Released today in 1983: Is There Something I Should Know?

EMI EMI5371

EMI EMI5371

Is There Something I Should Know? was a “standalone” single, i.e. one that did not appear on a current studio album. Although some artists in the 80s still made use of the standalone single, for a major act like Duran Duran this was increasingly rare.

In the 1960s, it was routine for artists to release some tracks on singles only and select different material to appear on albums. The Beatles, for example, rarely included their singles on their albums; from time-to-time a song previously available as a single would later appear on an album, but the only occasion where recordings already available on an album were issued on a 7” was the double A-side Something/Come Together, released about a month after parent album Abbey Road in 1969. In all other cases, their albums featured no previously available tracks at all. But admittedly, they were blessed with such an abundance of compositions worth issuing on either format that in order to get all that good stuff out there they were pretty much obliged to use both channels.

For some, nearly all their music could only be heard at 45rpm: new artists might have to prove their worth by releasing a string of singles to evaluate their appeal before a record company would invest in the extra studio time and costs involved in putting together a whole album. But once they had established an audience, their options were opened up. Pink Floyd, having passed both critical and commercial tests in the late 1960s, eschewed singles altogether throughout the following decade: they were “albums artists”, their work being better appreciated on a long-player where they could develop their prog-rock themes. Famed for their “concept albums”, great care was taken with the running order the songs; it was intended that they be heard as one continuous work, not taken out of context as individual singles with their typical duration of between three and five minutes at a time (hardly enough time to establish a “concept”).

Ian Dury used both formats, but kept his LPs and singles entirely separate. Those songs he thought would be hits he issued as 45s; less immediate tracks, or those that were less radio-friendly, were put on albums. Fans were happy with this arrangement: they bought all the releases without having any tracks duplicated in their collections. His record company wasn’t best pleased though: it was easier to market an album that included a couple of well-known songs; with Dury, LP buyers had to trust that the quality of the songs of his they were familiar with from the charts would be replicated on his albums. And it was only through the sale of albums that the record company was likely to see some profit.

By the 1980s, despite still being the dominant format in the music market, 7” singles rarely made any money for record companies. The retail price of £1.35 of Is There Something I Should Know?, for example, had to cover payment of performer, producer and mechanical (writers’) royalties; manufacturing, marketing and distribution costs; design and packaging costs; the record shop’s cut; VAT, etc, leaving little money to contribute to EMI’s general business overheads (premises, staff, bills etc): in fact, a small loss for each disc sold was even possible. Albums however retailed at a price that allowed for some profit in most cases, so a key purpose of a single was to maintain public awareness of that product and encourage a sale. Michael Jackson, for instance, would release nearly every track on his 80s albums as singles, thus keeping their parent albums in the charts for years at a time each.

Singles were usually deleted after three years or less in the 1980s whereas the album would still be in catalogue years after its hit songs had left the charts. But what use was a memorable hit if there was no album associated with it to be purchased at a later date? In the case of Is There Something I Should Know?, this was a strategic release for the long-term marketing purpose of keeping Duran Duran in the charts while they put together their third album. The song was recorded in December 1982, six months before work on the Seven And The Ragged Tiger album began and nearly a year before its release. As their Rio album had yielded all the songs likely to be hits as singles by the end of 1982, there was potentially a 12-month gap between releases which was too much time for fans to wait. Is There Something I Should Know? kept them in the news in the UK, and in America it was it was added to the original track listing of their debut album Duran Duran when it was re-issued in that country, pushing it into the Top 10 when it had previously failed to chart.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Mar. 14
1980
The BUGGLES Clean Clean (Island WIP6584)
GRADUATE (Tears For Fears) Elvis Should Play Ska (Precision PAR100)
The JAM Going Underground (Polydor POSP113)
Bob MARLEY Zimbabwe (Island WIP6597)
1983
David BOWIE Let’s Dance (EMI America EA152)
DURAN DURAN Is There Something I Should Know? (EMI EMI5371)
1988
A-HA Stay On These Roads (Warner Bros W9936)
DANNY WILSON (Gary Clark) Mary’s Prayer (Virgin VS934)

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