The Sounds Of Planet Earth: Nick Rhodes Of Duran Duran’s Favourite Albums

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Baker's Dozen

The Sounds Of Planet Earth: Nick Rhodes Of Duran Duran’s Favourite Albums
John Freeman , April 15th, 2013 08:16

As his long-standing side-project TV Mania finally releases an album, Bored With Prozac And The Internet?, Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes reveals the 13 albums that changed his perceptions about music

“I was horrified when I saw the email come through asking whether I would choose 13 albums.” Nick Rhodes, keyboard player and one of the original members of Duran Duran, is experiencing the very common reaction to our Baker’s Dozen concept. “It’s impossible – I could choose 13 David Bowie albums,” he says and I, for one, believe him.

We are sitting in a smart South London recording studio and Rhodes is on fine form. Ice has been broken – we’ve already swapped stories about school detentions. I tell Nick that my one-and-only detention throughout my school career was due to Duran Duran. I turned up late to school one morning in 1983 as I’d decided I ‘needed’ to buy their ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ single as soon as the local record shop opened on the morning of its release. I was grassed up by a classmate who preferred Spandau Ballet and copped a week’s worth of detentions. Nick tells me his only detention was sparked by a geography teacher proclaiming that “the forestry industry was undergoing a period of growth” which left the young Rhodes in a fit of uncontrollable – but punishable - giggles.

As we begin to discuss his 13 favourite albums, Nick is at pains to set the scene. “When it came to it, I tried to find things that I truly believed changed things for me, and for music, by people who thought differently and had the will and the energy to make these records. Musicianship is great and forward-thinking is great but having the attitude to pull things off is half the battle. Every one of the records I’ve chosen has a completely uncompromising attitude about it.”

Rhodes’ list is an expansive mash-up of multiple genres and while Duran Duran may not have quite displayed the level of innovation inherent within his choices, it’s easy to see how a love of glam, punk, disco, funk, art-rock and electronic music forged the early Duran sound.

After discussing nine of the albums, Nick’s publicist disturbs our peace in an attempt to wrap up the interview. Nick tells her that we will be a while and that the next interviewer – a dude from an expensive gentlemen’s magazine - will need to wait. “Maybe ten more minutes?” she says, trying to keep the tight schedule on track. “It’ll be closer to 20,” Rhodes tells me, out of the kindly publicist’s earshot. “We haven’t even got onto David Bowie yet.”

Kraftwerk - The Man-Machine

Kraftwerk were a major influence on me musically and stylistically. They were really the first truly electronic band I'd heard. Afterwards, of course, I listened to all the other German things like NEU! and Can. I'd listen to The Human League and whatever came out of England in that time period. But, Kraftwerk were right at the centre of it. The first album I heard in its entirety was Trans-Europe Express, which I almost picked for this because I do love that album. But, I think Kraftwerk’s absolute masterpiece is The Man-Machine - be it visually, song-wise, arrangements or sounds. It is as close to a perfect record as I feel has been made in that genre. There is nothing that touches it.

When I used to DJ at the Rum Runner club - I was 16 or 17 and starting out - I used to play a lot of tracks from The Man-Machine because almost everything on that album you can play. Funnily enough, I'd never seen Kraftwerk until recently when they played the Tate Modern. I went to three shows - The Man-Machine, Trans-Europe Express and Computer World - because I felt as they had had such an impact on me I should go and see a whole load of the shows. They weren't a letdown, the 3D effect was extraordinary and it was such a joy to hear those songs loud through a system like that. You don't tend to get to hear synthesisers that loud unless you go to a club and listen to some horrible remix.

Kraftwerk had great taste and a lot of music is about taste. They didn't make so many albums over a period of time but everything has been impeccable - every sound, every delay, every vocoder. They really paid attention to detail and that's something I have a complete obsession with. I can fiddle with something for ages and ages that I feel changes the whole track and nobody else will hear what I'm doing. Kraftwerk had a great ability for that. They made really impeccable records.

