Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A beginner’s guide to: Duran Duran

From Rum Runner residents to the “Wild Boys” of synth pop, Duran Duran brought sheen and style to the 80s.


It was at a Siouxsie and the Banshees gig in 1978 at Birmingham’s Mayfair Ballroom in the Bullring shopping centre, that a young John Taylor and Nick Rhodes had their Damascene moment. The support act that night was The Human League, who performed without any drummer or guitars just three synthesizers and a drum machine, leaving the two awestruck. A few months later, equipped with a Wasp synthesiser (the first on sale in Birmingham) brought for him by his Mum along with a rhythm box, Taylor left Dada, the band he had joined before enrolling at Birmingham Polytechnic’s College of Art and along with Rhodes and Stephen Duffy, a fellow student at BPCA, formed the first incarnation of what was to become Duran Duran.

Taking inspiration from Barbarella’s, one of the city’s hotspots which was named after a French sc-fi film, the trio adopted the name of Duran Duran based on the film’s villain Dr Durand Durand. Duffey brought in his friend Simon Colley to play bass and with some electric drums they were ready to play live. The band’s first official gig was in Duffey’s college lecture hall in 1979 before they played at Canon Hill Arts Centre (now the MAC) with a ticket price of 50p. They squeezed out another gig at Barbarella’s before Colley and Duffey left to join local band TV Eye. Andy Taylor joined on guitar and after a chance meeting at a party, Roger Taylor was enlisted as the band’s official drummer. After hearing Chic’s ‘Everybody Dance’ one night, John Taylor was inspired to pick up the bass guitar and switched from playing keyboards. With a new singer Andy Wickett and a new guitarist Alan Curtis brought on board the band were ready to head into the studio to record some demoes. Though Wickett left after only a few gigs he had a big influence on the band, co-writing an early version of ‘Girls On Film’ and ‘Stevie’s Radio Station’ which later became ‘Rio’. He was replaced by Jeff Thomas.

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Wanting to eschew the normal gig circuit by playing in more unconventional venues Rhodes and Taylor set about looking for their next performance space and spied a poster advertising a Bowie night at the Rum Runner club on Broad St. They met with the owners, brothers Paul and Michael Berrow and handed them a demo tape. Liking what they heard they offered them a slot supporting a band called Fashion on 12th March 1980. From here on in the Rum Runner became an indelible part of the band’s rise to fame. The Berrow brothers became their management and along with the band formed the Tritec Music company, named after the club’s triangular themed bar. But they soon fell out with Thomas which led to his departure, leaving the band on the hunt for a new singer. Curtis followed suit claiming that he didn’t like the scene anymore and headed back to London. An advert was put in Melody Maker for a new guitarist and Andy Taylor made the trip down from Newcastle to answer the call. Now all they needed was a singer.

A student who worked part-time at the club suggested that they meet her room-mate Simon Le Bon who armed with his blue book of lyrics fitted in perfectly and on 16th July the band played their first gig at the Rum Runner with this classic lineup. At the end of 1980, with a handful of gigs in Brum and London under their belts and financed by Michael Berrow mortgaging his house, the band set off on tour with Hazel O’Connor. They attracted the attention of both EMI and Phonogram who started a bidding war to sign them up. It was a sense of patriotism towards The Beatles that saw EMI win through and they were signed in December. They released their debut album Duran Duran in June 1981, with the first single from it ‘Planet Earth’, reaching #12 in the UK charts. The follow up ‘Careless Memories’ didn’t fare so well only reaching #37. Their third single, ‘Girls on Film’, however, lit the touch paper that saw the band explode in the US. With a raunchy video produced by Godley and Creme hitting just days after MTV had launched in the US, the band’s domination of their visual identity had begun. Beamed widescreen in clubs the song propelled the album to the #3 spot in the UK and led to their first of many successful tours of the US. Their UK tour saw them play on the back of civil unrest and rioting, including a show in Birmingham the day after the Handsworth Riots.

They released their follow-up album Rio the next year, which saw a clutch of singles – ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’, ‘Save A Prayer’ and title track ‘Rio’  – land in the top 20 and jettison them to world wide fame. A world tour followed including a support slot on Blondie’s US tour with the British press labelling them the “Fab 5”. They also received a royal seal of approval as Diana Princess of Wales declared them to be her favourite band.  The album did not immediately take off in the US mainly in part because it was promoted as a New Romantic album, a scene that was both unfamiliar and therefore unpopular over the pond. The album was remixed and re-released as a dance album prompting an appearance on US TV show “Dancin’ On Air” which gave it the boost it needed to climb the charts. With MTV constantly playing their videos for tracks like ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ they were able to sustain an influence on the top 20 with the album peaking at #6. Rolling Stone magazine alluded to this when they wrote in 1983, “They may be the first rock group to ride in on a video wave”. With the US now firmly on side, they re-released their debut album with the addition of new track ‘Is There Something I Should Know’ which hit the top spot in the UK charts. What followed was a sense of hysteria as this “Second Invasion” took the US by storm.

