22
May 09

DURAN DURAN – “Is There Something I Should Know”

FT + Popular68 comments • 4,005 views

#518, 26th March 1983

“Is There Something” – released between albums to maximise chart returns – is by no means Duran Duran’s finest moment. The chorus is a chant in search of a hook, and the shamefully half-hearted middle eight is a collection of atmospheric blurts in search of an editor. It’s also – one notorious line aside – the least exciting of Duran’s mid-period hits. It lacks the gleeful absurdity of “Rio”, the sleaze of “Union Of The Snake”, the shameless drive of “Hungry Like The Wolf”.

For all that, there’s an aura of dumb confidence about the band that carries this record through. It reminds me a bit of Slade, another Midlands band who seized their moment and owned it completely. Not that they sounded anything like Slade, but like Slade they’re immediately recognisable, brazenly direct and seemed to have a sense of total security in their sound. (This is what made the band’s later fragmentation into cringing side projects so embarassing.)

That sound being? Well, you hear references to synthpop and to funk but those never quite capture it. On “Is There Something I Should Know” the defining feature of the music for me is that even though only Nick Rhodes played synths, everything sounds like a keyboard: vivid, staccato, and shiny. Except Simon Le Bon, who sounds as uncomprehendingly pained as ever, and as such was the group’s secret weapon.

Being Duran Duran’s singer meant you had to learn to sing absolute nonsense with absolute conviction, and if their next #1 was the greatest sustained example, “Is There Something” has their most famous line. “You say you’re easy on me / You’re about as easy as a nuclear war” – the lyric sums up the band’s sometimes clunking overreach, but Le Bon’s crunching delivery reminds you why they got away with it.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    intothefireuk on 26 May 2009 #

    Loved the first album (esp. Careless Memories), went to see them live (they were very good) and watched their rise to fame with the 2nd album. So, by the time this single was released I was expecting great things and therefore, in context, it is a somewhat disappointing single sounding hastily constructed and over-produced. Not a demise though as they would make great singles again, the next being ‘Union Of The Snake’.

    Re:- Synths – Nick Rhodes favoured Roland Jupiter keyboards. These were polyphonic synths with analogue oscillators. Therefore they had a warmer and more natural sound and to these ears at least were far more preferable to the harsher & colder digital FM synthesis of Yamaha’s DX7, first produced in this year and to become inescapable over the next few years.

  2. 52
    Billy Smart on 26 May 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Duran Duran performed Is There Something I Should Know? once on Top Of The Pops.

    22 March 1983. Also in the studio that week were; JoBoxers, Orange Juice, Big Country, Nick Heyward and Altered Images. John Peel and David ‘Kid’ Jensen were the hosts.

  3. 53
    Billy Smart on 26 May 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Here are some of Duran’s British television appearances;

    THE (NOEL EDMONDS) LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW: with Mike Smith (Reporter), Duran Duran, Su Pollard (1984)

    BLISS: with David Cassidy, Marc Almond, The Cult, Duran Duran, Scritti Politti (1985)

    BOB HOPE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY: with Ray Alan, Rowan Atkinson, Marti Caine, Chevy Chase, Phyllis Diller, Duran Duran, Charlton Heston, Julio Iglesias, Ben Kingsley, Spike Milligan (1985)

    THE BRITISH ROCK AND POP AWARDS: with Bad Manners, Dollar, Duran Duran, Toyah Willcox (1982)

    FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Cate Blanchett, Heston Blumenthal, Duran Duran, Kelly Brook, Penny Lancaster Stewart (2007)

    THE KENNY EVERETT TELEVISION SHOW: with Duran Duran (1983)

    LOOK! HEAR!: with Duran Duran, Eclipse (1981)

    MARTI CAINE: with Tony Christie, Wall Street Crash, Elena Duran (1981)

    THE MONTREUX GOLDEN ROSE POP FESTIVAL: with Adam Ant, Bananarama, Roger Daltrey, Thomas Dolby, The Dolly Dots, Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo, Cyndi Lauper, Nena, Queen (1984)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Agnetha, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Duran Duran, Go West, Huey Lewis And The News, Men At Work, Billy Ocean (1985)

    THE O ZONE: with Duran Duran, Texas (1993)

    THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST: with Duran Duran, Richard Strange (1981)

