I Found That Essence Rare is a joyous example of the ultra-sharp, angular, funk-infused punk unleashed by Gang Of Four on their influential and brilliant 1979 debut album Entertainment! It’s a stunning blast of intricate, metallic riffs, pop hooks and social conscience.
As soon as the atonal finger picking of the song’s opening bars is rudely interrupted by four decisive snare shots, it goes supernova. Propelled by Andy Gill’s hyperactive, spectacularly effervescent guitar lashes, it builds to a climactic, descending chorus.
I found that essence rare, it’s what I looked for
I knew I’d get what I asked for
The song’s title was taken from a perfume ad in a magazine. For singer Jon King, “It summed up that lonely desire we all have to find something permanent and real and transformational in the middle of the relentless, oppressive programming and oppression we go through”.
The ruthless exploitation of this desire in the face of oppression by the forces of consumerism is a theme of I Found That Essence Rare. The use of Atomic Age anxiety to sell swimwear being a prime example of this, as referenced in its opening verse:
Aim for the body rare, you’ll see it on TV
The worst thing in 1954 was the bikini
See the girl on the TV dressed in a bikini
She doesn’t think so but she’s dressed for the H-bomb
If it had been down to Gang Of Four’s record label EMI I Found That Essence Rare would have been the first single from Entertainment! The band, however, refused to let it happen on the basis that the song was ‘too commercial’ and ‘wasn’t representative’ of their overall sound. Consequently the far more downbeat Damaged Goods became the first single from the album, pissing off the label and A&R team who lost all enthusiasm for Gang Of Four and put their promotional energies into Duran Duran instead.
So Duran Duran’s career got the shot in the arm that EMI’s promotional forces had intended for Gang Of Four, and we missed out on the irony of seeing cynical marketing practices being used to promote a song criticising exactly that.