The split single is a fine institution. Who can forget the Sonic Youth/Mudhoney 12-inch when Sonic Youth covered Mudhoney’s ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ and Mudhoney the Sonic youth track ‘Halloween’? Sonic Youth ran away with it, to be honest.
The ploy of introducing bands to each others fanbases makes a lot of financial and marketing sense, and it’s certainly been exploited over the years. Nirvana/Jesus Lizard, Devo/The Black Keys, Four Tet/Hella, Melvins/Hard-Ons, of Montreal/Casiokids, Cock Sparrer/Rancid, LCD Soundsystem/Arcade Fire and Duran Duran/Kraftwerk… the list is endless.
Wait, what’s that? Duran Duran and Kraftwerk? Oh yes. It happened in 1981. Only 100 copies were pressed, making it one of those most sought after collectibles in both bands’ catalogue. It was released in Japan on 12-inch vinyl in a picture cover. The last copy that came up on eBay went for an eye-watering £266. For your money, you get two versions Duran Duran’s ‘Planet Earth’ (the six-minute ‘Night Version’ and the plain ol’ regular version) while the Kraftwerk side (side 2, which goes some way to describe the status of the two bands at that time) delivers ‘Dentaku’ and its English language variant, ‘Pocket Calculator’. The Japanese version is the first cut of side 2, naturally.
The record was a promo item, put out by Toshiba/EMI, the Japanese arm of EMI, who then had Duran Duran and Kraftwerk on the roster, and was intended for radio stations only. It might seem an unlikely pairing; the preening pretty boys of the UK’s fabulously self-obsessed New Romantic scene with Germany’s austere masters of the electronic art statement, but for Duran Duran at least, Kraftwerk were a critical influence. In an interview with Duran drummer Roger Taylor prior to their 2008 tour, he mentions that the band ‘grew up with Kraftwerk and the Human League’, and on the tour, they played a homage to Kraftwerk in a 15-minute section where they all played electronic instruments at the front of the stage, and covered Kraftwerk’s ‘Showroom Dummies’ (and The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’).
“I play a little electronic kit á la Kraftwerk, and the other guys play keyboards,” Taylor said. “Our roots were electronic, which is to say Kraftwerk. So we thought that a great way to do our ‘acoustic moment’, if you like, would be to get out the electronic instruments and pay homage to our roots.”
If you want to get a flavour of that experience, here’s a bit of fan video. Kraftwerk’s opinion of Duran Duran is not a matter of public record.
If you need a palette cleanser after that, try a bit of Kraftwerk, recorded live in Tokyo in 1981 for a broadcast on Japanese radio. You don’t have to look too far to get hold of the entire show, but this excerpt (‘Numbers’ and ‘Computer World’) gives a real flavour of it. The show was broadcast by NHK and so is one of the cleanest live recordings of the era. Not only that, but we think that you can hear a band at the height of its powers, playing as unit, with a real swagger in its step; just check out the percussion and keyboard flourishes, this is Kraftwerk at their most human and forceful.