40 Years Ago: A Stand-Alone Single Finally Sends Duran Duran to the Top
Duran Duran’s “Is There Something I Should Know?” arrived as a stand-alone song on March 14, 1983, and quickly became their first No. 1 single in the U.K. It would contribute to their burgeoning U.S. success too, but only after a long wait.
The session was co-produced by the band and Ian Little, a production assistant on Roxy Music’s Avalon. Everyone decamped to Tony Visconti’s Good Earth Studios in Soho, and members of Duran Duran proceeded to craft the song. As was typical at that time, they were in creative sync.
“After setting up, tuning their instruments and warming up, they started to loosely jam together,” Little wrote in his book, Baptism of Fire. “Andy [Taylor] had a great Beatles-style guitar riff that was hooky and endearing, and it quickly became clear that a song could be built around it.”
Between the song's guitar riff, rich multipart harmonies and Le Bon’s melodic lead vocals, the Beatles ended up being a solid comparison. These weren’t the only classic flourishes: Roger Taylor’s drum pattern at the beginning of “Is There Something I Should Know?” echoes the legendary “Be My Baby” beat by Hal Blaine, a lovely contrast to Nick Rhodes’ modern synthesizer work.
Simon Le Bon’s yearning lyrics, meanwhile, hint at miscommunication and turmoil with a romantic partner. “Don't say you're easy on me,” he pleads. “You're about as easy as a nuclear war.” Later in the song, the desperation continues to mount, as Le Bon shares, “Can you see how much I'd die? / Every time it passes by?” while backing vocalists repeat the line, “Please, please tell me now.”
Watch Duran Duran's 'Is There Something I Should Know?' Video
The recording went well, but finding the best mix for “Is There Something I Should Know?” was challenging. According to Little’s book, the drums weren’t recorded quite right, making it difficult to balance the volume levels for the final version.
Everyone was determined to find a mix that suited the sterling musical performances captured at Good Earth. They even brought in engineer Bob Clearmountain, who was known for his work with the Rolling Stones, Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen. In the end, however, Duran Duran opted against using the Clearmountain version.
“Nick remembers sitting with Bob through most of the night while he mixed the song at Power Station Studios in New York,” Katy Krassner wrote in a 2014 “Ask Katy” column on Duran Duran’s website. “When they left in the early hours of the morning, it seemed as though they had something very special but on reflection some days later, everyone in the band felt that although it was a beautiful mix, it was a little too soft for the sound they were trying to achieve.”
Luckily, Duran Duran and Little eventually found the right mix thanks to Alex Sadkin and engineer Phil Thornalley. Together, they put the finishing touches on a crisp, sparkling single that showed off Duran Duran’s inimitable mix of sparkling synth work and rock ‘n’ roll heft.
“Alex and Phil were an amazing pair,” Little wrote. “They had the same kind of almost telepathic understanding that the band had. It made the mixing process a real joy to behold.”
Watch Duran Duran Perform 'Is There Something I Should Know?' in Concert
“Is There Something I Should Know?” spent two weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. but wasn’t released in the U.S. until months later. Duran Duran’s label, Capitol Records, initially wasn’t even going to issue the song as a single in America, according to an April 1983 Billboard report. Meanwhile, parent company EMI “was attempting to prevent export of the record from Britain.”
The reluctance made sense when you consider the singles from 1982’s Rio were still burning up the U.S. charts at the time. However, Duran Duran’s momentum prevailed — and when “Is There Something I Should Know?” finally saw release in May 1983, it soared to No. 4 in America.
“Is There Something I Should Know?” was also sequenced into a reissue of Duran Duran’s 1981 debut album. Initially, the LP wasn’t a success in America — but after the success of Rio, Duran Duran’s label decided to release a new version that featured an updated band photo on the cover. The second time was the charm, as Duran Duran became a success, reaching the Top 10 of the Billboard chart.
“Is There Something I Should Know?” was the opening track of shows on the band’s Sing Blue Silver tour dates, setting an explosive tone for the triumphant trek. Sadkin, Little and Thornalley, meanwhile, would work again with Duran Duran to make 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger.