Happy birthday to you…was created for you: 40 years of Duran Duran
Although Duran Duran formed in the late 1970’s, it wasn’t until 1981 that they released their first commercial single and album. In the 60’s, The Beatles were Britain’s biggest export to the world. In the 70’s it was The Bee Gees and thus, in the 80’s, we sold the world Duran Duran. And they loved it! Particularly America, who lapped up these cheeky young men for all they could release. And as they enter their fifth decade on top, we celebrate the best, and the very best of new wave pop to confident rock-pop that defined a decade and beyond.
The Duran Duran story began in Birmingham in 1978 with Nick Rhodes (b.1962), Stephen Duffy (b.1960) and Simon Colley but has undergone numerous line up changes, most significantly in 1979 with John Taylor (b.1960) replacing Colley on bass and in 1980, singer Simon Le Bon (b.1958) replacing Duffy to form the classic, hit making centre trio of the group. Taking their name from a character in the film ‘Barbarella’, Dr. Durand Durand, the threesome played gigs all around the city. After sending demo tapes out, they were finally signed to EMI Records in 1980 and the following year, released their first single, “Planet Earth”, which proved a success in reaching No.12 in the UK.
The follow up, “Careless Memories”, was not and halted at No.37. Their self-titled debut came that Summer and it would be the third single that really put their name out there, “Girls On Film”. It would become clear so early on that Duran Duran would not be a band to sit around and wait for global success and following their ‘establishment’ in 1981, they went back into the studio for 1982’s “Rio”, which would delivery three UK top ten hits and their first US top ten hit, “Hungry Like The Wolf”. You would think “Save A Prayer” and the title track were massive Stateside, but sadly not. The former was unreleased, while the latter peaked at No.14 there. Platinum disc were now mounting up, but before the band moved on to album number three, they issued a previously unreleased track from their debut…
Originally recorded in 1981, “Is There Something I Should Know?” was put out due to popular demand at gigs and, hoorah, a number one (US NO.4)! A reissue of the debut album followed, now with a chart topping single to its name just before pressing in to 1983 with their seminal album, “Seven And The Ragged Tiger”, which would give them their first American chart topper in “The Reflex” (UK No.1). Two other US/UK top ten hit would follow with “Union Of The Snake” and “New Moon On Monday”. 1984’s live album, “Arena”, would delivery a UK/US No.2 hit with “The Wild Boys” and, at last, a US release of “Save A Prayer”, which would reach No.16, most probably as the album, “Rio”, has already surpassed sales of two million copies there.
Duran Duran were on top of the world and on top of the global charts when in early 1985 the announcement came that they had been chosen to perform the title track of the new James Bond film, ‘A View To A Kill’. Working with film composer John Barry and producer Bernard Edwards, they styled a hard-hitting synth/electro theme perfect for the mid-80’s and won a second US chart topper with it, which also would become the first, and still to date, the only Bond song ever to top the US charts. Oddly, it stopped at No.2 in the UK. Nevertheless, it gave them a tenth UK top ten hit and a huge seller, making the film’s opening weekend a record at the box office. 1985 was spent touring as well as an appearance at Live Aid in Philadelphia before preparations were made for album number four.
Prior to its recording, guitarist Andy Taylor left the band with the remaining three centre figures continuing as a trio, although they bright in Warren Cuccurullo (b.1956) to replace Taylor and who would stay with the band until 2001. By now, Duran Duran were the biggest British band in the world and certainly the most successful of the decade and so their next album, “Notorious”, said exactly that. The title track was a No.2 smash in The States (UK No.7) although the album itself was less well looked upon, becoming their first not to make the UK top ten. Only two further singles were released, “Skin Trade” and “Meet El Presidente”, which had mid-charting success. The band were maturing as the music scene around them was changing from the new wave pop of the early 80’s to more harder dance music, in that world, “Notorious” was bound to miss the mark.