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground And Nico
Whoever it was that said this album didn't sell a lot of copies but every person who bought it went on to form a band, I think there is probably some truth in that. It is such an influential record; such a truly unique, maverick record and it's one of the records I play more than anything else. I often go back to it now - I will just feel like needing to hear 'Venus In Furs'. It still sounds weirdly modern considering it was made in the sixties.

I love the whole way The Velvet Underground went about things - John Cale playing viola, Nico singing on some of the songs and Lou singing on others. It has a feel to it that is unlike anything and nobody has really touched for originality since then. It sounds so strange - it was made in New York during a period that has the whole mystique of Andy Warhol’s Factory. It's also one of the great album covers of our time – Warhol’s peeling banana. I knew Andy very well throughout the eighties until he sadly died. That whole scene was so stylish and underground - they had the perfect name.

I've been lucky enough over the years to meet John Cale a bunch of times and Lou Reed - I sat next to Lou at a dinner a few months back - and to me they are still great icons of modern music. We actually played with Lou onstage once in the late eighties. We did a charity show and he came and played 'Sweet Jane' and 'Walk On The Wild Side' with us, which was surreal. We have covered 'Femme Fatale' - we could cover the entire album but it wouldn't be nearly as good so there's no point.

Sly And The Family Stone - Fresh

I discovered this album relatively late. I liked funk, and disco was an earlier discovery for me when I was in my late teens. But, around 1985, I found Sly And The Family Stone. I was about 23 at the time and – wow – was that a discovery, not knowing that that particular album was out there before then. I played it from morning until night before we were doing the Notorious album, which was very influenced by Fresh. For me, it is the greatest funk album. I could have picked a James Brown album – I love Live At The Apollo, which was such a terrific record – but the songs on Fresh like ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ and ‘In Time’ are just masterpieces.

Fresh has got such a mood to it. It is very difficult in the studio to capture a mood. In a live show it is easier because there is an atmosphere there already – you’ve got the audience, you are playing together, there is a danger something can go wrong any minute and you will take a song off somewhere and you cannot get yourselves back. But, doing it in a studio and capturing a real vibe is the apex of music. If you can do that and you can get that – then you have something great. The Stones were always very good at that, as were The Who early on. But, this album, Fresh, is just pure vibe and every time I listen to the organ swells in the songs I can almost feel the guy playing them. You don’t get that so much in modern records. That’s what we’ve lost. Andy Newmark played drums on the album and they are some of the greatest drum tracks ever recorded. It’s not just feel – it is vibe. Love it.

Portishead - Dummy
When I was drawing up the list, I wanted to start with an album that had come out in the last few years. I had a long list, maybe 50 albums, and there were some recent albums and tracks I’ve liked in the last few months. But, when I’m saying these are my favourite 13 albums that matter the most, I realised there wasn’t anything much from the last 15 to 20 years, which is a little sad to me. There are albums that I love - don’t get me wrong. I nearly included a Daft Punk album, as they changed things a little and I played that a lot when it came out. I thought The Killers’ debut album was a good record.

Portishead - Dummy

When I was drawing up the list, I wanted to start with an album that had come out in the last few years. I had a long list, maybe 50 albums, and there were some recent albums and tracks I’ve liked in the last few months. But, when I’m saying these are my favourite 13 albums that matter the most, I realised there wasn’t anything much from the last 15 to 20 years, which is a little sad to me. There are albums that I love - don’t get me wrong. I nearly included a Daft Punk album, as they changed things a little and I played that a lot when it came out. I thought The Killers’ debut album was a good record.

It sounds like a Duran record!

It had been noted that there were some influences in there. What I tried to do when I realised I had four times the amount of albums I needed, was to pick the ones that really changed things. To me, Portishead’s album Dummy was the last album that changed an aspect of music. It was my favourite album of the 1990s. It was beautifully crafted, with its use of trip-hop beats along with the Tricky album [Maxinquaye], which came out around the same time and I also liked them very much.

