Once Upon a Time on the Top Spot: Duran Duran, “The Reflex”
30 years ago today, possibly emboldened by having sold the Renoir and the TV set, Duran Duran stopped dancing on the valentine long enough to dance their way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in their career.
The opening track of 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger, “The Reflex” was the band’s pick for the album’s first single, but the label denied their request, resulting in the nearly inconceivable decision to opt for “Union of the Snake.” The song also failed to earn second-single status, with “New Moon on Monday” earning that position instead. In the label’s defense, however, just about everyone from the members of Duran Duran on down would likely agree that “The Reflex” never would’ve earned its status as a chart-topper without the aid of Nile Rodgers, late of Chic, who – in the words of John Taylor – took it from “one of those songs where we were, like, ‘There’s a hit song in there somewhere’” and “turned it into something extraordinary, with all the ‘fleck, fleck, fleck’ and the ‘why-yi-yi’ and all the magical things that he applied to the original recording.”
“Listen to the way in which Nile Rodgers sampled and used Simon's…vocal when he did the mix for the single,” said producer Ian Little, in an interview with Sound on Sound. “Samplers were very, very new back then and we weren't using them, but for the intro on that single version Nile sampled Simon's singing and pitch-shifted it really low. I'd never heard a vocal pitch-shifted in such an overt way. What's more, we got some black session vocalists in from New York for 'The Reflex' — BJ Nelson and Michelle Cobbs — and I told them to sing like little girls: 'La-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la...' Well, Nile picked on that part and stuck it right at the front of the song. That was all part of the funky vibe."
Yes, “The Reflex” may have been remixed to within an inch of its life, but you can’t argue with the results. Nor, clearly, could Duran Duran: they brought Rodgers back to helm “The Wild Boys,” the whole of the Notorious album, and several tracks on the band’s 2004 reunion album, Astronaut.