When Duran Duran released their second single, “Careless Memories,” in spring 1981, momentum was on their side.
The band’s debut, “Planet Earth,” had reached No. 12 on the U.K. singles chart and landed them a coveted appearance on Top of the Pops.
And “Careless Memories,” which served as a preview tease for Duran Duran’s forthcoming debut album, was a brisk corker of a follow-up.
The band were considered pop hopefuls, but the song was a stark reminder of its love for punk, as well as fondness for the motorik heft of acts such as Kraftwerk. A B-side on the 12″ version – a cover of David Bowie‘s “Fame” – further pointed to Duran Duran’s creative (and funkier) tendencies.
Like “Planet Earth,” “Careless Memories” started with an insistent rhythmic oscillation that sounded like choppy helicopter blades.
Watch Duran Duran’s ‘Careless Memories’ Video
To this the band piled on forceful sounds: Andy Taylor’s slash-and-burn electric guitars, Nick Rhodes’ atmospheric synths, quick and fiery bass from John Taylor and drums by Roger Taylor.
Singer Simon Le Bon, meanwhile, turned in a yearning, urgent vocal performance full of grit and desperation – a perfect tone to strike while framing up lyrics that hinted at the painful aftermath of a relationship. “Look out, look out, look out!” he exclaimed at the song’s end, while the music devolved around him.
Not everyone was thrilled with “Careless Memories.” The magazine Smash Hits reviewed the single and positively observed that “the persuasive force of the 10-ton drum sound is not lost on this lot,” but then turned to pointed critique: “Buried beneath layers of silk finish is a construction so staggeringly basic you wonder if their punk roots don’t extend back to the Dry-Ice Age.”
“Careless Memories” also ended up spending just four weeks on the U.K. singles chart and peaked at No. 37. Still, the position was good enough to land the band another appearance on Top of the Pops; they responded with yet another energetic performance.
Watch Duran Duran Perform ‘Careless Memories’ on ‘Top of the Pops’
Still, the single release had an impact in another major way. As it turns out, Duran Duran had initially wanted “Girls on Film” to be their second single, but their label encouraged “Careless Memories” instead.
With the song underperforming on the charts, the band’s instincts were proven right and the members had more control going forward, paving the way not just for the future release of “Girls on Film” but many more successes to come.
In a testament to its quality, “Careless Memories” quickly became a favorite of both fans and the band. In fact, the song’s appeared in set lists on multiple Duran Duran tours throughout the years, including at several 2019 Duran Duran shows.