After a period of self reflection, Duran Duran hit back with a more power-pop style for the late 80’s and released “I Don’t Want Your Love” in September 1988. The song returned them to the top five in America (UK No.14) while to opposite occurred to “All She Wants Is…”, which but the band back in the UK top ten for the first time in two years, but missed the US top ten. The album from which they came, “Big Thing”, struggled once more and although made the UK top twenty, it did less well across the pond. Following “Do You Believe In Shame?” in 1989, the band decided to wrap up the decade with a best of, appropriately titled “Decade”. With a new song, “Burning The Ground” to promote it, “Decade” put Duran Duran back in the UK top ten with a Platinum seller for the first time since “Seven And The Ragged Tiger”. So that was the 80’s. What then would a new decade bring and could Duran Duran survive it?…
Without blinking, the gap between “Decade” and their first, rather hurried release of 1990, was barely half a year. “Violence Of Summer (Love’s Taking Over)” brought more pop into the equation and a UK top twenty hit, although the song barely charted Stateside and it was a similar case for the album, “Liberty”, which although a top ten entry at home, was a short lived affair scraping in at No.46 in America. Following single number two, “Serious” (UK No.48), Duran Duran went back to the drawing board in a real effort to reclaim their crown as the UK’s biggest band. Time and a return to form with a more instrumental sound would deliver exactly what the fans and the music industry wanted from them and in early 1993 their most outstanding song yet was revealed. “Ordinary World” was and is quite simply epic in sound and scope, showcasing the band’s ability to write and record a proper, decent song using real instruments and not keyboards. “Ordinary World” was welcomed with open arms and defined by critics as their most brilliant work to date. Commercially it was a global smash, charting at No.3 in America and No.6 in the UK, their biggest since “Notorious”, seven years earlier.
The same appreciation was also applied to the new album, “Duran Duran”, better known as ‘The Wedding Album’, which delivered Gold and Platinum discs from around the world and a top ten placing on both sides of the Atlantic for the first time in an entire decade. The ‘boys’ reveled in its success as did they with a further US top ten hit, “Come Undone” (UK No.13) and winning an Ivor Novello award for “Ordinary World” and embarking on their biggest world tour since 1985-86. What was left to do? Although the band took a break between ‘The Wedding Album’ and their next full new studio outing, they did deliver a covers album in 1995, “Thank You”, which included their version of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” (UK No.28) and Melle Mel’s 1983 hit “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” (UK No.17). The album was Gold certified in both the UK and the US with guitarist Cuccurullo now the accepted fourth member of the band to boot.
John Taylor left the band in 1997, temporarily, prior to recording of the ninth studio album, “Medazzaland”, which produced two UK top 40 hits in “Out Of My Mind” and “Electric Barbarella”, while the album itself only charted Stateside. It would take another best of at the end of decade two to resolve that at home. “Greatest” was a slow burner but would out chart “Decade” by one position (No.4 compared to the formers No.5), but would collect three Platinum discs and many many more abroad. More ‘pop trash’ would follow in 2000 with, well, “Pop Trash”. Both it and the lone single, “Someone Else Not Me”, underperformed on both sides of the Atlantic and it could be argued that Duran Duran were just about done. Not so….
With Taylor back on board, the band blasted back to the top flight in 2004 with the album “Astronaut”, which would become their biggest since ‘The Wedding Album’ as would the singles “(Reach Up for The) Sunrise” and “What Happens Tomorrow”, coupled with the Brit Award for outstanding contribution to music that same year (which also swelled sales of “Greatest”), Duran Duran now entered an Indian Summer of recordings and stature as one of Britain’s most enduring and best loved bands. 2007 they delivered “Red Carpet Massacre”, 2010 saw “All You Need Is Now” (UK No.11, US No.29) and in 2015, “Paper Gods” (UK No.5, US No.10) and with sell out live shows around the world still to their name and forty years of hits to pull from, it seems the love affair with these cheeky chappies is not quite over yet. Like The Stones before them, Simon, Nick, John and Roger just keep proving time and time again that wild boys ALWAYS shine!