent from all compilations and is never performed live. Still, the incendiary Night Version (on the UK 12”) goes some way to repairing the damage.

4  Girls On Film, 1981 

It’s viewed as the track that helped secure stratospheric fame, but Girls On Film was fashioned earlier in the band’s history, and the original demo (made with ex-singer Andy Wickett) has recently surfaced. While that gritty post-punk jam displays the band’s innards, the later reboot shows Le Bon in career-best form. The notorious Godley & Creme video might suggest otherwise, but behind the sexual imagery lie lyrics that call out the fashion industry for exploitation of women. An MTV staple, it made UK No.5.

Top 40 Duran Duran songs

3 Careless Memories, 1981

Fresh from the Rum Runner’s New Year’s Eve party, the band were thrust sleep-deprived into the studio to complete their LP. According to John Taylor’s memoir, it was EMI big-wigs that chose this feral dispatch as Planet Earth’s successor. Sadly, where their debut cut through, its angsty twin faltered, and was soon forgotten outside of fan circles. While for many B-side Khanada was better, this menacing cult favourite borrowed the best bits from The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry album and ran with them.

2 Late Bar, 1981 

Written about their roots as underground braves of the Brummie scene, this holds the zeal of a band feeling for their sound. The now-familiar ingredients are all in evidence: tight, pulsing funk patterns from John and Roger, Andy’s manic riffing, voluminous keys from Nick, and a shadowy, goth-tinged bellow from Simon. Partitioned away from the album as the B-side to Planet Earth, Late Bar made for an essential 7”. As EMI A&R man Dave Ambrose said: “This was going to be a very, very important band.”

1 Planet Earth, 1981

This sci-fi-loving debut announced a band transmitting miles away from Terra Firma. Commandeering a headline (about Spandau Ballet) entitled “Here Come The New Romantics”, Planet Earth installed the five-piece as white-hot poster boys for the movement. After EMI won the bidding war, Birmingham’s high hopes went direct from tourbus to studio. Colin Thurston came in to man the controls off the back of successes with Bowie and The Human League, and a Blitz club classic – and a UK No.12 – was born.

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

Read our feature on Duran’s 1990 album Liberty

 

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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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