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1983 proved to be a successful year for Nick Rhodes. producing Kajagoogoo’s chart-topping single ‘Too Shy’ after meeting Limahl in London’s Embassy Club where he was a waiter.  The following year they holed up as tax exiles in a French chateau in the south of France, before hopping between Monserrat and Sydney to record their third album Seven and The Ragged Tiger. These were heady times of money and excess with the band combining a highly stylised and fashion conscious image with the trappings of success. Designer suits and flashy yachts became de rigeur as egos clashed and insecurities were brought into hard focus propelled by the pressure to follow up and maintain past glories. The album was released at the end of 1984 with the band making the unprecedented move of releasing the video for the first single from it – ‘Union of the Snake’ – to MTV a week earlier than the single. ‘New Moon On Monday’ followed which peaked at #9 in the UK before ‘The Reflex’, produced by Nile Rodgers which kick-started a very successfully relationship with the band, hit the top spot in both the UK and US achieving global success. It was also their last UK #1. 1984 saw the band really hit their commercial peak playing to packed out stadia in the US and creating a live album Arena charting the experience. ‘Wild Boys’, again produced by Rodgers, was released in October which went to #2 on both sides of the Atlantic. The band appeared on the front cover of Rolling Stone and picked up two Grammy awards. They topped off the year as part of the legendary Band Aid charity single lineup whilst simultaneously gracing the front pages of multiple teen magazines as pop pinups.

But things changed the following year with the band experiencing an unofficial split as members went off in search of different musical pursuits. There was the rock element consisting of John and Andy Taylor who collaborated with Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson to form the Power Station and had a few top ten singles. And there was Le Bon and Rhodes who stuck with the Duran Duran sound channeling it into a band called Arcadia. They released an album – So Red the Rose – that enlisted the likes of Sting, Herbie Hancock and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. Drummer Roger Taylor straddled his allegiance to both camps. The band reunited and released ‘A View To A Kill’ in May 1985, which became the first James Bond theme to top the US charts, peaking at #2 in the UK. On July 13th and following on from the success of Band Aid, the band performed at Philadelphia’s John F Kennedy stadium to 90,000 people and an estimated TV audience of 1.5 billion. This was the last time the original five piece played together for 20 years.

The tide changed in 1986 when Roger Taylor, burnt out and exhausted after five years of constant touring, writing and recording, left seeking rural retreat. Guitarist Andy Taylor followed soon after due to legal wrangles. He had signed a solo recording contract in LA but was forced back into the studio to record the next Duran Duran album. Numerous delays caused the recording to stall and the band eventually let him go. The album Notorious was released in November and featured Nile Rodgers and Missing Persons’ Warren Cuccurullo on guitar. The eponymous single went to #2 in the US and #7 in the UK and though album sales were strong, their halcyon days were far behind them. They tried to shed their teen idol, manufactured pop image for a more sophisticated one but critics believed that in doing so they were loosing their identity. They were sailing through choppy waters, sacking their Berrow brothers management over a financial dispute and combined with a lack of promotion from their record label EMI, the band ran aground.

They released a new experimental album Big Thing in 1988 which spawned a couple of top ten hits both sides of the Atlantic. They toured it the following year and made Cuccurullo a fully fledged member along with session drummer Sterling Campbell. A greatest hits album – Decade- followed before 1990’s Liberty which slid quickly out of the top ten. For the first time in the band’s history they didn’t tour the album, instead choosing to play a handful of club gigs coupled with some TV appearances. Campbell left in 1991 and they had to wait two more years for a new album entitled Duran Duran and nicknamed the “wedding album” referring to the cover art of wedding photos of the band members’ families. This also distinguished it from their 1981 debut of the same name. The single ‘Ordinary World’ hit #3 in the US and #6 in the UK and earned the band an Ivor Novello award. This success took the band by surprise and they organised a world tour which had to be postponed seven months in because Le Bon had strained his vocal cords. After six weeks recuperation he was able to sing again and they completed the tour. They released Thank You in 1995, a covers album that featured versions of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You’, Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ (which he stated in interview was the best ever cover of his song) and Melle Mel’s ‘White Lines’. It also saw drummer Roger Taylor return from the wilderness.

