The Power Station was a 1980s supergroup made up of singer Robert Palmer, former Chic drummer Tony Thompson, and Duran Duran members John Taylor (bass) and Andy Taylor (guitar). Bernard Edwards, also of Chic, was involved on the studio side as recording producer and for a short time also functioned as The Power Station's manager. Edwards also replaced John Taylor on bass for the recording of the supergroup's follow-up album. The band was formed in New York City late in 1984 during a break in Duran Duran's schedule that became a lengthy hiatus. The Power Station was named after The Power Station recording studio where their album was conceived and recorded.
On July 23, Duran Duran's charity concert at Villa Park 1983 took place in aid of Mencap. Duran Duran had been known to be huge fans of Robert Palmer so he was invited to take part.
After Duran Duran's third album Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the members of the band went on a planned short hiatus, going into two projects. One of these was the band Arcadia, which maintained the melodic and atmospheric aspects of Duran Duran's previous recordings. The other was The Power Station, in which John and Andy Taylor worked with Palmer, Thompson, and Edwards to create a rhythmic, harder rock, funk sound. Roger Taylor was mainly the drummer for Arcadia but also contributed percussion to The Power Station.
The group began as something of a whim -- it was a one-time gathering of friends to provide backing to model and would-be singer Bebe Buell who wanted to record a cover of the 1972 T. Rex song "Get It On (Bang a Gong)". Both John and Andy Taylor were eager to branch out from the synthesizer-heavy pop of Duran Duran and play some Led Zeppelin-flavored rock and roll. The participation of their idols from Chic lent the project a horn-inflected funk vibe that meshed surprisingly well with the crunching guitars and booming drums.
Soon the project evolved into the idea of a revolving supergroup; a tentative name for the band was Big Brother. The original plan for the one-album project was for the three musicians (Taylor, Taylor and Thompson) to provide musical continuity to an album full of material, with a different singer performing on each track. Those who were approached included Mick Jagger, Billy Idol, Mars Williams, and Richard Butler (of The Psychedelic Furs), and Mick Ronson.
The group then invited Robert Palmer to record vocals for the track "Communication". When he heard that they had recorded demos for "Get It On (Bang a Gong)", he asked to try out vocals on that song as well. Before long, they had decided to record the entire album with Palmer. The group was quickly signed with Capitol Records.
On February 16, 1985, the band performed "Some Like It Hot" and "Get It On (Bang a Gong)" on Saturday Night Live. It was the only time that Robert Palmer performed live with the original line-up. The horn section for the Power Station's Saturday Night Live appearance included saxophonist Lenny Pickett, who would join the show's house band that fall and eventually become the show's musical director.
In March 1985, the band issued the album The Power Station, produced by Bernard Edwards with some informal assistance from Nile Rodgers. It reached number 12 in the United Kingdom and number 6 on the United States album chart.
The album is sometimes referred to as Power Station 33⅓ as the sleeve for the original vinyl record release bore that subtitle, indicating the speed of a record turntable. Later compact disc issues used CD as a subtitle instead. The album's cover graphics and color scheme, which were also used in the videos, were based on sketches by John Taylor.
Three singles were released from the album, two of them major hits. The first, "Some Like It Hot", reached number 14 on the UK Singles Chart and number 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100. (The music video featured the transsexual model Caroline Cossey, credited by her nickname "Tula".) The second single, "Get It On (Bang a Gong)", went to number 22 in the United Kingdom and number 9 in the United States, while competing against the Duran Duran single "A View to a Kill", which was an American number one. But the third single, "Communication", was not as successful; it barely reached the Top 40 in the United States, and disappeared after hitting number 75 in the United Kingdom.
The band also released a collection of their three music videos called The Power Station Video EP.
The group's unexpected success led to two incompatible results: the band decided to headline a summer tour in America with Paul Young, Nik Kershaw and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Robert Palmer decided to record a solo album to take advantage of his sudden name recognition. This led to Palmer's departure from the band. (Tony Thompson, Andy Taylor and future Power Station bass player Bernard Edwards all contributed to Palmer's highly successful 1985 solo album Riptide.)
When Palmer bailed on the tour, some critics referred to it as "unprofessional behaviour". In Number One magazine, he hit back at the claims he joined the band for money: "Firstly, I didn't need the money and, secondly the cash wasn't exactly a long time coming. It wasn't exactly an experience that set me up for retirement."
He was also accused of ripping off the Power Station sound for his own records. He snapped: "Listen, I gave The Power Station that sound. They took it from me, not the other way around."
So with Palmer bowing out, they recruited singer/actor Michael Des Barres (formerly of Silverhead, Chequered Past and Detective) for the tour. Des Barres also performed with them at the Live Aid charity concert in Philadelphia that summer.
Des Barres' friendship with actor Don Johnson led to the band's guest appearance on an episode of the television drama Miami Vice. Similarly, his friendship with producer Joel Silver led to the Power Station writing a song called "We Fight for Love" for the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Commando (1985). The track was originally titled "Someday, Somehow, Someone's Gotta Pay". An EP containing the song plus some live songs from their tour was planned for release that same year, but was scrapped by their record company.
The band folded late in 1985, as its members turned to other projects. John Taylor returned to Duran Duran, while Andy Taylor chose to leave Duran Duran in favour of a solo career. A reformed Led Zeppelin played at the Live Aid concert in 1985, with Thompson sharing drumming duties with Phil Collins. Thompson was to take the place of John Bonham in a reformed Led Zeppelin, but after a few days of rehearsal he was seriously injured in a 1986 car accident and the reunion never got off the ground. Palmer continued his revitalized solo career, while Des Barres released his second solo album in 1986.
Reunion and reissues:
The band reunited ten years later with its original members: Robert Palmer, Andy Taylor, John Taylor and Tony Thompson. The group worked together on writing and arranging a new album, however, personal issues forced bassist John Taylor to withdraw from the project and leave the band before any recording took place. Producer Bernard Edwards (Chic bassist) stepped in to become the Power Station's bassist and new fourth member, playing all bass parts on Living in Fear (1996).
Edwards was prepared to tour with the group, but then died suddenly of pneumonia during a trip to Japan. The Power Station decided to press on as a trio augmented by session musicians, and toured first with bassist Guy Pratt and then Manny Yanes and second guitarist Luke Morley, to moderate success. The group disbanded permanently shortly after.
In 2002, EMI Music issued The Best of The Power Station as part of their Ten Best Series. All tracks are from the first album (some in remixed form), except for "Taxman" from Living In Fear and the final track; a previously unreleased live version of "Dancing in the Street", recorded at the Hartford Civic Center in 1985 and sung by Michael Des Barres.
Both Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson died in late 2003.
EMI released a new version of the album The Power Station on February 21, 2005, to commemorate the album's 20th anniversary. The package includes the original eight-song album, seven bonus tracks (mostly remixes) and a 40-minute eight-chapter DVD. Among the bonus tracks on the album is the track "Someday, Somehow, Someone's Gotta Pay" (from the Commando OST), sung by Michael Des Barres.
Andy Taylor - guitars (1984-85, 1995-97),
Tony Thompson - drums (1984-85, 1995-97),
John Taylor - bass (1984-85, 1995),
Robert Palmer - lead vocals (1984-85, 1995-97),
Michael Des Barres - lead vocals (1985),
Bernard Edwards - bass (1995-96),
Guy Pratt - bass (1996),
Manny Yanes - bass (1996-97),
Luke Morley - guitars (1996-97)
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