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And the droning engine throbs in time with your beating heart
Duran Duran - 'The Chauffeur' (Rio - 1982)
Duran Duran’s second album Rio was the album that put the Birmingham quartet on the map. Their previous record, Duran Duran, contained a favourite late-night video of a fledgling MTV in ‘Girls on Film’, but only really saw success in the wake of Rio going supernova. The band’s follow-up contained big hits on both sides of the Atlantic, such as ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’, ‘Save A Prayer’ and the title track. Those songs are all catchy and upbeat and marry rhythm and melody in a very 1982 way. They are also laced with synthesisers and are bright, upbeat, glamorous and unashamedly commercial. Much, and possibly too much, is made of the New Romantics’ success on both sides of the Atlantic and how that ties to the emergence of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. It is, however, hard to argue that if this boat could, it would have decertified air traffic controllers and argued that controlling the money supply was crucial for managing inflation.
The closing track on the album, ‘The Chauffeur’, is quite different. It has a very distinct sound and atmosphere, unlike what precedes it. It places far more prominence on synthesisers, is much more minimalist and repetitive, and evokes a cold and enigmatic mood.- if this sounds a little like a particular German band we’ve featured recently - I agree.
It is darker than the slightly fluffy nature of the hits on which the band made their reputation. While there are other examples of the band going down that route on their albums away from the radio hits, ‘The Chauffeur’ is a triumphant moment in their back catalogue. While never released as a single, it still sits in the band’s top 20 most-performed songs, and although the Ian Emes-directed video was a touch racy for daytime MTV, the song has a well-earned status as a fan favourite.
The song originated from Simon Le Bon’s poem in 1978 about the titular driver and his obsession with one of his passengers, which he brought to his audition with the band.In a 2002 web interview cast, he speaks of his time in Israel in reply to a question and says
I have many wonderful and strange memories from Kibbutz Gvulot 1979. Too many in fact to mention. So much but think on these few: falling in love with a soldier girl from the Garin; writing "The Chauffeur"; drinking sweet tea with the Bedouin, eating an entire watermelon with my fingers; driving out into the desert on a borrowed John Deere tractor; finding a chameleon on a mango sapling; the stars, my god the stars. My friends Yuval Ginbar and Yael Migdal - happy days indeed
Nick Rhodes has said of it.
It was an important stepping block. It was the first completely electronic thing we’d done, and it’s turned into this sort of strange cult [hit].
Incorporating the ocarina, an instrument famously featured in The Troggs' ‘Wild Thing’, Duran Duran's "The Chauffeur" weaves a spellbinding soundscape amid the pulsating, icy electronic layers. The song's eerie atmosphere is accentuated, making it an ideal backdrop for a montage of liminal spaces in early 1980s out-of-town malls. With an entomology documentary sample further enriching the track, the enigmatic and evocative lyrics penned by Simon Le Bon create a mesmerising ambience that mirrors the song's musical essence, using words like glides, glisten, throbs, beating, droning, glass, silver, and brooding to encapsulate its haunting charm.
‘Save A Prayer’ is the penultimate track on the album and matches the slower tempo of the final track in contrast with the fast-paced nature of the first seven tracks on Rio.
The poem, not a passenger.