Biography: Duran Duran
When MTV dawned in the early 1980s, it changed the face of popular music forever, and the British rock group Duran Duran was the first act to take full advantage of its possibilities. The five-member band of young, sculpted faces often adorned with make-up and expensive clothes, saw in the music video the perfect vehicle for propelling them beyond obscurity and their musical abilities to fame, fortune, and good times. Combining the sounds of 1970s British punk and the more upbeat, danceable rhythms of disco, Duran Duran began producing clean, sparkling (if not critically acclaimed), pop tunes. But what set them apart immediately were their videos: somewhat surreal escapist fantasies that took the self-styled playboys to such far-flung locales as Sri Lanka and Antigua. Screaming, record-buying, television-watching teen-age girls everywhere ate it up–and nobody could have predicted it better than the band members themselves. "Video to us is like stereo was to Pink Floyd," said Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes. "It was new, it was just happening. And we saw we could do a lot with it." But, with more than 25 years together and more than 70 million albums sold, the group has proven its significance well beyond the video screen.
While the conservative rock press liked to downplay the success of Duran Duran because of their obvious vanity and lack of attention to "serious" music, it should be noted that some of rock and roll's most time-honored heroes, such as Elvis Presley and even a few members of the Beatles, were never accused of being serious musicians. Success in pop music has always depended upon image at least as much as the music itself. And "serious music" is not necessarily for everyone as Rolling Stone's James Henke realized when he referred to Duran Duran's eager fans as "young girls who were glued to their television sets watching MTV every waking hour. These girls had little use for the Clash's left-wing politics, or the ranting and raving of that weird-looking Elvis Costello. But Duran Duran, now they were something else. Five extremely good-looking young men. Dream dates."
Duran Duran began coming together in 1978 (some sources say 1977) in the Midlands city of Birmingham, where Rhodes and guitarist John Taylor started performing with a variety of bandmates. The group, which takes its name from a character in the 1968 film Barbarella, became complete in 1980 when Simon Le Bon, a drop-out drama student, showed up one day in pink, leopard-skin leotards and said he wanted to sing in the band. Le Bon joined Rhodes, John Taylor (who switched to bass), drummer Roger Taylor, and guitarist Andy Taylor (none of the Taylors are related), and the quintet began performing in Birmingham, most frequently at a club called Rum Runners which had become established as the home of England's burgeoning New Romantic scene. "Donning the foppish clothes of the movement and playing a slick, if superficial, brand of dance-pop, the band was tailor-made for the style obsessed New Romantics," said the Encyclopedia of Rock.
Duran Duran quickly became the headliners of that movement, playing at large clubs and festivals throughout England, and in early 1981 they released their first single, "Planet Earth," which went to number 12 on the United Kingdom charts. Later that year their first album, Duran Duran, went to number three on the album charts and spawned two more hit singles, including "Girls on Film." They had already been shunned by the serious music press at this point, but newer, teen-oriented, image-conscious magazines like Smash Hits and The Face were more than happy to circulate glossy photos of "The Boys," as they had become known. The lavish videos helped transfer this new-found fame to the United States, where "Hungry Like the Wolf" reached number three. Their videos won the group two Grammy Awards for Best Video–Short Form and Best Video Album in 1983. By 1984 Duran Duran was an international phenomenon—their third album, Seven and a Ragged Tiger, debuted at number one and suddenly the boys were living the lives they had created for themselves on video, playing sold-out tour dates around the world.
They were dandies, playboys, and their profiles became plastered on teen magazines everywhere. First there was Rhodes (his name was originally Nicholas Bates), the man who probably most personified the band's gaudy image. Rhodes grew up with John Taylor and both found that they liked the music of glittery stars like T. Rex. "We wouldn't buy records by ugly groups," Rhodes told People, adding that when he and Taylor decided to start a band they "had vivid ideas of what we wanted to look and sound like, but we looked at the instruments and said, 'Do we have to learn to play these things?'" John Taylor was the ladies' man and a huge target for the gossipy British Fleet Street press. His wanderings were well-chronicled there. "Being a rock star is like putting a huge sign in a window, 'For Sale,'" Taylor told People. "I did an interview with Penthouse and they said, 'What's your idea of a great woman?' I said, 'Someone who could tie me up and whip me and make great bacon sandwiches.'" Le Bon was an unlikely pop star in that he still opened doors for women, had a pensive streak that made him yearn for sailing alone on the sea, and because his bandmates once tagged him with the nickname "Lardo" because of his pudginess. Roger and Andy Taylor rounded out the band and were more known for staying in the shadows while the others baited the screaming girls at center stage.
