Monday, September 3, 2012

Two Singles

Over three years ago, I wrote a post about my interest at how 'close' the songs 'Rio' and 'Our House' were, and how I discovered them.

Today, there are a lot more similarities that I've uncovered, and I figured I'd get a little more in detail this time.

Duran Duran is a band that started up in Birmingham in the late 1970s - around 1978 or so - and it was started by bassist John Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes. Madness, on the other hand, began in 1976 as a three-piece consisting of Chris Foreman, Mike Barson and Lee Thompson (guitar, piano and sax, respectively). They originated throughout London but usually met and performed in clubs in Camden Town.

Both bands at some point used AIR (Associated Independent Recording) Studios, with Duran Duran producing under Colin Thurston and Madness under Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. The former recorded their hit album Rio around January-February 1982, while Madness used the same studio in late summer, early September. 'Rio' as a single was released on the 1st of November; 'Our House' was released eleven days later.

On the UK Singles chart, 'Rio' peaked at number nine, while 'Our House' made it to the fifth position, managing to score the seventh position in the U.S. Billboard Chart ('Rio' only got to number 14).

Duran Duran would start to fall apart in terms of its original line-up in 1985, performing with alternative line-ups and forms throughout the years up to the present. Madness would dissolve in 1986 over creative and musical disagreements and direction, reuniting in 1992 for a Madstock concert and doing it again every two years throughout the 1990s, eventually reforming to produce a new album in 1999. They'd create an alter-ego in the mid 2000s called The Dangermen before reuniting together again to produce another new album, and are currently producing their next effort, minus bass player Mark Bedford.

Many years after those two hit songs first hit the airwaves, around 2000-2001, while listening to the radio before falling asleep - a routine I did every night - Kool FM would air a commercial or ad of sorts that originated with the station itself. I think it was a marketing thing where the station had created its own hits album or something. Either way, the choruses of both songs played, one fading into the other, starting with 'Our House.'

I'd stated before that I'd found 'Our House' (its chorus) very well-done-sounding and 'Rio' very 'fun' and 'bright.'

To explain it more clearly, the instant visual that formed in my mind when I heard Madness (particularly the voices over, but still including, the music) was this: A morning scene of tall row-houses, likely in a place like New York, due to the sound of the voices. They were pink and orange-coloured, and bright, and well-kept, due to the sound of the music. The voices sounded clear and colourful. My vantage point was walking out on a stoop from one of those row-houses and seeing all the ones opposite the street. From that entire visual, it synesthetically translated to me as 'well-done' and executed. Perhaps the song structured around that chorus would have goodness to offer if I ever heard the whole thing.

It faded into 'Rio.' Hearing the catchy guitar sound and Simon Le Bon's voice sing those lyrics - 'her name is Rio and she dances on the sand' - I visualized almost exactly that. A scene close to golden sand, with two legs, then looking up to reveal a woman dancing lightly in what looked like morning light. Water in the distance. The lyrics/voice gave me the woman and sand. The guitar gave me the light and the direction it was shining, as well as the direction I was looking in the scene. Therefore, it seemed 'fun' to me.

Both, when I'd hear them in that Kool FM ad, would sound interesting and alluring to me, things I would get the feeling I'd like the actual songs, but they wouldn't make me go crazy wondering what songs they were or how I could find them. They don't sound the same nor do they sound close to the same, by almost a long shot. And that's just the choruses.

I would hear the full 'Our House' during an evening road trip back to my house from my maternal grandparents around two years later or so. I think it was probably 2002. It was dark out and my aunt was skipping through a large amount of songs burnt on a CD. She used to play 'Another Brick in the Wall' by Pink Floyd often, and I always enjoyed the sound of the older songs.

'Our House' was one of those rare things where you hear an instrument cue in and the whole song gets ten times better, and then another instrument cues in and the same happens. Guitar fades in, then piano and drums. Sounds good, good pace and sound. Bass slides in, wow, great substance. Trumpets - oh, geez, wow. Strings - heavenly.

The thing about that song that didn't happen for me when I would later hear 'Rio' was that I started to get the feeling towards the end of the first verse (Sugg's vocal timbre and inflections also upped the song for me that first time too) that this was connected to that 'our house' chorus I used to hear on the radio now and then. Maybe it was the piano or the beat, even though both are different between verses and chorus, maybe it was the genre and general sound of the music - but I started to just know that it was the same song leading up to that chorus. And it was.

The song structured around that chorus did have goodness to offer - so much I was overwhelmed when I heard it that first time. It was one of those rare times where every instrument, every lyric, everything in that entire song worked perfectly. The strings had the perfect melody. The trumpets cued at the right times. The piano, vocals, bass, strings, and trumpets all meshed amazingly. The drums had a great, on-the-move beat, great driving bass drum. And yet it was actually a moderately simple song. The thing that made it tick was pure cleverness - on the producer's part and the band's effort.

