history inspiration music

Returning to Find a Leopard

Can a song be perfect?

If not, I think I have found one that is as close to perfect as it can be.

I need to thank YouTube’s mysterious algorithms for this song. I had been listening to songs from Duran Duran’s new album “Future Past” before purchasing the album and an old song of theirs was suggested. It was not one I was familiar with.

It’s called “The Man Who Stole a Leopard.”

One listen and I was intrigued. Another and I was haunted and hooked. The black-and-white video, which features two women playing the leopard and the man, certainly enhanced those feelings.

At the end of the song, there’s a news report about a man who had smuggled a leopard into the United States, New Jersey, to be exact, and the authorities had discovered it and were removing it from his apartment. According to the news report, the man was “besotted” with the animal, not willing to leave its presence.

I was excited that the news report was part of the video. Duran Duran aren’t always forthcoming about the inspiration for their songs, but it seemed that this news report was a direct inspiration, the emotional import of a man being captivated by keeping and domesticating a leopard perfectly encapsulated in the lyrics. There’s a wonderful call and response in the song between Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran as the man and singer Kelis as the leopard.

The lyrics are sparse, reminding me of the writing of Ernest Hemingway. Actually, the song reminds me of Hemingway in another way, because the subject of the song is a man hunting a wild animal and Hemingway was a hunter.

It isn’t just the treatment of the subject through the lyrics that has me besotted with the song. It’s also the dramatic synth-filled music.

I had to look into the history of this song. It was part of Duran Duran’s 2010/2011 album “All You Need Is Now.”

I had lost track of the band long before this. The last studio album I had purchased was “Big Thing,” which was released in 1988, just before I got married, finished college, and had three children. Life took me away from keeping up with the band, but I’m cool with that.

You see, now that I have time to revisit Duran Duran’s music, I have this entire back catalog to explore along with their new album.

My return has brought me a new favorite song with “The Man Who Stole a Leopard.”

In reading further background on the song on the Duran Duran Wiki, I discovered that the news report in the song is fictional, written by band member Nick Rhodes. Nick tends to be rather sphinxlike while performing as the keyboardist/synth player. While his influence on the band’s music is obvious through the synth effects, I had no sense of his contribution to the lyrics. He and bassist John Taylor wrote “The Man Who Stole a Leopard,” inspired by the mishearing of a question and a 1965 film called “The Collector.

As a public historian, one of my favorite sources of inspiration is old newspapers, so using a fictional news story within the song adds an interesting layer of complexity. I purchased “All You Need Is Now” in order to have “The Man Who Stole a Leopard” as part of my collection (feeling kinda like the man in the song, collecting Duran albums as he collected a leopard) and discovered that the last bit of the song following the news report fades into this old-timey news-reel type music. It’s a marvelous effect.

I’ve also discovered in digging through Duran Duran’s back catalog that I really, really like the entire “All You Need Is Now” album. I’ll be busy getting to know it and “Future Past” by repeating them continuously before moving on to “Astronaut” and “Red Carpet Massacre.”

Have you lost track of a favorite band only to rediscover them years later? Were you happy or surprised with the rediscovery? Did you return to find a leopard? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Returning to Find a Leopard”

  1. There is so much music out there that it’s easy to lose track. For a long time I didn’t listen to 80s metal bands and about 5 years ago I began revisiting. Once you get over some of the gimmick, it’s really good music! Iron Maiden, Dio, Krokus. It’s easy to discount the musical abilities of these bands because of the hairspray, but these folks are great professionals on par with top musicians in classical or jazz.

    The Scorpions just released a new single – Peacemaker, and it rocks pretty hard. The quality is still there in a band that has been around for 50 years.

  2. It’s as though we thought of musicians from the ’80s as engaging in a temporary career, and for a lot of musicians, it was. But these bands with staying power are true professionals and know how to stay creative over decades, even if they have some creative missteps along the way. You’re right, John, these ’80s bands are on par with top classical and jazz musicians.

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