The late ’80s were strange and hostile times for the ‘and then there were three’ incarnation of Duran Duran. Yes, their 1986 album Notorious sold like hotcakes, and its title track went all the way to #2, but the party was over almost as soon as it had begun. The album’s second single, the slinky Prince-like “Skin Trade,” barely reached the Top 40, while the third single, “Meet El Presidente,” was the first time the band failed to crack the Top 40. “Skin Trade” is now widely considered to be one of the band’s best songs, but at the time, the little girls did not understand.
It would not be a stretch, then, to say that the band went into the sessions for Big Thing with a chip on their shoulders. In the place of departed members Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor were a bevy of session musicians (notably Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo), and there is nothing sexy about session musicians. If they weren’t going to get unconditional adulation, then they damn well better get some respect, so they decided to make their most experimental record to date. First on the docket: a tribute to the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” the feisty “I Don’t Want Your Love.”
Thank goodness for them, then, that the then-ubiquitous Shep Pettibone got a hold of it before the American public did.
Pettibone’s 7″ mix of “I Don’t Want Your Love” (download) is one of those “Sliding Doors”/”Run Lola Run” moments; if it doesn’t happen, it is entirely possible that Duran Duran does not make it out of the ’80s alive. Simply put, Pettibone saved Duran Duran’s ass. Armed with an explosive intro, bubbly percussion, a bottom-heavy rhythm section, staccato horns, and a brief but fierce guitar solo, “I Don’t Want Your Love” was a hell of an intro to Duran Mach II. Even my girlfriend at the time loved this song, and she hated Duran Duran.
It had a hell of a video to boot, one of the first micro-edited videos that MTV ever aired. Nick and Simon spend the majority of the time looking angry, making it extra-clear that they do not indeed want our love. John, on the other hand, looks indifferent to it all, until he gets to pantomime that Shep-adjusted bass line, which hits notes that don’t exist anywhere on his bass. Cuccurullo, the newbie, has an absolute blast during the solo, finger-tapping as if his life depended on it. And for a bit of obscure trivia, the man behind the drums is none other than ABC’s David Palmer. A thousand lashes, though, to the proofreader of the text that pops up intermittently throughout the video; it says “Your” during the line “if you’re keeping someone else behind.” Tsk tsk. Still, the eye-catching video, plus Pettibone’s ruthless makeover, propelled the song to #4 on the charts.
Now listen to what Pettibone had to work with, if you dare.
The B-side is the album version of the song (download), and holy cow, what a difference a remix makes. Where did the song go? The verses are D.O.A., the choruses have no energy, and the slightly longer guitar solo actually sounds worse, even though it’s the same solo. Had Capitol sent this to radio as is (i.e., if Gwyneth Paltrow gets on the train on time), the band is diddly doodly done, because there was nothing else on the album strong enough to keep it afloat. Witness the second single “All She Wants Is”; even with that huge post-“Love” wave of momentum, it had to scratch and claw its way to #22.
And so, on Duran Duran’s behalf, I officially declare this day to be Shep Pettibone Day, because without him, there is no “Ordinary World,” never mind the 2004 reunion album Astronaut. (On the plus side, that would mean that their covers album Thank You never happens, either.) In Shep’s honor, I give you his extended mixes for “I Don’t Want Your Love.” Dig in.