'Rio' was different altogether because it was two years after that, 2004, and it was late summer. I heard it in a car as well, on the radio, and it was kind of surprising for me because I heard its verse and didn't think once at all that that chorus would be what it lead up to. Also, Kool FM had by then long become Bob FM and the only music station that was played in my friends' car was the then new Hot 89.9 (they still call themselves 'new,' but that has all to do with their radio programming and nothing to do with the station's time on the air).

My childhood friend Jahdel had moved south to Barrhaven late that summer, and it was usual for my mother and I to help them deal with the move. Late one night, we were being driven home by his mother with the radio turned low when the song came on. I've already mentioned that there was this guitar and it sounded 'flashy.' The thing about that had to do with the low volume. I couldn't hear the bass or the drums and the dominant instrument is the guitar, which constantly played what sounded like a power chord to me, over and over, so it sounded almost over-produced, like the musicians liked to show off. From that, I expected them to deliver on the chorus. I basically listened to this flashy-sounding guitar for a minute or so, with the vocals and a high-speed keyboard sound that I almost paid no attention to, and then everything stopped (as in, the four-second break lead-in to the chorus started).

Then, almost out of nowhere to me, I was seeing the sand and the girl again as the guitar played and Simon Le Bon sung those well-known lyrics. I was hearing the entire choruses for the first time.

I was interested all of a sudden. They did deliver on the chorus. That was the other song. This was the full thing. I wanted to hear the rest - and I got to, as Jahdel's mother had decided to drive all the way around the block and enter the far side of the parking lots for some reason. There was a second verse, another chorus, a sax and bass solo, then the last verse and finishing choruses. I was really impressed by the last choruses as the snare drum became dominant.

The thing about those two songs is that they're very different, but I also like them for very different reasons, on very different levels. It has governed how I've guided my interest in both bands. Today, I've matured a large appreciation and admiration for the kind of sound Madness produced, while only being mildly attracted to Duran Duran. I mentioned that before. Though the songs are closer than I mentioned before as well.

For instance, they were recorded in the same studio. The two bands may or may not have used the same instruments even, at least some of them. Both songs have a reversed, fade-in intro ('Our House' uses a guitar whereas 'Rio' uses a reversed sound effect created by Nick Rhodes, who threw some metal rods onto the strings of the opened grand piano in the studio - possibly the same one Mike Barson played on 'Our House.' Both songs were released just over ten days from each other. Both bands were popular in the U.K. - Duran Duran was better-known internationally thanks to their expensively-produced, artistic music videos. In a documentary I saw on the band, there was a scene that panned across the cover of a music magazine from the 80s, with bands listed in popularity. Duran Duran was number one, of course, but Madness wasn't far back, only at number five.
Then you have the coincidences with me. I heard both of them in a radio ad. Just their attractive choruses, which are perhaps the part of the song that's supposed to hook the listener in the first place. One after the other. Then, in car rides that happened years apart from each other, I heard both of them. I'm not sure Duran Duran were very knowledgeable or interested in their contemporaries, but I do know Madness has commented on them a few times. They're both great bands.

Those are the similarities at least, but I think I know why I've gone the way I have now in terms of musical interests. In looking at my reactions and memories more closely, those two songs were even more different for me than I first though: 'Our House,' as I said earlier, was the kind of rare song where everything worked - every instrument, at the right time. From start to finish, I was awed when I first heard it. I even intuitively, or probably synesthetically, guessed correctly that it belonged to that chorus I first heard on Kool FM. But for 'Rio,' I was only ever attracted to the chorus - more specifically, the guitar in the chorus and the general image the lyrics give me. Andy Taylor's guitar playing wooed me, as well as Simon Le Bon's lyrics to a lesser extent. The rest of the song is high-standard - great music - but it's not enough to put me in awe, or in musical, synesthetic heaven. It's just plain good, that's all. With a great chorus.

One more thing to mention about the chorus of 'Rio' in particular is that it follows a popular, good-sounding procession. At least for me, anyway, any musical piece that starts with a note, heads two and a half musical tones lower for the second note, and then does the same for the third note a full tone lower, sounds appealing to me. Like E-B-D-A. E is two and a half tones from B, then D is a tone lower than E and, again, two and a half tones from A. 'Rio' follows this kind of piece, starting in E. The bass guitar plays around to each of those notes, and the guitar slides up and down to each of them as well. Therefore, it's already got the musical groundwork to be appealing to me. It's actually based on a song called 'Stevie's Radio Station' which is essentially a bass and guitar playing those four notes over and over again. It's a great sound and inspiration. But I only realized all of this musical stuff much later, years after I first heard it.

I will conclude this by saying that in light of my high interest in Madness, I have actually grown to have an ear for the songs of Duran Duran, and I do like their music in general. 'Rio' is only one song; I also like 'Hold Back the Rain,' 'Hungry Like the Wolf,' 'The Reflex,' and a few others. They have a good image and I can play the bass almost exactly like John Taylor on 'Rio' - and that bass line is fast and difficult. Madness may hold the top spot in terms of my musical interests, but Duran Duran isn't far behind - they're only at number five.

And they even used the same studio.

Justin C.

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