As a long-time devoted fan of Duran Duran, I’ve often been dismissed as being stuck in the 80’s. I understand that not everyone was raised on New Wave radio in both Los Angeles (KROQ) and New York (WLIR/WDRE) and chose to spend a large percentage of their high school days either waiting on line (that’s outside on a line for you youngsters, not on a computer) for concert tickets or to get into a venue to see a show. Lori Majewski (formerly of Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly and Teen People), might understand though because she and her co-author Jonathan Bernstein (contributor to Spin, Rolling Stone, the Face) are about to release the book, Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980’s (released April 15, 2014).
Given my very loud social media passion for all things 80’s and Duran Duran, I became connected with Lori and was thrilled to be sent an advance copy of this book to review. This fun and informative book gives amazing insight into the New Wave artists from the 1980’s straight from the artists themselves. I was absolutely floored by the amount of knowledge I learned – I used to pride myself on having a decent 80’s New Wave music trivia base but this book put me to shame.
I don’t want to give it all away but here are 8 Things About the 80’s New Wave Music Book “Mad World” here:
1. This is NOT a “look at but don’t read” coffee table book:
You’ll definitely want to read this book. It’s paperback, smaller than you’d expect (7.9 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches) and is accented by bright colors and photos. There’s a unique format to this oral history book – there are short chapters based on 36 songs/artists. Each chapter begins with an introductory paragraph about the artist/song, followed by commentary by the authors and then insight from the artists themselves. You’ll also find a “Then and Now” recap about the artist and enclosed within each chapter there is a “mixtape” – a list of songs by other artists that related to the chapter/theme discussed.
2. 4 Major Musical Influences:
Nearly every single artist interviewed in the book either had something to say about or was influenced by David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Nile Rodgers and Disco. Three of my favorite mentions were when Howard Jones stated that he liked David Bowie but that his lyrics were meaningless, how INXS tried to “throw off” Duran Duran from working with Nile Rodgers after John Taylor showed interest and that Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins) and Nile Rodgers played Scrabble after Live Aid (instead of partying).
3. Dazzling Brilliance:
Discovering that the musical artists that I looked up to as a teenager are now educated adults didn’t take the shine off the apple. Many of these artists left art school or never went to college at all but the words, observations, comparisons, quotes and references used were mind blowing. The Foreward of the book written by Nick Rhodes was unbelievably eloquent (and I don’t just say that because he’s in Duran Duran, read it and you’ll understand). A few other stand-outs included: how Devo contrived to make “Whip It” as version of Chinese propaganda, Adam Ant’s intrigue with the Native American culture, that Spandau Ballet described their band as a blend of Iggy Pop and Edith Piaf and the vast musical knowledge and calculated development as the band as a brand by Martin Fry (ABC) was extraordinary.
4. Big hair = big ego:
Big hair was a hallmark of the 80’s but wow, it seems that the guys with the biggest hair certainly had (or still have) the ego to match. Mike Score (Flock of Seagulls) said one of his songs sounds as good as a song by the Beatles, Ian McCulloch (Echo and The Bunnymen) thinks of one his songs is the greatest song ever written and all I can say about Limahl (Kajagoogoo) is that I have a feeling I know why the rest of his own band gave him the heave-ho back in the day.
5. Juicy Tidbits:
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT – I won’t give them all away (because there are many) but here are a few things that floored me to learn (if you’re looking for Duran Duran info go to #6):
- The rift between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook of New Order often was taken out via bass presence while recording/mixing their songs.
- Spandau Ballet was a Nazi guard term about the twitches from Jewish hangings in Spandau prison in Germany. The band did NOT know the significance until after they reached a modicum of fame though.
- Thomas Dolby is responsible for the synthesizer sound on Foreigner’s “Urgent”, co-wrote Lena Lovich’s “New Toy” and writes his song titles first and lyrics after.
- Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke only got to know each other on their 2008 reunion tour. They were not friends during Yaz.
- Terri Nunn (Berlin) and DJ Richard Blade (KROQ and Sirius Radio) were nearly married.
- Mike Score (Flock of Seagulls) used 1 can of Aquanet every night on his space-age hairstyle.
- A-ha called the early version of “Take On Me” “The Juicyfruit Song” because they thought it sounded commercial.
- Johnny Marr (The Smiths) writes songs in batches of 3 and wrote “William, It Was Really Nothing”, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” and “How Soon Is Now” over 3 day period.
- Midge Ure (Ultravox) got the inspiration for “Vienna” after a friend’s mondegreen with the song “Rhiannon”. Ure had never even been to Vienna when he wrote the song.
