Duel

In many of my previous posts, I’ve shared how I often discover new music through programs like Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 Music, or The Morning Show with John Richards on KEXP Seattle. Back in the 1980s my main sources were FM radio programs on the Canadian Broadcasting Network: Night Lines (Fridays and Saturday, running from 1984 to 1997) and Brave New Waves (the rest of the week; 1984-2007). Those programs fed me a lot of innovative and captivating music like Jeff Buckley’s (1966-1997) “Song to the Siren,” covered in 1984 by the project collective This Mortal Coil.

Over the years CBC rebranded its stations: AM was known as Radio One, FM became Radio 2 (now CBC Music) and in 2005 the network began developing a separate, online presence in Radio 3, building upon a program element of Radio 2 launched in 2000 to target younger listeners. I used to listen to online Radio 3 (which is also available on SiriusXM satellite radio) but it became fairly tedious after 2015 when all its live hosts were dropped in favour of automated, repetitive playlists devoid of personality or engagement.

In 1985, the Dusseldorf, Germany based synthpop band Propaganda released its debut record, A Secret Wish. While it had been played on CBC late-night FM, I don’t know that the album was issued in North America. I purchased it as an import at Impulse Records in Winnipeg, Canada for 17.99 CAD, pretty pricey for a vinyl record at that time, but imports always cost considerably more and were often quite rare. In an age without online ordering, it now seems like it was quite a find at the time.

Propaganda’s A Secret Wish album.

There was something I loved about the band from the first time I heard them; for sure the dreamy synth-pop and dance club beats, strong musicianship, and solid production (by Stephen Lipson, who has produced for many artists including Annie Lennox, Simple Minds and Rod Stewart to name just a few).

Today’s selection was originally presented on the record as part of a single song, “Jewel/Duel,” but is actually two fully separated songs. “Jewel” is an upbeat, slightly rambling and cacophonous prelude to “Duel,” using audio samples and keyboard themes from the latter song as a kind of build-up to what is the last track on side one (referred to as Within on the record, and side two is Without). 

“Duel” is no less upbeat sounding; in fact, the music has a positive tone to it, despite the lyrics having some uncertain meaning. Some have said the song is about love, heartbreak and pain, and there’s allusion to that in the official video with its mix of  1980s slightly campy, film noir-ish and art-/glam-rock vibes. As the song tells, the first instance of heartbreak may not affect one deeply, while the second “makes you wonder” and the third “will have you on your knees” as we realize none of us is above suffering. 

At the same time, I feel there is an accompanying sense of strength and perseverance in band member Ralf Dörper’s lyrics, sung by lead vocalist Claudia Brücken, who alternates that role on different pieces with the group’s other singer, Susanne Freytag (who sings with a heavier German accent). That idea of persistence resonates with me, because the mid-80s was a time when I’d recovered from some failed relationships, made new friendships (“friends 2.0,” some of which eventually morphed and all ended, over time) but all the while I was building a stronger sense of myself as I moved toward the next phases of my life, with marriage and, later, parenthood, and many fulfilling relationships since then.

“Eye  to eye stand winners and losers
Hurt by envy, cut by greed
Face to face with their own disillusions
The scars of old romances still on their cheeks
And when blow by blow
The passion dies sweet little death
Just have been lies
Some memories of gone by times would still recall the lies

The first cut won’t hurt at all
The second only makes you wonder
The third will have you on your knees
You start bleeding I start screaming

It’s too late the decision is made by fate
Time to prove what forever should last
Whose feelings are so true as to stand the test?
Whose demands are so strong as to parry all attempts?
And when blow by blow
The passion dies sweet little death
Just have been lies
Some memories of gone by times will still recall the lies

The first cut won’t hurt at all
The second only makes you wonder
The third will have you on your knees
You start bleeding I start screaming

The first cut won’t hurt at all
The second only makes you wonder
The third will have you on your knees
You start bleeding I start screaming

The first cut won’t hurt at all
The second only makes you wonder
The third will have you on your knees
You start bleeding I start screaming”

(“Duel,” by Claudia Brücken, Michael Mertens, Ralf Dörper.
Unofficial lyrics are courtesy of AZLyrics.com.)

I heard “Duel” the other day as British DJ Anne Frankenstein who, with American singer-songwriter, producer and arranger Matthew E White, spun it on September 13 while sitting in for BBC 6 Music host Chris Hawkins (the early morning show), and I was again reminded how much I like the song.

A Secret Wish also has influences from American writer, editor and critic Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), as the first track, “A Dream Within a Dream,” quotes his poem of the same name, “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream…” The album is a creative collection of music that I have enjoyed holding in my collection all these years.

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official music video for“Duel,” featuring the band’s four members, Brücken, Mertens, Dörper and Freytag in some of the roles from the short film, posted on the ZTT Records YouTube channel:

And a live performance (date unknown), featuring bassist Derek Forbes who at the time had just left Simple Minds:

And finally, the studio version from Propaganda’s YouTube channel:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: