Chronicle of a B-side Band

Duranies who’ve lasted this long have more than likely heard most of the singles and extended mixes contained in The Singles 81-85, Duran Duran’s first boxed set collection.

As part of its 100th anniversary in 1998, EMI released the limited edition Night Versions, a collection of 12-inch mixes. And the single tracks have all been collected in a pair of retrospective discs, Decade (1989) and Greatest (2000).

And let’s face it — a boxed set is geared for Duranies anyway.

No. The Holy Grail of this set are the b-sides.

Duran Duran has a terrible habit of putting perfectly serviceable songs on b-sides, while stuffing its albums with filler. Anyone who’s ever encountered “I Believe/All I Need to Know” will know the feeling.

About five years ago, Capitol had readied a b-sides collection for the band but canceled it for fear that bootlegging had already saturated the market for such a disc.

Now with the original five members who infused Capitol with wads of cash in the early 80s reunited, the label has started a reissue campaign of the group’s hit albums.

The Singles 81-85 painstakingly replicates the packaging of those early singles, from the Mondarian-influenced covers of Malcolm Garrett right down to the “45 RPM” imprint on the disc. (As if fans can set their CD players to 45 RPM!)

Thankfully, the box fits nicely on a CD rack, although the compact design leaves little room for extended liner notes. That ink was already spilled for Night Versions.

Listeners without a CD changer or a CD burner to rip these discs to their hard drive may find it a hassle to switch out 13 separate 15-minute discs. Even with a five-disc changer, you’d still need to switch them out three times.

The boxed set, however, pays for its $50 price tag in the b-sides, and these songs reveal more about the band’s influences than some of their albums.

“Late Bar” and “Khanada” show the strongest influence of Chic, especially in John Taylor’s bass work and Roger Taylor’s drumming. If anyone ever mistook Simon Le Bon for David Bowie on “New Moon on Monday”, a cover of Bowie’s “Fame” reveals why.

“Faith in This Colour” finds the band actually trying to be “new Romantics”, while “Secret Oktober” intersects Eno-like textures with ancient Hawaiian rhythms.

Duranies who missed out on snatching up Night Versions before it went out of print — it was pressed for only six months — may find some odd gems.

The manic-paced, single version of “My Own Way” bears no resemblance to what eventually showed up on Rio. And an demo version of “The Chauffeur (Blue Silver)” shows why the song endures.

Duran Duran would go on to make more interesting music as the 80s progressed — some of the post-1986 b-sides are downright gorgeous — but for fans who thought the group was finished when Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor left, this set is at least, interesting, at most, essential.