For a recording artist who experienced tremendous critical and commercial success right off the gate with their debut record, the second album is generally the most difficult to follow up. But in the case of Duran Duran, the writing and recording of their third record, 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger, proved to be a challenge in the wake of the band’s popular sophomore effort, Rio, the year before.
“It was a difficult album,” Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon says today about Seven and the Ragged Tiger on its 40th anniversary. “A lot of bands have suffered from ‘difficult second album syndrome.’ We suffered from ‘difficult third album syndrome.’ And it was difficult. We had to travel around the world and go to a few different places before we got it right. But we got it right.”
As documented in the last 40 years, Seven and the Ragged Tiger was not the easiest record for Duran Duran – Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor, bassist John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor – to make during a tremendous period of activity in 1983. Representing a new musical direction, Seven and the Ragged Tiger furthered the band’s hit streak as the record went Top 10 on Billboard and generated three hit singles in “Union of the Snake,” “New Moon on Monday” and “The Reflex.”
“It was the first record where we kind of hit that point where you start to do a little bit of navel-gazing,” says Roger Taylor recently. “We just had two great albums [1981’s Duran Duran and 1982’s Rio] that have been really accepted pretty well all around the world. Suddenly, there’s a little bit of expectation around you. And we wanted to make something different.
“We had a different choice, a different producer. We used different studios,” he continues. “It was that point of ‘What do we do now?’ Because I think the first two records were very, very instinctive records. We trusted our first instincts. And those were really easy records to make. This was the first one where we got kind of into self-analysis: ‘Is this good enough?’ Could we do it a little bit better?’”
In 1983, Duran Duran were one of the leading acts of the Second British Invasion of America, coming off the hit singles from the Rio album (the title cut and “Hungry Like the Wolf”) and their accompanying videos that garnered heavy airplay on MTV. In March of that year, the band’s momentum continued upward with the release of the single “Is There Something I Should Know?”, which entered the British chart at number one. With Duranmania at its apex, the band began work on a new album that April at a chateau in the south of France via a mobile studio. “I suppose we were inspired by the Rolling Stones going to the south of France to make Exile on Main Street,” said Rhodes in a 2013 Duranduran.com interview. “And it seemed like a good move at the time to escape London where it was all a little too crazy and to go to somewhere that was a little out of the way with a little glamour and where we could get into a room and do something together.”
The recording of the new album saw the band work with Ian Little (who co-produced “Is There Something I Should Know?”) and Alex Sadkin after Colin Thurston produced the first two Duran Duran albums. “We decided on a change production-wise because we wanted a different sound…the combination of [Ian and Alex] worked really well for us,” Rhodes said in an interview circa 1983. “Alex worked really well with rhythm, which was something we hadn’t fully exploited to its full potential within the band before. At that point, it was definitely the rhythmic thing we’d ever done.”
The sessions in France produced tracks the served as the basis for some of the album’s songs, among them “New Moon on Monday” and “I Take the Dice.” Still, as John Taylor later remembered in his 2012 memoir In the Pleasure Groove: “We had a lot of ideas, but we weren’t getting them down on tape. There were too many snags with the gear, the power, the stairs, the whole f****** old house basically. And then we learned, to our dismay, that when a piece of piece of equipment broke or needed replacing the new parts had to be flown down from London.”
Afterwards, the band decided on a change of scenery and traveled to Montserrat to continue work on the album at AIR Studios, co-founded by Beatles producer George Martin. There, more tracks developed including “The Reflex” and “Union of the Snake.” Co-producer Little, whose earlier credit included Roxy Music’s Avalon, recalled working with the band during that period via Sound on Sound in 20o4: “Nothing had been written in advance, so the biggest starting point they’d ever have would be another song. For example, “Union Of The Snake” was built and written on the bass drum pattern of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Everyone loved that track, so Roger, Nick and I analyzed it and realized that the bass drum pattern was quite unusual — although you think it’s just a regular old two-bar loop, it actually doesn’t repeat for eight bars. It’s quite tricky. However, it’s a great beat, so Roger started playing it, got it right, John joined in and came up with the bass riff, and then the song was pounded on top of it.”
Work on the album was interrupted when Duran Duran returned to the U.K. for performance commitments in the summer of 1983, including a charity gig for the Prince’s Trust and a concert at Villa Park in the group’s hometown of Birmingham. Amid an impending deadline, the band finished up the record in Sydney, Australia, in the latter part of 1983. In his book, John Taylor later recalled that after the basic tracks were done, it was up to Le Bon to come up with the rest of the lyrics. Asked if the album had a thematic concept, Le Bon says today: “I think we sort of tried to find one. The music came first. I think that we did kind of get something happening with the idea of a band on the road really firing, you know, the band doing their utmost.”
