John Taylor, bass guitarist and founding member of ‘80s hitmakers Duran Duran, has a new autobiography out. In the Pleasure Groove is not just a rock biography, but also a portrait of the decade that defined his band and vice-versa.
From the aesthetic foundations of the era’s key looks to its early end at the hands of Bob Geldof (in 1984), Daily Beast writer Tom Sykes, who helped John Taylor write and edit the book, picks out his eight favorite ‘80s moments from the book:
1. The Duran Duran Aesthetic Came From Kids’ Military Toys
“The Airfix catalogue was an astounding education, and gave my generation a great primer in industrial design, as well as developing our hand-eye skills,” Taylor writes. “Painting all those uniforms in intricate detail on three-inch figurines left its mark on my aesthetic sensibility—the epaulets, the braids, the sashes, and the boots. You can still see an Airfix influence onstage with Duran Duran today. I just can’t seem to shake it off.”
2. As 1979 bled into 1980, Taylor took stock of the zeitgeist
“No one who had a clue was dressing ‘punk’ anymore… The shapes right now were sharp and structured. Gary Numan got that right. The military look was back. Ground Control to Major Tom. Bowie in Berlin. 2001. Keyboards were in, guitars were out…Visage would sing “Fade to Grey.”
Fonts were modern and democratic. Kidnapper typography and ink splatters were out. Avant Garde became the font du jour and Helvetica continued its ride to the top. Girls and boys began to cross-over-dress again, as they had done during the glam-rock years.
Glamour was back. The machismo of punk disappeared overnight. Disco was winning the war on rock. Halston, Gucci, and Fiorucci made it to the Midlands.”
3. The Playlist
Duran Duran became the house band at an eclectic Birmingham nightclub called the Rum Runner. The owners gave the five band members part-time jobs to help justify the cash outlays they were making on equipment.
[Lead singer] Simon Le Bon and I worked the door some nights, and sometimes we were behind the bar with [drummer] Roger [Taylor]. [Guitarist] Andy Taylor donned an apron and worked in the kitchen, cooking up the locally famous club chili. [Keyboardist] Nick [Rhodes] got the best gig; he got to DJ.
What was he playing? Let’s have a look:
Yellow Magic Orchestra: “Computer Games”
The Psychedelic Furs: “Sister Europe”
Roxy Music: “Over You”
Iggy Pop: “Nightclubbing”
John Foxx: “Underpass”
Wire: “I Am the Fly”
Siouxsie and the Banshees: “Hong Kong Garden”
Grace Jones: “Pull Up to the Bumper”
Kraftwerk: “The Model”
Donna Summer: “I Feel Love”
The Cure: “A Forest”
Lou Reed: “Walk on the Wild Side”
Japan: “Gentlemen Take Polaroids”
Magazine: “Shot by Both Sides”
Bowie: “Always Crashing in the Same Car”
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: “Electricity”
Bryan Ferry: “The ‘In’ Crowd”
Public Image Ltd: “Public Image”
The Human League: “Being Boiled”
Marianne Faithfull: “Broken English”
Mick Ronson: “Only After Dark”
Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
4. The Hair
“This was a fantastic moment for hair color, as the Crazy Color and Manic Panic hair-dye brands had been launched the previous year and had definitely helped us define our look. Simon was no longer a blond, he was now a brunette, which gave an opening for Nick to go all the way blond. Andy trailblazed the black-and-blond two-tone skunk look that Kajagoogoo’s Limahl would popularize, and Roger was adding blue to his black. I set up camp in the Bordeaux/Burgundy corner. I’ve always felt the best haircuts come courtesy of a devoted girlfriend, and Andy would marry Tracey eventually.”
5. The Clothes
“First stop was PX in Covent Garden, Spandau Ballet’s dressers, so we had to be careful in there. I picked out a musketeer shirt in deep red, another in white, and a scarlet-and-gray waistband out of Adam Ant’s closet. From there to Antony Price’s store Plaza on the King’s Road in Chelsea, immortalized by the Roxy Music song ‘Trash.’ In contrast to PX’s historically skewed nostalgia, Plaza’s wares were ice-cold cool. In the window stood a single mannequin in a sharp gray sharkskin suit, slick hair, shiny shoes. Inside Plaza, the clothes were arrayed on chrome racks that lined each side of the store—one side for girls, the other for boys.”
6. The Drugs
“Cocaine was a big part of the ‘70s rock mythology I grew up with. It went with the territory of fame, success, and record sales. It wasn’t even a secret. I’d read about it in the pages of the NME.
I had already gotten a taste for coke at the Rum Runner, where it was popular with some of the more louche clientele, who were always happy to share with the golden boys. In London, in the music business, cocaine use was as normal as drinking a pint of bitter in the pubs of Birmingham. Everybody was doing it and no one felt bad about it. The business took account of the hours that would be lost due to hangovers and scrambled thoughts.
It was all a bit of a laugh really. No one took it seriously. No one had been to rehab. Yet.”
7. The Girls
“Of absolute necessity for any touring musician is the itinerary. It usually comes as a gift from the tour manager on the last day of rehearsal. Depending on the length of the tour about to be undertaken, it could cover any length of time between one week and two months.
Page one lists the principals, the inner circle, and the crew who are going to get the show around the world. All the numbers to call if in trouble are listed there: the management, the agencies, the travel agents, the local promoters. Then follows a page-by-page account of the destinations: “October 3, Chicago. Band Hotel: Ambassador East. Crew Hotel: Crown Hyatt. Venue: Park West.” And so on and so on.
I had not noticed right away that in the left-hand corner of each page of the U.S. itinerary there was a number, usually 18, 21, or 20.
It was months before I was let in on the secret. The numbers referred to the legal age for sexual intercourse in that particular state.”
8. The End of the Eighties
After being part of the all-star cast that records “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984, Taylor reflects:
“We all knew the song would go to No. 1. What we didn’t know was how profoundly that song would affect the rest of the decade.
People talk about the ‘80s as being a decadent, glamorous, fashion-conscious time, and in 1984, it certainly seemed that way. There was no reason to think the party couldn’t go on forever.
But the ‘80s is a decade of two halves. Things that you could get away with in 1984, you could not get away with 12 months later. There was about to be an immense sea change in the culture, and the shift was ++started by Bob Geldof++ [ http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/11/05/bbcs-belated-apology-for-slur-on-bob-geldofs-band-aid.html ] that cold December day… A conscience was now required of everyone in pop. It was no longer enough just to be able to write fun or romantic songs that made people want to dance or escape—you had to take a position. Pop became political. See U2.