Portishead changed things because the aspect that changed the most in the nineties was rhythms. Hip-hop and house came out in the eighties and right at the very end we had rave and techno, but this came along and was a slower, moodier groove and made a real statement. I also think Massive Attack’s Blue Lines was of a similar vein, maybe a little more melancholic but a stunning record.

Dummy has a beauty that has gotten lost in music somehow. The way it is so finely crafted – every sound on it – and the songwriting is exquisite. They really are brilliant songs. I remember when I heard it I was astonished. It’s not very often I hear an album and think "I wish I’d written that". As an album, Dummy is a perfect listening experience from start to finish. I bow my top hat to the way it was put together.

It had been noted that there were some influences in there. What I tried to do when I realised I had four times the amount of albums I needed, was to pick the ones that really changed things. To me, Portishead’s album Dummy was the last album that changed an aspect of music. It was my favourite album of the 1990s. It was beautifully crafted, with its use of trip-hop beats along with the Tricky album [Maxinquaye], which came out around the same time and I also liked them very much.

Portishead changed things because the aspect that changed the most in the nineties was rhythms. Hip-hop and house came out in the eighties and right at the very end we had rave and techno, but this came along and was a slower, moodier groove and made a real statement. I also think Massive Attack’s Blue Lines was of a similar vein, maybe a little more melancholic but a stunning record.

Dummy has a beauty that has gotten lost in music somehow. The way it is so finely crafted – every sound on it – and the songwriting is exquisite. They really are brilliant songs. I remember when I heard it I was astonished. It’s not very often I hear an album and think "I wish I’d written that". As an album, Dummy is a perfect listening experience from start to finish. I bow my top hat to the way it was put together.

Talking Heads - Remain In Light

I saw Talking Heads as a kid at Birmingham Barbarella’s. They were about to release Talking Heads: 77. They were quirky and I didn’t know so much about them but they were out of New York, so it was interesting. Anything out of New York I would just buy, whether it was Richard Hell And The Voidoids, Patti Smith, the CBGB scene or Blondie. I loved Blondie and think they are one of the most underrated bands ever – so many great songs, the irony of the lyrics and Debbie’s voice and style.

I put Talking Heads in because I think their sense and appetite for experimentation is pretty extraordinary. All of their records have got something on them which was so original. I love the Fear Of Music album but I think the masterpiece is Remain In Light which I suspect Brian Eno had a rather large hand in. Either way, that Byrne-Eno combination worked brilliantly together. The album had the surprise hit single on it – ‘Once In A Lifetime’ – and that again was so unique and had that quirky sense of humour in the video. David Byrne really captured an aspect of America that nobody else did. To me, Talking Heads were the great American band of the eighties. There were lots of other bands that were good – The Cars wrote some great songs – but Talking Heads’ use of percussion, their use of African music and Byrne’s lyrics were so special. For me, he is one of the best lyricists out there.

A lot of the lyrics on that album are in a ‘stream of consciousness’ style. Did that have an impact on Duran Duran? I’m specifically recalling hours spent trying to fathom out the lyrics on Seven And The Ragged Tiger as a 13-year-old.

Ha ha. You’d have to ask Simon [Le Bon]. Simon likes stream of consciousness – you’ve just got to find the stream first. David Byrne paints fantastic pictures with his lyrics. I’m a fan because I think they were the most inventive American band of their time and made something that nobody else was doing.

Grace Jones - Nightclubbing

I’m a huge admirer of Grace Jones in many, many ways. She came out of the fashion industry, made a disco record and then went on to make three classic records that I think are some of the greatest sounding things anyone has ever put out there.