By 1985 Duran Duran had started suffering from the personality conflicts that hamper many bands. Their production slacked off as the players spent more time apart, getting together only occasionally for certain projects, such as the immensely successful single and video for the James Bond movie A View To a Kill. John and Andy Taylor began work on an outside project with Robert Palmer in 1985 and formed a band called Power Station, which recorded an album of the same name (which was number 30 that year, according to Rolling Stone) and played at the Live Aid benefit concert. In the meantime the remaining "thoughtful" members of the group briefly performed and recorded as Arcadia, spawning the LP So Red the Rose. It, too, climbed the charts; Rolling Stone found it harmless and bland: "Egan's lubricated bass line contrasts nicely with Simon's hog-calling tenor…. like the Power Station's record, it's proficient, serviceable pop without any unifying drive or purpose. And no matter how obnoxious (or not) you may have found them, personality is one thing Duran Duran never lacked." By 1986 Duran Duran was back intact and recording again, although they would never regain the success of the early 1980s.
Their 1987 effort, Notorious, received the usual chilly reception from critics, but the videos were popular on MTV. Rolling Stone actually went so far as to call Notorious Duran Duran's "most consistently listenable work," but felt the band had lost personality in the search for musical maturity. Big Thing! of 1988 had none of the MTV audience and none of the backhanded compliments of earlier reviews. People panned the album; "As 'mature' musicians, they're marooned." The Encyclopedia of Rock summed up Duran Duran's impact on the music world in this way: "Musically, Duran Duran are no more than accomplished studio stylists, skillful welders of a host of disparate elements–hard rock, electro, white soul and, latterly, scratch and hip-hop—into an eminently commercial sound. Far more important was their marketing success, whereby they capitalized on their obvious visual attractions through the media (video and the glossy pop magazines), a technique that became increasingly important in the music industry in the Eighties." Warren Cuccurullo, formerly of the group Missing Persons, began assisting Duran Duran on guitar in 1986; he became a permanent member of the group in 1990.
Liberty, released in 1990, was another of Duran Duran's efforts to renew their past success. This time the band combined "everything from disco to guitar rock, … Motown, Philly soul, and new wave," according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide, creating an album that was stylistically confusing and helped to continue the band's falling sales. The greatest hits compilation Decade: Greatest Hits was also released that year and would eventually earn platinum sales in May 1998.
The group's fortunes changed, though, in 1993 with the release of what was considered a comeback album, Duran Duran (The Wedding Album). The album topped the charts at number three and went platinum in June of 1993, powered by the hit singles "Ordinary World," which hit number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and "Come Undone," which charted in the top ten. The album also achieved broad international success, landing among the top-ten selling records in Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina. The group toured and was also featured in an MTV Unplugged special.
Thank You, what MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide referred to as a "bizarre" covers album, followed in 1995. Duran Duran's ode to their influences "killed the momentum again," according to MusicHound Rock, eroding the resurgent popularity brought about by Duran Duran (The Wedding Album). "The idea was to do songs that we wish we'd written," Rhodes told Entertainment Weekly. Medazzaland was released in 1997, minus the contribution of John Taylor, who left the group that year to start a new band, Terroristen. Another greatest hits compilation, this one entitled simply Greatest, was released in 1998. The group left the EMI/Capitol label that same year.
With Le Bon and Rhodes the only remaining members of the original lineup, the group released Pop Trash in 2000 on the Hollywood label. The album "marks a bold departure from Duran Duran's signature dance-oriented pop sound into more avant-garde musical experimentation," said Carly Hay in Billboard. "That's what I like about this album: It spans," LeBon told Hay. "This is our statement on how it feels to live a little."
In 2001, Cuccurullo left to re-form Missing Persons, and all five of the original members of Duran Duran reunited to begin work on a new album, which was scheduled for release in 2004. While writing and recording, the band played periodic shows in the United States and around the world. They began a set of 2003 shows in the United States at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, and their United Kingdom shows at the Forum in London. The box set compilation The Singles 81-85 was also released in 2003.
After signing with Epic, they released Astronaut in October 2004. Red Carpet Massacre followed in 2007. In 2011, Duran Duran delivered their 13th studio album, the Mark Ronson-produced All You Need Is Now.
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