40 Years Ago: Duran Duran’s ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ Embraces the ’80s
By the time Duran Duran's third studio album arrived on Nov. 21, 1983, they were already global superstars. In fact, as guitarist Andy Taylor told Rolling Stone in a cover story: "It’s been said that we could probably go up onstage and fart and it wouldn’t make any difference."
Unsurprisingly, frontman Simon Le Bon added that Seven and the Ragged Tiger's lyrics and themes referenced this fame. The album is "an adventure story about a little commando team. The Seven is for us — the five band members and the two managers — and the Ragged Tiger is success. Seven people running after success. It’s ambition. That’s what it’s about."
Naturally, Duran Duran put much time and effort into Seven and the Ragged Tiger. The band first spent three months in the south of France working out demos and ideas. From there, producer Ian Little gave advice on which bits they should focus on and turn into songs, since Duran Duran was effectively starting from scratch and looking for current inspirations.
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"Nothing had been written in advance, so the biggest starting point they'd ever have would be another song," Little told Sound on Sound. "For example, 'Union Of The Snake' was built and written on the bass drum pattern of David Bowie's 'Let's Dance.' Everyone loved that track, so Roger, Nick and I analyzed it and realized that the bass drum pattern was quite unusual — although you think it's just a regular old two-bar loop, it actually doesn't repeat for eight bars. It's quite tricky. However, it's a great beat, so Roger started playing it, got it right, John joined in and came up with the bass riff, and then the song was pounded on top of it."
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Little he also gave them a songwriting method used by Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry and Phil Manzanera where he would "program a Linn Drum, put some delays on it and create a groove. Bryan would then vamp on the keyboard and produce what he called a 'moody synth' sound, which was like a pad sound with plenty of movement and character. That would enable him to get a lot of feeling out of a couple of chords, and Duran Duran did the same thing."
Duran Duran and Little later decamped to AIR Studios in Montserrat and then Australia, along with another producer, Alex Sadkin. The end result is an album that's indebted less to guitar-driven post-punk and more to the sleeker synth-pop sounds popular at the time — including the laid-back "(I'm Looking For) Cracks in the Pavement," the moody, midtempo-leaning "The Seventh Stranger," and urgent, danceable tracks such as "I Take the Dice" and "Of Crime and Passion." Duran Duran's penchant for epic tracks also crested with "New Moon on Monday" — a cinematic and ambitious slice of electro noir — and the atmospheric "Tiger Tiger."
The original version of "The Reflex" is also on Seven and the Ragged Tiger. John Taylor told The A.V. Club the band wrote the song on his 23rd birthday. He felt the song had its merits — "I think 'The Reflex' is a really interesting lyric, actually. It’s a very paranoid lyric, a very ’80s lyric. You don’t hear lyrics like this in No. 1 songs anymore" — but the band "didn’t really nail it" at first. (The song did hit No. 1 later when Nile Rodgers remixed it, however.)
In hindsight, John Taylor admitted to The A.V. Club that Seven and the Ragged Tiger was "the difficult third album. Usually, it’s the second album, but we had a difficult third album. The vultures were definitely circling." Still, the album spawned two top 10 U.S. hits ("New Moon on Monday" and "Union of the Snake"), landed at No. 8 on the Billboard charts and was certified double platinum.
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso
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