Ahead of the album’s release was the unveiling of “Union of the Snake” as the first single. It went to number two on the U.K. chart, a showing that dissapointed the band who expected the song to go straight at number one, John Taylor later recalled via In the Pleasure Groove. “It was literally the only one that was near finished,” Rhodes said of the release of “Union of the Snake” via Duranduran.com. “And then the day before we had to press the thing, we get this call saying, ‘And what are we putting on the B-side?’ We still looked at each other and said, ‘Well, we don’t have anything.’ So Simon and I stayed up overnight that night and finished “Secret Oktober.”
Aside from the hit singles, the record has its fair share of danceable, very textured art-rock: the rhythmic and groove-fueled “(I’m Looking for) Cracks in the Pavement”; the breathless “Shadows on Your Side”; the dramatic “Of Crime and Passion”; the sleek and elegant “I Take the Dice”; the haunting closer “The Seventh Stranger”; and the Gothic-sounding instrumental “Tiger Tiger.” ““The Seventh Stranger” is a wicked song,” Roger Taylor told Under the Radar earlier this year. “We were playing that on one of the recent tours and it takes me right back to the ’83-’84 tour when we played that every night. It’s definitely one of the greater, deeper cuts from that record.”
On November 21, 1983, Seven and the Ragged Tiger was released days after the band kicked off their tour in Australia. The album cover, designed by Malcolm Garrett, featured the band stylishly photographed by Rebecca Blake on the steps of the State Library of New South Wales. As Le Bon explained to Rolling Stone in 1984, the “seven” in the album’s title referred to the band members and their managers Paul and Michael Berrow, and the “ragged tiger” signified success: “Seven people running after success. It’s ambition.” While it may not have met the members’ exact standards in retrospect, Seven and the Ragged Tiger became another commercial success for the band when it peaked at number eight on the Billboard album chart. “Even though Seven and the Ragged Tiger had not checked all the boxes that Rio had checked, and we were not all completely satisfied with it musically, the band was getting bigger and bigger regardless,” John Taylor later wrote.
Like the hits from the Rio album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger‘s “Union of the Snake” and the exuburant “New Moon on Monday” singles were accompanied by elaborate state-of-the-art vidoes. So did the clip for the subsequent single release of “The Reflex,” which was given a unique remix by Chic guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers Initially, the record company was apparently unsure about the remix, but in the end Duran Duran and Rodgers were proven right as “The Reflex” later hit number one on the Billboard chart in 1984.
“Nile saved our asses on that, I tell you,” Roger Taylor says today, “because we took the album into EMI when we finished with it. And they said, ‘You know what? This is a great album. It’s a great record, but we can’t hear a single.’ And we’re like, ‘You can’t hear a single?’ ‘No. We need a single.’ And then we said, ‘Well, how about “The Reflex?”’ ‘Well, no. It’s a great album track, but we can’t see, it’s not going to get played on the radio.’
“And in steps Nile Rodgers,” he continues, “so we sent it off to Nile. He said he was interested in working with us. So we sent off “The Reflex,” and it came back a week later, and it was like, ‘Wow.’ I mean, Nile just took it to another stratosphere. It became a big hit record. I mean, they always say that ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man.’ I mean, that really was Nile at that time. Without Nile doing that remix, who knows what would have happened with the album?
“We sent the song to Nile,” John Taylor said, per Classic Pop, “and said, ‘Could you do anything with this? And he then turned it into something extraordinary, worth all the ‘fleck, fleck, flecks and the ‘why yi-yi’ and all the magical things that he applied to the original recording.”
In a 2021 interview with Forbes, Rodgers, whose work on “The Reflex” kicked off a longstanding relationship between him and Duran Duran, reflected: “Seven and the Ragged Tiger album basically had run its course. They meet me, I do “The Reflex,” bring new life into the project and poof! It goes right back to the top of the charts. Those are the kind of things you dream of as a producer and an artist, you dream of—you get to change someone’s life, you change the trajectory of their careers by just doing one little project. And all of a sudden the world is a different world for Duran Duran, a different world for Nile Rodgers. I love Duran. They’re my boys.”
Seven and the Ragged Tiger would be the last Duran Duran studio album to feature the original Fab Five lineup until 2004’s Astronaut. Over the decades, the band members — who released their new record, Danse Macabre, last month — have reflected about their third album. “We were the most critical people about it, and we were uptight,” Le Bon told Duranduran.com in 2013. “And now when I play it back, I do hear a certain level of that sort of anxiety.”
“It was the first album that really took a long time,” Roger Taylor says now. “But in hindsight, I think it’s a really great record. And I think it’s a really well-produced record. It’s a well-crafted record. And it was definitely a different direction from Rio. We could have just carried on trying to make the next record for the next 10 years, but we didn’t. We took a real kind of sharp, right turn. And I think we created something very different.”