534. ‘The Reflex’, by Duran Duran

Birmingham’s finest return for their second chart-topper, with what might be the most obnoxious intro to a #1 single ever. Ta-la-la-la… The re-fle-fle-fle-fle-flex…! It’s brash, it’s in your face, it’s Duran Duran…

The Reflex, by Duran Duran (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 29th April – 27th May 1984

I’m imagining Duran Duran as those annoying kids you’ll find in any school playground, the ones needing constant attention from whoever will give them it, demanding everyone watch as they dance and cartwheel around, while the quieter, more thoughtful kids go unnoticed… (I’m not reliving any childhood trauma here, honest…) The main hook – the wh-ay-ay-ay don’t you use it… – even sounds like a child’s taunt, as they stick their tongue out and wiggle their fingers in front of their nose. It’s also a pretty darn effective pop hook. Once it’s in your head, it’s there for the rest of the day.

‘The Reflex’ shouldn’t work. It’s a hot mess of a record. The foundation is standard Duran Duran: a solid bass line from John Taylor, and the same guitars from ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ Simon Le Bon’s voice remains one that you need to be in the mood for. But on top of this they’ve chucked everything plus the kitchen sink. Steel drums, horns, choppy vocal effects, explosions… Some of it grates, but a lot of it sticks. Everything about it – from the way the band has cut up samples of their own lead singer’s voice, to their perfect mullets in the video – screams peak eighties. This song might actually be as ‘eighties’ as it ever gets. And something about its pure relentlessness carries it through to being a pretty decent tune.

Just what is ‘the reflex’, though? It is a lonely child, waiting in the park… and it’s watching over lucky clover… You must, at all costs, try not to bruise it. Apparently it has something to do with gambling. Le Bon has gone on record as saying that he’s tired of having to explain it, as he thinks song lyrics should retain their mystique. I’d hazard that he’s tired of explaining it because he hasn’t a clue what he’s been prattling on about all these years.

In the end, and just as it went when I was reviewing their first #1, the frown from my first listen slowly fades. By the fifth play I’m dancing on the valentine with the rest of them. If my two posts on Duran Duran have taught me anything, it’s don’t overthink them. Just go with the flow and enjoy yourself.

You might think a band so synonymous with this decade would have had more than just the pair of #1 hits. Still, this was their 8th Top Hit in three years, and they’d have four more before the end of the decade (including one of my favourite Bond themes). They’ll also have a couple of Top 10 comebacks: in the ‘90s with one of their best songs (‘Ordinary World’) and in the mid-00s, when synth-rock had had a big resurgence in the charts and they were suddenly the elder statesmen of the genre…

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21 thoughts on “534. ‘The Reflex’, by Duran Duran

  1. I love Duran Duran but, this song gets on my last nerve. It was interesting when it was first released but, after about 10 plays, I’m changing the channel. The video wasn’t even all that good. Hungry Like The Wolf & Rio took you for a ride thru a story….visually appealing & great music. This?

    Yes…kids on playgrounds being as annoying as possible. Why-yi-yi-yi-yi don’t ya just STFU?

  2. Their first #1 over here in the States next to their Bond theme and notably one of the first instances where a remix version becomes more popular than the original with Nile Rodgers remixing his original production for a single release. I agree with Tom Breihan’s take that Nile was probably doing too much with the remix in all the noises though I don’t the typical funky Nile Rodgers guitar rhythm but I don’t like Simon Le Bon’s “why-yi-yi-yi” parts even if it still works as a fun little dance jam.

    Pretty good timing with the Lionel Richie and Duran Duran reviews since they were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after getting on the ballot for the first time this year.

    • Yes, that’s true. I’d have though that Richie would have been in long before, given he’s such an established presence.

      I had no idea that Nile Rodgers was involved in this – it sounds nothing like his usual productions.

      • Both Lionel Richie and Duran Duran haven’t been critical favorites for the longest time which most likely explains their long snub from the Hall. With Duran Duran, there does seem to be a big appreciation and respect for them now with people looking back and realizing how good their music is and how good of a band they are beyond the initial criticism of being MTV pretty boys that appealed to girls. One of my cousins who works more in the harder rock and metal areas was even positive about Duran Duran remarking how good they are. With Lionel, I wouldn’t say he’s had that kind of critical turnaround but he is well respected in the industry and has songs that people know so that’s probably what helped him get inducted.

        You’re right at how “The Reflex” doesn’t sound much like Nike Rodgers but at this point he and his bandmates from Chic were working on a bunch of very different hits in the ‘80s. During the disco era, there is a more consistent sound they have notably with Rodgers’ guitar playing that you can always pick up on even when it’s not a Chic song such as the work they did for Diana Ross on “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down.”

  3. They are a part of the reason (along with leather winged lady) I don’t like the eighties. They taught me a lesson though… I realized then…life just isn’t fair…. the Replacements don’t get played and this does. Someone with a morbid sense of humor was in charge.

      • Yea I never got her…I mean this is not coming from hindsight…After Borderline…I never liked anything again. It sounded alike and her voice grates on my nerves.

      • I am a fan, not going to lie. Not of all her stuff, but the majority. And of the fact she just keeps on going, not giving a crap what people say

      • Oh…she is a hell of a business woman…she knows how to sell herself….I’ll give her that and I respect her for that. She knew what to do and when to do it. Her timing was perfect in the 80s

        Funny…when I think of her (personality-wise) I think of Ted Nugent…to me they are the same just on different sides lol.

  4. I love The Reflex, I love the way Nile Rodgers took on Trevor Horn in the wall of sound stakes and came out of it pretty well. This was the track that made me change my mind on Duran Duran and take them more seriously, and the follow-up Wild Boys was even better. The video for Wild Boys even showed Simon Le Bon tied to a giant wheel getting dunked and it still wasn’t enough to get it to the top spot, as young Si started to learn to sing properly. View To A Kill continued the sound and by 1993 Ordinary World and the sublime Come Undone showed they hadnt actually peaked in the 80’s artistically. Or 90’s, as far as I’m concerned. They just kept on going and topped my own charts with help from new stars (Pressure Off with Janelle Monae and old mate Nile Rodgers in 2015, Give It All Up with Tove Lo in 2021, possibly their best ever record, and current fab single All Of You). 40 years of consistency is not something I would have contemplated back in my 1982 Simon Le Bon Is Overrated musings.

    • I just mentioned in another response that I had no idea about Nile Rodgers’s involvement in this, as it doesn’t sound like his usual style. ‘Eighties Wall of Sound’ is a good way of describing this, and the first two FGTH hits. It’s also interesting to hear how SAW took this style and softened it into all those pop hits towards the end of this decade…

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