    ONE TO ONE: with Duran Duran (1989)

    THE OXFORD ROAD SHOW: with The Thompson Twins, Duran Duran (1983)

    POP QUIZ: with Duran Duran v, Spandau Ballet (1984)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates (Host, Except Number 11), Alf, Duran Duran, Steve Cram, Eric Burdon, Andy Summers, Mark Miwurdz, Strange Days, Yazoo (1982)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates (Host, Except Number 11), The Jam, Heaven 17, Pete Townsend, Sting, Bananarama, Duran Duran, The Toy Dolls, Muriel Gray (1982)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, 14 Karat Soul, The Cure, Mel And Kim, Duran Duran (1987)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Duran Duran, Skin, Mel & Kim, The Cure (1987)

    WOGAN: with Patrick Duffy, Duran Duran, Bob Hope, Rick Springfield (1985)

    WOGAN: with Duran Duran, Louis Malle, Liam Neeson, Captain Mark Philips (1990)

    THE WORD: with Duran Duran, Jimmy Hill, Melle Mel, Mary J. Blige, J Pac & Strike, Simon Le Bon & Nick Rhodes (1995)

    (Louis Malle was on Wogan!?)

  4. 54
    Matthew H on 26 May 2009 #

    Well, this was the first single release that I was aware of in advance – thanks to that Oxford Road Show appearance, I think. I was in WHSmith as soon as the lunch break bell went, thumbing the lower racks for the new 7″s. Devastatingly exciting. They were my favourite band for a few months (I was 10), hmmm, maybe for a couple of years, and this was – at last – a No.1-in-waiting.

    All the playground talk after the TOTP appearance was of Le Bon’s suit. We reckoned it was oddly subversive.

    The song’s actual qualities are, for me, all wrapped up in memories. Can’t tell if it’s good or not, it’s just so – yes – exciting. The crisp guitar, the synths falling in a glittery heap before the chorus, the never-treblier final ad libs – it’s an arrogant piece of work that knows what it’s going to get.

  5. 55
    Conrad on 26 May 2009 #

    #52, Nick Heyward, looking rather sullen and lost, forgot to mime the opening line of “Whistle Down The Wind” on that TOTP, which rather summed up his confused post-Haircut state.

  6. 56
    lonepilgrim on 26 May 2009 #

    #49 PLSC has skewered my assumptions about the band. I’m finding it interesting to revisit the 80s as I’m discovering that a lot of my opinions about music from that time are based on similar levels of ignorance and prejudice to my views on the Joboxers. I’m still not sure that I’m that enthusiastic about them now, however.

    #50 The nooclear war line appeared far more contentious at the time when the Greenham Common protests and the Cold War were current issues but I agree that it is more enjoyably ridiculous than earnest.

  7. 57
    wildheartedoutsider on 26 May 2009 #

    The fact that the ex-Subway Sect portion of JoBoxers were put together with lead singer Dig Wayne by ex-Clash/ex-Specials/ex-Dexys manager Bernie Rhodes probably helped me believe in their ‘credibility’ at the time – but listening to their CD now I’m reminded of both why I had high hopes for them AND why I felt they never really delivered the promise of their first couple of singles.

  8. 58
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 May 2009 #

    (from wikipedia)

    “Current activities: According to Bernie Rhodes’ website he has written a trilogy of books which will be published starting in 2008.”

    It better be a fantasy epic with BALROGS and that, or everything I believed abt Bernie will be overturned into saddisarray

  9. 59
    wildheartedoutsider on 26 May 2009 #

    Bernie Rhodes knows… don’t argue!

  10. 60
    pink champale on 27 May 2009 #

    i’m reallly interested that so many people are mentioning the beatles because i’m sure that this was the big talking point when PPTMN first came out, probably with a big subtext of ah, finally *proper* music. but i can’t see it at all, and it’s always totally coloured my relationship with the song – ever time i’ve ever heard it i’ve just anxiously wondered which bit is supposed to sound like the beatles and why it is i can’t see it.