Those albums were produced by Alex Sadkin and Chris Blackwell, who had worked with Bob Marley before that. We first worked with Alex Sadkin on ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ and he went on to produce Seven And The Ragged Tiger and the Arcadia album with me. So, we worked very closely with Alex and the reason we wanted to work with him at all was because of the Grace Jones album. I was so astounded when I heard the sound on Nightclubbing – the depth, quality and clarity of instrumentation and the vibe of it. I couldn’t understand how anyone had ever captured that. I needed to work with this person somehow and fortunately Alex turned out to be one of our great collaborations.

Grace combined her style with a reggae influence, with a certain pop sensibility and with grooves that people could dance to and created something that only she could have done. It was entirely original and everyone in Duran Duran loves Grace Jones. We’ve played her records more than most other artists. We got to know Grace and hung out with her quite a lot. She did the Bond movie [A View To A Kill] that we were on the soundtrack for and she is did a cameo on ‘Election Day’ for Arcadia.

I also think Grace is one of the most fascinating performers out there. The stuff she used to do with Jean-Paul Goude – the photography, the videos, the album covers – was so stylish. They had great taste. I truly love the songs on Nightclubbing. The original of the title track is on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot - which I love – written by Bowie and Iggy. The song had the darkest vibe you could imagine being done in Berlin during that period and that Grace took it and made it so different and beautiful was really something. Often with a cover you either like the original or the cover – with ‘Nightclubbing’ they are both great.

Is she as scary when you get to know her as her public image would suggest?

I don’t know that people would want to be on the wrong side of Grace, but there is a pussycat in there as well as a leopard. I adore her. I think she is hugely creative.

Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols

Punk rock changed my life. In 1976 in grim old England – grey days, Thatcherism, strikes, power cuts, unemployment through the roof – it was pretty bad out there. There are similarities to now, I suppose. I was a little kid and I would get up to go to school and it would be freezing as we didn’t have any power. I wondered what was going on. You needed something in life to shake things up and this punk rock movement seemed to come out of nowhere. There was glam rock which was fading by 1975, Bowie had changed identity again and then – bang – in came the Sex Pistols. It wasn’t just them – there were all these bands, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Damned. But, I chose the Sex Pistols’ album as I do think they were leading the race.

They had Malcolm [McLaren] and Vivienne [Westwood] who were behind the scenes helping paint the picture – two of the greatest creative people of that time period. They had the most extraordinary image. The Pistols were so stylish. Everyone says it is anti-style but actually it was complete high fashion; their first show was at Central Saint Martins for God’s sake. The whole thing, to me, was incredibly stylish which of course I loved having grown up with glam rock.

There was something about punk – it really did upset your parents. All kids need something at some stage that is theirs and doesn’t belong to their parents. Every generation needs to rebel and punk rock really was that. It tore up the rule book.

Before that were all these technical bands like Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis – some of which are amazing – but at the time was all too complicated. Emerson, Lake And Palmer had too many notes. Punk rock just had a few chords and it was raw and you could feel the nerves. That’s the first time I realised that maybe I could be in a band. I remember going with John Taylor to Birmingham Barbarella’s to see a punk band – maybe Generation X – and I was stood watching the guitarist play and I knew all of the chords. I went home and got my guitar out and played the chords. I could play the song. That was an epiphany – I realised I could do it. I could never have done anything like that to a Genesis track.

I’ve chosen the Sex Pistols album as I think it is the most significant one but I would say I almost chose The Scream by Siouxsie And The Banshees because it is a brilliant record – so enigmatic and different – and I played it so much. Siouxsie was so unique. In fact punk bands were unique, even if they had the same energy. I loved the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP and then the album, which Malcolm Garrett designed and went on to do all of our stuff for the first five years. We got him because of Buzzcocks.

Donna Summer - I Remember Yesterday

The reason I’ve chosen the Donna Summer album is not truly because it is a record I’ve played a lot. There is one song on it that changed my career. It’s a song that changed a lot of people’s perceptions of music and it’s, obviously, ‘I Feel Love’. I remember when I first heard ‘I Feel Love’, it sounded alien. I hadn’t heard anything like that before. There wasn’t anything like that before. Somebody had the forethought and the invention to actually come up with something with electronic sequencing that people could dance to. It pulsated in a different way. That person was Giorgio Moroder.

