The original line up of Duran Duran1, formed in 1978, consisted of Nick Rhodes (keyboards), John Taylor (bass), and Stephen Duffy2 (vocals), who were later joined by Andy Taylor (guitars) and Roger Taylor3 (drums).
This line-up got to play a few gigs in the clubs of Birmingham and looked set to soar, but Stephen left the band in 1980, leaving a vacancy for a vocalist. The group advertised, and the successful applicant was Simon Le Bon, who got the spot because he'd brought along a book full of his own songs. This cemented the line-up of arguably the most successful New Romantic group of the 1980s, and certainly the longest surviving.
The group mixed influences of punk, disco and European electronic music, and their sound and look brought the style of the New Romantics to Birmingham.
Their first single, 'Hold Back the Rain', didn't make it into the charts, but the next single, taken from their 1981 debut album Duran Duran, certainly did, entering the UK Top 20 and propelling the album to number three in the album charts (the album eventually selling 2.5 million copies). 'Planet Earth' showcased the band's new-found style at the cutting edge of the New Romantics, as the opening lyrics show:
Only came outside to watch the nightfall with the rain
I heard you making patterns rhyme
Like some New Romantic looking for the TV sound
You'll see I'm right some other time
The band caused quite a stir with their next single, 'Girls on Film'. 1981 was right at the beginning of the MTV video age, and the band hired top directors Godley and Creme to direct their new video. The brief was to make it sexy, and to have girls in it, and the result was almost soft porn with its camera work, soft focus and shooting style. It managed to get Duran Duran onto the front pages for the first time as the BBC banned the video, but it went down very well in the nightclubs, which were beginning to sprout video screens inside.
The singles from their second album Rio - 'Hungry Like the Wolf', 'Save a Prayer' and 'Rio' - sported even more exotic videos, with the band cavorting round in exotic locations. The video for 'Rio' was shot on a yacht in Antigua, and the one accompanying 'Hungry Like the Wolf' saw Simon in Indiana Jones mode in the Sri Lankan jungle, helping to make it one of the 15 most played videos ever.
The next single, 1983's 'Is There Something I Should Know?', went straight into the UK chart at number one, and reached number four in the US. Duran Duran could do no wrong - indeed, Princess Diana declared them her favourite band.
Seven and the Ragged Tiger was the band's third album, and the first single, 'Union of the Snake', helped to send it to number one in the UK album charts. The album was produced by Nile Rodgers from the band Chic, whose favourite part of the album was the 'Na, na, na, nah, na, na, na, nah, fle, fle, fle, fle flex' introduction to 'The Reflex' - the band's biggest hit to date when it reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic.
By now Duran Duran were huge in the USA, as well as their home country. In 1984 they headed off on an extensive US tour, where they pioneered the use of live video screens in rock concerts. They broke merchandising records, suffered from Beatle-manic crowds, and were dubbed the 'Fab Five' when they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. The mayhem was documented in the film Sing Blue Silver, and a live album, Arena, was released, with one new track on it, 'Wild Boys', which shot to number one in the US and number two in the UK, accompanied by a typically striking video in which the band performing caged, with Simon tied to a rotating windmill which dipped his head under the water every rotation.
To round off 1984, the band appeared on Band Aid's single 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' along with the cream of the UK pop scene, of which they were by now undisputed members.
At this point the band took a bit of sabbatical, as John and Andy worked on the Power Station project with Robert Palmer, and the other three members relocated to Paris to record as Arcadia.
However, the band managed to convene to record the theme song for the next James Bond film, 'A View to a Kill', the video for which showed them interacting with Roger Moore and Grace Jones in the film's Eiffel Tower sequence. This song - another international number one - kicked off the band's set at Live Aid, which they preformed in Philadelphia because the Power Station were on an American tour.
However, by now the pressure was beginning to show, and in 1985 Roger and Andy left the band, Roger because of stress, and Andy because (according to an interview in Smash Hits at the time) the rest of the band wouldn't let him wear that bastion of 1980s fashion, ripped jeans.
In 1986 Warren Cuccurello, an ex-Frank Zappa guitarist, joined the band as back-up guitarist, and the band recorded Notorious, a mature work that didn't quite capture the same sales success as its predecessors (though the single of the same name reached number two).
Following Notorious the band went through a lean spell, with some forgettable projects, including the mediocre 1988 album Big Thing (though the album's first single 'I Don't Want Your Love' still hit the Top Five). Warren became a full-time member of the band in 1990, and helped out on the band's sixth studio album, Liberty (the Decade album, released in the meantime, collected their singles together, and is a highly recommended first purchase for those looking for an introduction to Duran Duran).
In 1993 a second album called Duran Duran (often referred to as The Wedding Album because of the cover illustrations) was released and the band were back in the limelight. 'Ordinary Day' (which won an Ivor Novello award for songwriting) and 'Come Undone' were the big single releases, and at the same time the band were honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
This was followed in 1995 by the album Thank You, an album of cover versions including Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day'. However it was a eclectic mix of stuff and showed the differences in the group again.
John then left the band in 1996 to concentrate on solo work, so of the original three only Nick was left. However with Simon and his lyrics, and Nick and Warren with the musical input, the band continues to thrive, and to prove that they're not some ancient 1980s throwback, in 1997 the band became the first band in the history of the Internet to enable a song to be digitally downloaded for sale on the Web (the single was 'Electric Barbarella' from the 1997 album Medazzaland.
2000's Pop Trash album was well-received, and the band continues to perform and record. For the latest information on Duran Duran, check out the band's official website.
Duran Duran Albums
- Duran Duran (1981)
- Rio (1982)
- Seven And The Ragged Tiger (1983)
- Arena (1984)
- Notorious (1986)
- Big Thing (1988)
- Decade (1989)
- Liberty (1990)
- Duran Duran, aka The Wedding Album (1993)
- Thank You (1995)
- Medazzaland (1997)
- Pop Trash (2000)