    PPTMN was the first record i can remember being on the video jury bit of saturday superstore, where the programme’s guests – usually a smattering of pop stars and actors plus the odd footballer (and once, famously, thatcher) – review the latest singles. i always used to get incredibly excited at this bit, gabbling my own judgements at the telly and cheering on my favourites. in its various incarnations over the years the jury was incredibly important to my relationship with pop – at least until at some point in the nineties i realised that no one EVER said anything interesting on it…

    *and i presume it was round about this time that they first became big in the US and you started getting all the second british invasion, new beatlemania cultural cringe flag waving (that at the time of course i bought into without reservation)

  11. 61
    wildheartedoutsider on 27 May 2009 #

    #60 I think your final point may well have been the key factor. I think people were still LOOKING for a group to be the “new Beatles” in ’83. Bear in mind that it was only 13 years since the Fab Four had broken up at that point (and it’s now THREE TIMES that long!) I think perhaps there was a desire to make the evidence fit the theory…

    A bunch of young lads with (almost) ‘mop-top-ish’ hair, from a city in England north of London, threatening to be successful in America… now let’s see, their new song, there’s almost a bit of a guitar riff there, hmmm, the Beatles used to make songs with guitar riffs… and, ooh wait a minute… the word “please” features quite prominently (a bit like “Please Please Me”!) – ah, sorted… they’re the new Beatles!

  12. 62

    I was tinking a bit about this from a slightly different angle — remember that the Beatles’ unprecedented success derived in part from their being all things to all people; they were THE runaway crossover success, where crossover meant you liked them EVEN THOUGH your younger brother and your little sister and your parents and grandparents and snooty/black-sheep cousins all liked them

    so “new beatles” actually means something different to all these various constituencies — a different element in the crossover is being highlighted as the key

    “properly-crafted songs but young teenage girls love em: sort of a bit soft at the edges and plasticky and manicured but, you now, self-motivated and on top of things craft-wise” isn’t a territory that’s as well-served as you’d expect: there’s a particular “credibility gap” which is strangely rarely breached

    (it sort of comes between “pop” and “rock”, but it isn’t quite this simple — a lot of “anti-rock” and “pre-rock” stuff is just as careful not to breach it)

  13. 63
    misschillydisco on 27 May 2009 #

    dang, i was on holiday when this post went up. this going to number 1 is one of my defining childhood moments, so i honestly can’t say anything objective.

    it’s the intro! i love songs that just launch straight in!

  14. 64
    Rob M on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Sorry it’s taken a long time to get back to Popular but there’s been circumstances beyond my control which have enforced a year long absence.

    In the meantime, I felt that “Is there something I should know?” should be the record to return on. There are many reasons for that decision, not least some of the surrounding things of the time. Let me explain.

    The spring of 1983 was an crucial time for me. Going back slightly, the Christmas of 1982 had finally meant I had a record player. I was 13, so it was important to me. Two Christmases previously I had been given a radio cassette player, a little mono thing, which was my constant friend for two years as I started to discover the radio and pop music. I’d always been aware of pop music, it was a constant in my life even when I was very young, my parents had always played records around the house, so much so that I am nearing what I call my “Towards 1972″ project – to collect all the records my parents owned in 1972. As a side line, I mentioned this to my parents recently and whilst they found it a bizarre idea, when I compiled them a CD-R of songs from the project they thoroughly enjoyed hearing songs they’d not heard for years. But in 1982, my father and mother had seemed to lose interest in music and it was my brother – 18 months older – who was influencing my choices of music. However I found a lot of what he was listening to unspeakable rubbish and hated it. (In retrospect his choice of music at the time was half great – Kinks, Stones, Small Faces – and half appalling – Oi!, the worst late 70s Lou Reed). I needed to find some music of my own. I had started in the right direction previously, my mono cassette player had played the first 3 Jean Michel Jarre tapes I had endlessly. The New Pop thing had kind of passed me by, I was aware of it but not really noticing that much. It was just what was on the radio.