I am very grateful to Giorgio Moroder for inventing this way of thinking and for the other records he’s made. I think he is a terrific talent and I loved the work he did on a lot of movie soundtracks, particularly Midnight Express and Cat People. I have all his work. ‘I Feel Love’ was visionary – that’s all I can say about it. The song, along with The Sparks’ album Moroder did [No. 1 In Heaven], was the sort of sound I wanted to make. I was just learning electronic music and how to sequence things. Without a doubt, between Moroder and Kraftwerk, those were the people leading the way – that paved the streets for me.

Without ‘I Feel Love’ there wouldn’t be a lot of electronic dance music. That’s the DNA we all used. Moroder, for me, had a period where he was defining the future and it was very unnoticed by a lot of people, perhaps because he was more of a producer than a writer of a lot of songs.

As for I Remember Yesterday, it’s a funny album as half of it is electronic and brilliant and the other half is very traditional and is okay. It’s a strange balance but a very important album because of that track.

The Beatles - The Beatles

It would have been very disingenuous of me not to acknowledge the enormous impact The Beatles have had on music and pop culture. They were lucky enough to be around at a time when people were pioneering with electric guitars and trying out different things and forming what pop music was. The Beatles were the best at it and the masterpiece is ‘The White Album’ because you get to hear them experimenting and going a little further out into the deeper water.

Some of the McCartney songs are great, things like ‘Blackbird’, but the Lennon songs – ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ and ‘I’m So Tired’ – are magnificent. ‘I’m So Tired’ is one of those songs I relate to more than any. Certain songs suit our personalities or our way of being. With ‘I’m So Tired’ I’ve been in that position so many times; sleepless nights from jet-lag or too many things going on in my head. Lennon had this unbelievably effortless ability of capturing things and writing that postcard that would become a song. That album is filled with those gems. Of all the things they did, that album is by far my favourite. It’s the most experimental. It made me think you can do what you like with an album, it’s just an experience. Other people were just writing songs; The Beatles were addressing a much broader perspective.

Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet

I remember when I first heard Fear Of A Black Planet it was, again, one of those moments when you thought ‘this is something’. It was still at the relatively early stages of rap, but Chuck D was really onto something. The sound of the tracks – the rhythm units they were using with those tiny percussion sounds – was unlike anything I’d heard. That’s why I chose it. Jay-Z has made some great records, as has Dr. Dre but Fear Of A Black Planet changed things.

We covered ‘911 Is A Joke’, which we got an enormous amount of flak for. Middle class white boys covering Public Enemy – what were they thinking? I can tell you the irony wasn’t lost on us. In fact, Flavor Flav loved our version, which was a huge thrill.

Public Enemy were pioneers who went out on a limb and started something which has become the biggest paradigm shift in music that we have had in the last 25 years. You look at some of those songs and think about how many samples they contain – the list is enormous. But that sampling technology is something we’ve all used since. Public Enemy were inventors, as were others with the albums I’ve chosen. They moved music to a new place and that’s what turns me on.

Stravinsky - The Rite Of Spring

I thought we ought to have one classical album as I do play a lot of classical music at home. I thought about Chopin’s Nocturnes but they didn’t change anything. The Rite Of Spring really was, for me, the first punk album. It was the most uncompromising vision. In the period it was done, no one was doing anything like Stravinsky. He was writing parts for instruments that didn’t have those notes, so they had to have new ones made with extra notes so the orchestra could play that piece. That’s forward thinking.