- Daryl Hall was brought in to sing on the chorus of “Original Sin” by INXS by Nile Rodgers (this one was a huge shock to me)
6. Everyone had something to say about Duran Duran…including Duran Duran.
Duran Duran were mentioned by nearly every single artist in this book including ABC, Flock Of Seagulls, Soft Cell, The Smiths, Tears For Fears and INXS. Not only did Duran Duran have their own chapter but many quotes from Simon, John and Nick were included in other chapters. For example, I knew that Simon Le Bon and Michael Hutchence were friends but it was especially interesting to read the words that Simon said about how and why they were friends felt very intimate.
A few Duran tidbits:
- Simon takes you through what “Girls On Film” means and talks about his musical influences.
- John Taylor said he thought that 3 tracks that represented the best of the first few years of the band would be “Rio”, “The Chauffeur” and the “Girls On Film” 12 inch.
- The video for “Girls On Film” was shot in one day.
- Simon reveals his penchant for dark haired women (woo hoo!) and his pride at seeing his wife own “Girls On Film” when she walks the runway.
- Hearing Simon and Sting singing together during “Do They Know It’s Christmas” made Nick Rhodes ask Sting to sing on the Arcadia album.
7. Is There Something I Should Know?:
Yes, I snuck in another Duran Duran reference but because this book is so chock-full of information and so entertaining that a few things begged the question that could be best asked in the words above:
- How did all of the songs included make the 36 song cut? I know you can’t please everyone but with the limited space available and large amount of impactful New Wave artists, I’m unconvinced that either The Waitresses or Animotion needed to be included when so many others were left out (see #8)
- Why was XTC was considered a “band of weirdos” in the mixtape section? Apart from Andy Partridge’s stage fright, the term didn’t seem to apply (IMHO).
- Who decided on the font size and type? With an audience that’s likely over 35 (or 44 like me), the font size was sometimes very small (quotes and Mixtape sections) and difficult to read at times (white type on a dark background was striking but not easy on the eyes – even with my glasses).
8. Mad World Book 2 Recommendations:
There’s no doubt (no musical pun intended) that there were artists that could (or should) have been included in this book. In the hopes that that there will be a follow up book, I’m offering my suggestions for the following artists to be included in Mad World Book 2:
- U2/”With Or Without You”: While the song isn’t my favorite on the album, there’s no deny the longevity of this band and the album The Joshua Tree was a seminal album of the 1980’s.
- The Alarm/”68 Guns”: I’m definitely biased here but this passionate Welsh band had a place in New Wave music. They opened for U2 and The Police during the 80’s and they still have a cult following. Mike Peters, a 2 time cancer survivor, not only still tours extensively and he is one of the co-founders of the cancer charity Love Hope Strength.
- The Cure/”Just Like Heaven”: A super happy song by a band who were “emo” before emo was emo.
- Culture Club/”Karma Chameleon” certainly was an anthem in the 80’s, Boy George caused plenty of controversy with his appearance and from what I’ve heard, there was definitely intriguing behind the scenes drama within the band.
- Pet Shop Boys/“West End Girls” From “Smash Hits” to electronic duo of iconic status. When an actor on UK’s “Doctor Who” takes his stage name from Neil Tennant, it’s safe to say an impression’s been made.
- Frankie Goes To Hollywood/”Relax”: Who didn’t own a “Frankie Says Relax” t-shirt?
- Paul Young/”Everytime You Go Away” or “Come Back and Stay”: The man was the main voice in “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. This blue-eyed soul singer captured quite a lot of the US New Wave audience.
- More Brits: The English Beat, Wham!, Squeeze, China Crisis, Big Country, Nik Kershaw, Joe Jackson, Kirsty MacColl, Billy Idol and XTC (among others)
- American Invasion: Oingo Boingo, The Go-Go’s, Wall of Voodoo, The Tubes, R.E.M. and The B-52’s (to name a few).
Overall, I really liked this book. Much like the MTV VJ book, Mad World gives you behind the scenes insight into the life an times of the era and the artists but this time, it’s from the artists themselves. Mad World was also a fun, informative and compelling read. I loved the what I considered the “banter” between Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein at the beginning of each chapter. Mad World made me laugh at loud and surprised me many times. I’m looking forward to seeing if my suggestion for Mad World 2will come to be.
Bottom line, Mad World is a unique book that allows a fan to gain deeper insight into how an artist channels their own environment and experiences into every aspect of how they create music.
For more information about Mad World (including book tour stops and a fabulous blog), connect here:
Disclaimer: I did receive a complimentary copy of the book to review but all opinions are clearly my own. There is an affiliate link within the the post. If you buy Mad World through my affiliate link, you may add a few pennies to my Duran Duran next tour fund and I thank you in advance.