Good day to you, RPM-people – I hope this finds you well in somewhat troubled times. At time of writing I find myself at the start of some annual leave from my (key worker) day job, catching up on some isolation entertainment: the beauty of having a vast collection of physical media, I guess.
My recent reading has been music-related: the fabulous new ‘Broken Greek’ autobiography from music journalist, Pete Paphides; Garth Cartwright’s chronicle of the UK record shop, ‘Going For A Song’; and ‘Talking To Girls About Duran Duran’, the coming of age book from Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield. It’s the latter that inspired this month’s column and had me digging into the Pop Culture Schlock archive for a particular item…
After the 1970s gifted the rock ‘n’ pop culture-savvy consumer with dolls/action figures of everyone from KISS to Cher to Andy Gibb, you’d have thought that the 1980s, forever carrying a “bigger, bolder, brasher” tag, would have upped the ante considerably; the post-Star Wars merchandisers giving Walrus Man’s right arm for the rights to make small, plastic likenesses of some of the most iconic music stars ever. But, the Michael Jackson and Boy George dolls (no fear of an ‘action figure vs doll’ debate concerning the latter) from LJN Toys aside, toy companies fumbled the ball when it came to immortalising music stars of the decade into toys for children to play with, and for grown men to hoard. Ahem.
Imagine a Barbie-style ’80s Madonna doll with a bazillion Action Man/GI Joe-esque costume changes? It would take that dodgy Dick Tracy movie in 1990 to finally get a miniature Madonna Louise Ciccone into consumer’s hands. Imagine Duran Duran dolls at the peak of their mid-eighties stardom with a bazillion costume change options: from their pastel-coloured designer suits to sub-Road Warrior post-apocalyptic garb. It would take, crazily when you really think about it, until the dawn of this decade for Funko to finally capture Duran Duran in their full ’80s pomp as part of its Pop! Rocks vinyl figure line. These were released in the same wave as the retro Def Leppard Pop! Vinyls which featured one of the company’s most quirky figures – the one-armed Rick Allen figure. I’m sensing a theme here… But I digress.
I love Duran Duran. Can’t help it. I’m sure the band is a guilty pleasure for many a rock fan: John Taylor’s bass playing, Andy Taylor’s guitar, etc. – but guilty you should not feel when you feel the love for Duran Duran. Three things jump out of my memory banks when I think back to how DD infiltrated my rock leanings: the charity gig the band played at Villa Park, the home of football, in 1983 that even saw them feature prominently on the cover and centrespread of an Aston Villa match programme; the music video for ‘The Wild Boys’ debuting on the BBC on Hallowe’en night in 1984 as they tried to compete with MTV; the sounds of ‘Arena’, the album from which that classic single came, pumping out of my sister’s bedroom… on cassette. This column, of course, is dedicated to pop culture collectables and, though a tsunami of wholly unofficial merchandise swirled around the band’s success – annuals, postermags, badges, photo patches, those particularly classy screen-printed silk scarves – actual official items were in shockingly short supply. Topps, famed trading card producers, released a 33-card Duran Duran card line in 1985 complete with stickers and stick of gum (I have a sealed pack in my collection, 35-year-old bubblegum forever calling to me, siren-like, in a quest to snap my teeth at the friggin’ roots), but it would take The Milton Bradley Company, the American board game manufacturer founded in 1860, to be brave/cool enough to dip a tucker-booted toe into the depths of the band’s chart success to produce the ultimate official piece of Duran Duran merchandise.
‘Duran Duran: Into The Arena’ was released by MB Games in 1985 and it remains one of the ultimate pieces in any rock ’n’ pop memorabilia collection. A true objet d’pop. Right up there with 1978’s KISS on Tour, this board game, if you are lucky enough to have one (guilty, sorry), will mean so much to you, like a birthday or a pretty view. Getting one of these games these days, though, is about as easy as a nuclear war. If you’ve already Googled how much they go for you’ll already understand what I’m on about. This is not a pop pissing contest, however – this is a celebration!
Almost every Internet search for ‘Into The Arena’ for research purposes furnished me with beige articles about the actual gameplay of this vintage toy par excellence. That, my friends, is even too nerdy for someone like me! To me, this board game is one of the ultimate shelf pieces – meant to be looked at, to be adored, marvelled over. Okay, I’ll admit that a games night where chauffeur-driven chums laden with cans of Tizer and Top Deck limeade and lager arrived for an evening of Eighties pop-related faux combat sounds appealing, but until then I’ll just look at this game and love the fact that I have it.
That aforementioned gameplay? Go on, then. Two to four players start off in the outer circle of the game board. The aim is to collect five matching pairs of disc cards – the cards featuring the group’s most popular singles! Each matching pair provides the player with a matching video card for the respective song. Once the player has made their five matches, they are bumped-up, good-looking girl at a concert-style, to the inner circle. There, they must collect and play band member cards (Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Taylors Andy, John, and Roger for those
readers new to Planet Earth), each with a different scoring value. There’s a Duran Duran Wild Card in there too, and a points subtraction thing, with the winner being the lucky mofo whose added video- and band member-card totals are the highest.
Actually playing a vintage board game aside, the thing looks fabulous: Arena-like graphics everywhere; classic singles artwork reproduced on their respective cards; stills from epic music videos captured on theirs; the band members in all their teen idol glory on crescent-shaped cards that just feel more decadent than the usual oblong cards in your common or garden board game, somehow. There’s even a cardboard insert featuring a great band shot from ‘The Wild Boys’ photo shoot which doubles as a place to pile the game cards, but also carries a great little history of the band from 1980 to the end of 1984.
Rule #32: Enjoy the little things. You don’t need me to tell you that we are currently living in unprecedented times. People that have been a part of my story are no longer with us and, no matter how or why, we find ourselves in an uncertain place where every day feels like a fucking test. If you surround yourselves with the things you love then life, in any circumstances, always seems that little bit more manageable. And it’s never too late to start accumulating stuff – any stuff, just stuff that makes you feel better in whatever way. Trust me, I’m a master of stuff.
When this shit is all over we’ll have ourselves a Duran Duran board game night – you bring the Tizer…
Stay safe, stay sensible, stay beautiful.