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With one Taylor returning to the fold, another left. John Taylor left the band to concentrate on the launch of his B5 record label as well as to mop up his very public divorce to Amanda De Cadenet. The remaining members headed back into the studio and re-wrote many of the songs featured on their next album Medazzaland. Single ‘Out of My Mind’ was used as the theme to The Saint film and another pioneering move was made in that ‘Electric Barbarella’ which harked back to their 70’s Brum origins was the first single ever to be sold online. The album was released in Oct 1997 in the US but due to poor sales it wasn’t ever released in the UK. In the summer of 1998 they headlined the Princess Diana Memorial Concert. In 1999 they left EMI and signed with Disney’s Hollywood Records for what was supposed to be a three year deal. But the album Pop Trash steered away from their established sound, which meant that it crashed and burned along with the record contract after only a year. In 2000, Le Bon approached John Taylor with a proposal to reform the classic Duran Duran lineup. Taylor agreed and they let Cuccurullo go, who went back to Missing Persons, with Roger and Andy Taylor rejoining. Contract free and back to the original lineup they again headed for the balmy shores of the Cote D’Azur for some inspiration.

After spending the first few years of the noughties writing new material, they returned to London in search of a new record deal. But they found many closed doors as people didn’t want to gamble on orchestrating the band’s comeback. Undeterred, they decided to go on tour and the subsequent 2003 25th Anniversary dates sold out stadia in Japan as well as some smaller venues at home and in the US. In August they presented the MTV Video Music awards and received a surprise lifetime achievement award. This was echoed by Q magazine in October and they picked up an Outstanding Contribution to Music award at The Brits in February of the following year. A string of successful Antipodean dates followed with prime time spots in the US at the Super Bowl where their performance of ‘Wild Boys’ was watched by millions. Sell out homecoming gigs greeted them on their return in April 2004 including five nights at Wembley Arena. They again become darlings of the press with a la mode bands like Scissor Sisters and Goldfrapp alternating support slots. They signed with Epic records in June and released their 11th studio album Astronaut in October hitting #3 in UK charts and #7 in the US. The first single released ‘(Reach Up For The) Sunrise’ reached top spot in the US Billboard Dance Chart and #5 in the UK top ten, making it the highest for the band since ‘View To A Kill’.

In 2006, Andy Taylor left the band again at the end of the year with the band citing that an “unworkable gulf” had developed between them and Taylor due to personal and financial reasons. Dom Brown who had played with them on tour took up permanent residency.

After Taylor’s departure, the planned album Reportage was scrapped and a new album Red Carpet Massacre was released featuring some Timbaland produced tracks. Two huge Wembley gigs mapped out their summer – the Concert for Diana and Live Earth – and the year was topped off with nine dates at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway and shows in London and Dublin in support of their latest album release. In June the following year the band became sophisticates playing a special event at La Louvre in Paris as part of a fundraising event to restore the Louis XV drawing room. A first of its kind for the band to play such a high brow venue and for the 18th century venue itself that had never played host to a rock band!

Le Bon was a guest vocalist on Mark Ronson’s Versions album that same year. The band left Epic in 2009 and in early 2010 contributed a cover of Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ towards a charity album We Were So Turned On with all profits going to War Child. In November that year All You Need Is Now became the 13th studio album released by the band. Produced by Mark Ronson and from the band’s own Tapemodern label it went straight to #1 in 15 countries on the iTunes albums charts. A world tour followed which was blighted in May 2011 by Le Bon catching laryngitis and led to cancellation and rescheduling of many European dates. They headlined the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony Concert on July 2012 in Hyde Park, London and were forced to cut short the leg of their North American tour as Rhodes was struck down with illness. In 2014 they went back into the studio writing what would be Paper Gods which was released in September 2015 and featured a collaboration with Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. Single ‘Pressure Off’ was released on Microsoft’s X box Music and the album peaked at #5 in the UK with a debut spot of #10 in the US Billboard 200, the highest debut for the band for 22 years.

Duran Duran continue to tour the world and are embarking on a series of US dates throughout early 2019.

Fun Fact

The image of an insouciant Simon Le Bon sat at the bow of his yacht Drum as it cut through the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean in the video for “Rio” is one of the most defining pop images of the 80’s. But it wasn’t all plain sailing as just three years later in 1985 whilst competing in the Fastnet race the yacht got into trouble off the Cornish coast, broke its keel and capsized trapping the crew, including Le Bon underneath. The singer was trapped for 40 minutes before being rescued by the Royal Navy. The following year Le Bon was back onboard as Drum completed the Whitbread Round the World yacht race finishing third.


