The Number Ones

July 13, 1985

The Number Ones: Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill”

Stayed at #1:

2 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.


Duran Duran – “A View To A Kill”

HIT #1: July 13, 1985

STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks

Silhouettes of women appear and shed clothes. Stylized cartoon guns fire bullets in extreme slow-motion. Some popular-in-the-moment singer howls vaguely impenetrable pseudo-poetry. It’s a tradition. It’s how every James Bond movie has to start. To date, there have been 24 movies in the Bond franchise, and there have been 25 opening-title themes. (No Time To Die, the latest Bond film, was the first big movie to have its release delayed by the pandemic. But the No Time To Die theme song, from future Number Ones subject Billie Eilish, is already out in the world.) Only one of those 25 theme songs has ever made it to #1.

The Bond themes don’t always do well on the charts, but seven of them have made the top 10 — including Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” the general-consensus best opening theme in Bond-franchise history. (“Goldfinger,” from 1964, peaked at #8. It’s a 9.) “Goldfinger” essentially set the standard for Bond themes. It’s a grand, operatic torch song with a few musical nods toward the sound of the moment. You could say the same of the two Bond themes that peaked at #2: Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Live And Let Die,” from 1973, and Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” from 1977. (“Live And Let Die” is an 8. “Nobody Does It Better” is a 6.)

Like “Live And Let Die” and “Nobody Does It Better,” the only Bond theme ever to hit #1 comes from the franchise’s often-derided Roger Moore era. Unlike those songs, though, this particular Bond theme doesn’t really build on that classic Bond archetype. Instead, Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill” is very much a product of its time — a coked-out, ultra-synthetic big-’80s pop confection that probably tells us more about the cultural climate of the late Cold War than any of the period’s actual Bond movies even tried to convey.

“A View To A Kill,” Duran Duran’s second and final #1 single, was a sort of unofficial reunion record, and it was also an unintended breakup record. A year earlier, Duran Duran had solidified their status as the biggest band of the MTV synthpop wave. They’d already scored a run of top-10 singles, and they finally got to #1 with the big and overstated dance-pop track “The Reflex.” After that came the 1984 live album Arena and the tacked-on studio single “The Wild Boys,” which peaked at #2. (It’s a 7.) And then came the side projects.

By early 1985, Duran Duran essentially split into two different factions, and each of them went off and made albums on their own. John Taylor and Andy Taylor started the Power Station with singer Robert Palmer (who will eventually appear in this column) and Chic drummer Tony Thompson. The Power Station made a sort of clattering, funk-indebted hard rock, and they landed two singles in the top 10. (“Some Like It Hot” peaked at #6. It’s a 5. The Power Station’s version of T. Rex’s “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” peaked at #9. It’s a 6.) At the same time, Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor formed the artsier Arcadia, who managed a single top-10 hit of their own. (1985’s “Election Day” peaked at #6. It’s a 4.)

The members of Duran Duran were pretty fractured, but they had an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. According to Duran Duran lore, John Taylor was at a post-Wimbledon party with his girlfriend Janine Andrews, an actress who’d had a small role in 1983’s Octopussy. Andrews introduced Taylor to Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, producer of the Bond movies. Taylor was a Bond superfan who’d bought himself an Aston Martin as soon as he made enough money, and he was drunk enough to ask Broccoli when he’d get someone decent to do a theme song. Broccoli took the bait, and he set up a meeting between Taylor and Bond-movie composer John Barry. That went well, and Duran Duran got an offer to do the next James Bond theme.

Now: This was not a particularly great time for the Bond series. Roger Moore was my first James Bond, and I have a particular affection for the guy’s eyebrow-arching smugness, but he was about ready to be done with the series. 1985’s A View To A Kill is nobody’s favorite Bond movie. It’s the one where Christopher Walken plays a Nazi genetic experiment, an ubermesch supervillain with a scheme to destroy Silicon Valley. (Honestly, society might be in a better place if he’d succeeded.) The only thing that can stop him is 57-year-old Roger Moore. It’s not great!

Given Moore’s age, it makes sense that the producers did everything in their power to bring A View To A Kill in line with ’80s tastes. At first, David Bowie was set to play the villain, which would’ve been cool. He got bored with the project and backed out. Sting was offered the role, too. He passed, even though he’d written “Every Breath You Take” at Bond author Ian Fleming’s writing desk. (As a solo artist, Sting will eventually appear in this column.) So the movie just put Christopher Walken in Bowie’s circa-1985 haircut and called it a day.

The producers did manage to cast Grace Jones as Walken’s henchwoman May Day, and she’s probably the most memorable thing about the movie. (Jones’ highest-charting single, 1986’s “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You),” peaked at #69. Dolph Lundgren, Jones’ boyfriend and bodyguard at the time, made his film debut in A View To A Kill, playing a small role as a KGB agent.)

A View To A Kill was not a blockbuster. It debuted at #2 behind Rambo: First Blood Part II, which was one of the year’s biggest hits and which was also an action movie way more in line with the American tastes of the moment. At the 1985 box office, A View To A Kill finished at a fairly respectable #13 — lower than Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment but higher than National Lampoon’s European Vacation. So maybe it was a coup that the producers convinced Duran Duran to do that theme song. James Bond was not a hot property at the time. Duran Duran were.