    All this changed when I had my own music centre beside my bed. First of all, now I could wear headphones in bed and enjoy music in stereo, instead of through those horrible uncomfortable white plastic mono earpieces you used to get. Music, in stereo! Then I had a record player, so I could buy singles or albums if I wanted, and compile tapes of favourite songs. Or tape songs off the radio, as I did. Then I realised that I could listen to the radio as well, and started to explore radio stations around the dial. CBC – the local Cardiff radio station that is now known as Red Dragon – had a very good late night Saturday show hosted by “The Major” who played a lot of interesting stuff I’d not heard before – Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith. To a 13 year old, this was a bit of a revelation. But THE discovery on the dial was Radio Luxembourg. If you could get through the static and noise, the music they played was fantastic. The week I found it, they had three “Powerplays” – songs they thought would be hits and played for a week after the news on the hour, so on the hour you’d hear one of these three songs. That week it was “Is there something I should know?”, “Let’s dance” and “Doot doot” by Freur. All three records that I loved immensely, but only one would I end up buying. Also around the same time they had a competition for Duran tickets or something, and the jingle was the introduction of the single – “Please please tell me now!” etc, three times, followed by the DJ saying something or other. This jingle was played so often that when the song was played for real, the DJs had to say “We’re playing the song now, not the jingle…” But this era – Spring 83 – was a period of great music for me. Those three powerplays, “Genetic engineering” by OMD, “Numbers” by Soft Cell, “Stepping out” by Joe Jackson. Then on Thursday nights on Luxembourg, there was the “Futurist Chart”, a great place to discover some new music – they played “Doot doot” too, and in the future some odd choices of Futurism – “Birds fly” by Icicle Works? “First picture of you”? Whatever, they added to the picture of the time.

    Now why I liked “ITSISK?” is a little perplexing. I’d not really liked anything the Duranies had done previously, and in the future wouldn’t really like them much again. I was aware of them, seeing them doing “Planet earth” on “Cheggers plays pop” and things like that, and the “Rio” album was loved by the female element of my school class. So much so that they used to write which member they lusted after on my pencil case, much to my annoyance. There’d be Lesley wanting Simon, Melissa wanting Andy, Elaine wanting John… but what I wanted to know was who Debbie wanted. For around the same time as this, my hormones kicked in and I started to notice the opposite sex, and in particular Debbie who I considered the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. That shy smile, the coyness in her eyes. Of course, it was completely unrequited, and once I told someone it was all over the school and I stood no chance. And then she left a year later and we wrote letters and I admitted my love for her and she said she might have stayed had she known, and what more perfect heartbreak can there be for a teenage heart? But that’s beside the fact. I still think of her now and then, and wonder what may have been and where she is. But hell, that’s “Quicksilver” by the Field Mice, not “Is there something I should know?” The song itself is so wrapped up in what happened around it that I can’t be objective about it. It is part of my history and exists there. Many years later, I even bought a copy from Oxfam for 20p and it’s still there in my attic now.

    As for “Doot doot”. Well, on Saturday April 30th 1983, I went into Cardiff with my friend Adrian to the newly opened HMV shop – at last Cardiff had a decent record shop (I didn’t know about Spillers at the time) – and bought the twelve inch of it, besides “Dazzle ships” by OMD. Two records which I played constantly and poured over the sleeves and took in all the details like they were the most important records in the world, which they were. Of course, I kept buying OMD and Freur records, and was even disappointed when Freur became Underworld but that is another story. And I kept listening to the radio, and discovering more and more. And that was the real start of my musical life. Discovering more music which spoke to me about my life and how I felt. And now I was an active participant in the process too. Not that my record choices would affect the records we encounter on Popular.

  15. 65
    zorphone on 22 Jun 2009 #

    duranduranduran is better

  16. 66
    Rory on 24 Jun 2009 #

    Great post, Rob M. Funny how these unrequited-love stories end up being so long (he says, just having posted a thousand words of his own elsewhere).

  17. 67
    Ludovic on 25 Sep 2009 #

    There’s something oddly thrilling about the 12 inch version of this. It has a dream-like quality to it which is partly achieved by the near removal of Le Bon’s vocals. The song, however, is not one of their best although like much of their work, it has dated surprisingly well.

  18. 68
    Brooksie on 1 Mar 2010 #

    This feels rapidly recorded and slight. You just know that they were filling in for an album not yet made. To me, this doesn’t suffer for its ‘rushed’ feeling, if anything it makes it better. When sat between the somewhat contrived and over-produced songs on the previous albums (and the ones that followed) this sounded to me like Duran finally coming to terms with their status as popstars and pin-ups. This song did what all good pop should do; it declared “We’re a pop group, and we’re great!” loud and clear. The fans dutifully took it to the top.

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