Studio albums: 14

Singles: 39

Highest chart position: #1 (Is There Something I Should Know / The Reflex)

Best Tracks

Girls On Film

Released in July 1981, ‘Girls On Film’ was the band’s third single from their debut album Duran Duran. Written about exploitation in the fashion industry it reached #5 in the UK charts. It was the accompanying video directed by 10CC’s Kevin Godley and Lol Creme that saw the band explode in the US. Containing scantily clad women, sumo wrestlers and mud wrestling it was banned by the BBC. But with the birth of MTV an edited version of the video received hours of air play shown in clubs all over the US, embedding the band in the nation’s psyche.

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Is There Something I Should Know

The eighth single released by the band back in March 1983, it was their first top ten hit in the UK charts peaking at #4 in the US. It was also one of the songs featured on the inaugral Now That’s What I Call Music released in November the same year. The video for the track saw the band members kitted out in blue shirts and white ties, marking the progression away from the buccaneering headscarves and New Romanticism of ‘Girls on Film’.

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The Reflex

The most successful single in the band’s career, the third single taken from their third album Seven and the Ragged Tiger reached top spot both sides of the Atlantic and was the first of many produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers. Nick Rhodes was convinced that the original version of the song was just an album track and not for release as a single, but after Rodgers had remixed it they decided to put it out, which of course turned out to be a very wise decision. The steel-drum sound on the track was produced through Rhodes’ Roland Jupiter-8 keyboard with an added wood-block effect mixed in to make it even more percussive.

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A View To A Kill

This mid-eighties track from the band came after a period of unoffical split which saw them diverge to pursue different musical directions. Having “got it out of their system” they reconvened to release the only James Bond theme song to reach #1 in the US charts, peaking at #2 in the UK. Duran Duran were chosen to do the theme song after bassist John Taylor approached producer Cubby Broccoli at a party, and somewhat drunkenly asked “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs? The video was again directed by Godley and Creme and saw the band cast as spies and assassins dotted around the Eiffel Tower, interspersed with the real action of the film as Roger Moore pursues villain Grace Jones. “The name’s Bon, Simon Le Bon”.

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Ordinary World

Pop Princes of the 80s, but by the early 90s the band’s popularity had waned. Their sixth studio alum Liberty had failed to make its mark and quickly slid out of the top ten leading to the band making the unprecedented move of not touring the album. But when Capitol records leaked ‘Ordinary World’ to a radio station in Jacksonville, Florida in 1992 the hype started to bubble up again. So much so that they had to push the release date forward. The track was the first single released from their 1993 “Wedding Album”. It peaked at #3 in the US and #6 in the UK and earned the band an Ivor Novello award the following year pre-empting a world tour. Duran Duran were back!

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Notable Performances

1 – Live Aid, JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, July 13th 1985

The legendary mid-eighties set of concerts, the brainchild of Bob Geldolf and Midge Ure raised millions for the starving in Africa. It was billed as the “global jukebox” and held simultaneously in Wembley Stadium, London in the UK and the JFK Stadium, Philadelphia in the US. The attendance at the JFK stadium was 90,000 with Duran Duran playing a four-song set including “A View To A Kill”, which became famous for Le Bon’s inadvertent bum note in the chorus, billed as “The Bum Note Heard Round The World” in contrast to Queen and Freddie Mercury’s show-stealing performance at Wembley hailed as the “Note Heard Round The World”. With an estimated 400 million viewers, across 60 countries, watching the live broadcast, it’s no wonder Le Bon quoted this as being the most humiliating moment of his career. But they lived to fight another day.

2 – Kentish Town Forum, London 14th October 2003

After various lineup changes the original five members of the band had got back together and The Forum was where they performed for the first time in 20 years. Fans camped out overnight to get their hands on the much sought after tickets which sold for £25. With 200,000 requests for tickets only 2000 were available, selling out the venue. The performance was documented in the London Forum unofficial live album.

3 – Super bowl XXXVIII tailgate party, Houston, Texas, Feb 1st 2004

With the 25th anniversary tour of 2003 being an unheralded success and igniting a renewed interest in the band, Duran Duran played the NFL Super bowl XXXVIII tailgate party at the Reliant Center in Houston, Texas in 2004. The most important event on the US sporting calendar which saw the New England Patriots triumph against the Carolina Panthers, the show was broadcast globally to over an audience of a billion people.

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