Duran Duran honestly wanted to make a classic Bond theme — the big and romantic melody, the unexpected turns, the grandeur of it all. The band co-wrote the song with John Barry, who was 51 when the single hit #1. Barry was reluctant to work with the group, but Broccoli insisted, and all of them ended up getting drunk together at songwriting meetings. Later on, Le Bon said that Barry basically worked as a sounding board, helping the band throw out the bad ideas and keep the good ones. Duran Duran even worked a bit of Barry’s classic Bond theme into the song.

Still, “A View To A Kill” does not sound like a James Bond theme. It sounds like a Fairlight synthesizer with coke-dust stuck in between the keys. It sounds like the most 1985 shit you ever heard in your life. Chic’s Bernard Edwards, who’d worked with the Power Station on their first album, co-produced “A View To A Kill” with Duran Duran and with Madonna/Danzing mixing engineer Jason Corsaro. Edwards knew what he was doing, and everything about the song sounds good — the orchestra-hit keyboard stabs, the blocky drums, the Chic-style globules of guitar. But there’s no real song at the middle of all of it. It’s just a big, unpleasant mess. (As a producer, Edwards will appear in this column again.)

There’s something so unfair about Duran Duran, one of the most exciting bands of the early ’80s, only getting to #1 with their two most ungainly hits. But “A View To A Kill” is total funkless slop, too awkward to ever work up a real groove. Keyboardist Nick Rhodes goes way overboard on the synth effects, effectively snuffing any chance of the song hitting any kind of stride.

The lyrics are total gobbledygook: “Dance! Into the fire! That fatal kiss is all we need! Dance! Into the fire! To fatal sounds of broken dreams!” All Duran Duran lyrics are pretty meaningless, but Simon Le Bon usually has that nervous, frantic, desperate quaver that sells them. When Le Bon is singing something as craven as a big movie theme, though, you can tell that there’s just nothing there.

It doesn’t help that “A View To A Kill” has one of those videos where the sound effects interrupt the song, making the whole thing even more cluttered than it already was. Early-MTV champs Godley & Creme directed the clip, casting the members of Duran Duran as spies and filming them in Paris. The idea of the video is to edit the group into the movie’s storyline, having them play sneaky spy roles in the Eiffel Tower shootout. But the execution is too cartoonish, and the special effects are too shitty for it to work. Le Bon even clangs his final punchline, though I do like the idea that they accidentally destroy the damn tower. Godley & Creme overthought this one; they should’ve just put Le Bon in a tuxedo and handed him a plastic gun.

The members of Duran Duran don’t really appear on-camera together in that video, and they weren’t getting along too well in real life. “A View To A Kill” took a couple of months to reach #1. When the song was sitting atop the charts, Duran Duran played at Live Aid in Philadelphia, and they looked very, very wired. Near the end of “A View To A Kill,” Le Bon’s voice failed him, and he hit one very squeaky note. It wasn’t a huge deal, but when you’ve got nearly two billion people worldwide watching you, people are going to notice a bum note.

Live Aid ended up being the last time the original Duran Duran lineup would play together for more than a decade. Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor both left the band by the end of the year, and Duran Duran went on without them. The band’s next single was 1986’s “Notorious,” which they co-produced with Bernard Edwards’ Chic bandmate Nile Rodgers. The song was the most confident attempt at dance-funk that they’d yet made, and it peaked at #2. (It’s a 7.)

The long breaks, the side projects, and the shifting lineups killed Duran Duran’s momentum, but they remained a viable pop entity for years. In the years that followed, Duran Duran notched a few more American top-10 hits. The last of those was 1993’s vaguely sophisticated “Come Undone,” which peaked at #7. (It’s a 7.) Duran Duran never stopped touring and recording. All five classic-lineup members reunited in 2001, though Andy Taylor left again in 2006. But Duran Duran are still touring and recording, and they’d planned to put out another album this year before the pandemic messed things up.

In 2011, Duran Duran played the third night at Coachella. (That night, they were just a step down from headliner status, on the poster underneath the Strokes and future Number Ones subject Kanye West.) John Barry had died earlier that year, and Duran Duran saluted him with their encore. With an orchestra behind them, the band ended their set with a slow, dramatic version of “A View To A Kill.” That time, Le Bon didn’t miss any notes. It almost sounded like a real Bond theme.

Since 1985, only two Bond themes have made it into the top 10. In 2002, Madonna’s “Die Another Day” peaked at #8. (It’s a 5.) And in 2012, Adele’s “Skyfall” also peaked at #8. (It’s a 7.) This year, Billie Eilish’s “No Time To Die” peaked at #16. I have a hard time imagining another Bond theme reaching #1, but as long as they keep making those movies, the man will have a shot at it.

GRADE: 3/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Dutch house producer Hithouse sampling “A View To A Kill” on his 1988 UK hit “Jack To The Sound Of The Underground”:

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the cover of “A View To A Kill” that the Canadian punk band Gob recorded for a 1997 tribute compilation:

(Gob have never had a charting single in the US, but frontman Tom Thacker is also a member of Sum 41. Sum 41’s 2001 banger “Fat Lip” peaked at a way-too-low #66.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the cover of “A View To A Kill” that the Drive-By Truckers member Jay Gonzalez recorded for a 2017 compilation:

THE NUMBER TWOS: Prince’s psychedelic purr “Raspberry Beret” peaked at #2 behind “A View To A Kill.” I think I loooooove it. It’s a 10.

THE 10S: “Voices Carry,” the shivery toxic-relationship sigh from Aimee Mann’s old band ‘Til Tuesday, peaked at #8 behind “A View To A Kill.” Do not keep it down now. It’s a 10.

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