The whole story of the making of the album is so fantastic – that Stravinsky has no money and Coco Chanel comes along and invites him to live at his house and Stravinsky sits in a room alone writing all these parts for all these instruments. It’s extraordinary and a remarkable achievement. Then, the fact that on the opening night in a swishy Parisian theatre the audience hated it. They think it is the most terrible row and now it is acknowledged as one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century. It’s too good a story and I admire his commitment and his inventiveness and his absolute passion to making that record work. You listen to it and think "how did anyone ever do that?" Anyone who hasn’t heard The Rite Of Spring and likes music should really take a listen.

Michael Jackson - Off The Wall

This was a difficult choice. I did want something that was a disco album and could have gone for The Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever - you don’t get much better than the songs on that particular album. But then I thought about Michael Jackson and what he did and how he changed things. Off The Wall is Quincy [Jones] at the height of his powers producing Michael Jackson as he is coming of age. Michael had the most amazing voice and a sense of rhythm that no-one had ever heard before. It’s really something. I listened to it about two or three months ago for the first time in quite a while and it is flawless.

Off The Wall was the sound of [New York super-club] Studio 54. I was too young to go to Studio 54 when it first opened but I did go later when they reopened it briefly at the beginning of the eighties. I stood in the same room just imagining what it would have been like - it would have been a lot more fun in 1977. So, that album, which to me is a more interesting album than Thriller (although again another really great album), captured the spirit of a generation and moved dance music somewhere. This discussion could go on for hours if we had time, about what happened with disco and funk, bands like Chic and Sister Sledge who I’m obviously a huge fan of, but, for me, Off The Wall was the album that defined that period.

Did you know Michael?

I didn’t know him very well but I met him a few times. I actually presented him with a Grammy once. Sheena Easton and I gave him a Grammy – it was like a ‘who had the biggest mullet’ competition.

Who won?

Sheena was pretty good in that department.

David Bowie - Aladdin Sane

I would say that David Bowie had the biggest single influence on all music that came out of the time period when I started at the beginning of the 1980s. And all other bands in that modern music zone were influenced most by David Bowie. Throughout the seventies we could safely say that he pretty much owned it. If The Beatles owned the sixties, Bowie owned the seventies. I could have picked any one of his albums. I thought about Hunky Dory which I have played most, or Ziggy Stardust... which was the first album I ever bought. I thought about Station To Station which changed things as his influences morphed and then the whole Berlin trilogy which were extraordinary records. I decided on Aladdin Sane as I think it is the ultimate glam album.

Musically, it was fuelled with seventies energy. Mick Ronson’s guitar work is spectacular, the tracks all have an anxiety to them – songs like ‘Cracked Actor’ and ‘Panic In Detroit’ really had an edginess. The singles ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Drive-In Saturday’ were probably not even the best tracks on the album – ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ is my favourite track on the album – but had an attitude. You could taste the air they were recorded in. It was the album that turned Bowie into an absolute superstar worldwide. I played it a lot when I was a kid and it was one of those records that made me want to be in a band.

Also, it’s by far the greatest cover of the 1970s. The image of the flash across Bowie’s face really resonates. It’s held up – I see that the V&A museum are having a big show of Bowie’s career and memorabilia (and so they should) and the image they are using to advertise it is the front cover of Aladdin Sane.

Were you personally influenced by Bowie’s sense of fashion and make-up?

Absolutely. Stylistically, David Bowie influenced an entire generation that came after him, including punks - who all loved Bowie. It’s the DNA we all followed. We grew up in that and we continued it. The glam period was fantastic. It was only a few years but it was very important to me personally image-wise. They were leading the way and they looked like rock stars should look.

Duran Duran played some shows with Bowie on his Glass Spider tour. How was that?

Well, we got to know David early on. It’s quite surreal that you are listening to these records in your bedroom and then a few years later you are meeting the guy at your shows. We did spend some time with him and did some shows with him. I’m very fond of David. I’ve heard two of his new songs and I’m glad he is out there making records. He has done a lot for music and changed people’s view on art. A true innovator, although David does steal, we have to say that, but he steals well.

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