There are some groups so "on trend" it's scary. MTV, launched in the early '80s, was initially in dire need of content. Equally important, they needed to find musicians who "got it." Artists who understood making a video was more than standing in front of a camera lip-synching. Enter Duran Duran from Birmingham, England.
Duran Duran's first videos were controversial due to sexual content. Later videos, with larger budgets, featured exotic locations and costumes.
Keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor formed Duran Duran in '78, taking the name from a character in Roger Vadim's sci-fi flick "Barbarella," starring his one-time wife, Jane Fonda. Over the subsequent months members came and went with drummer Roger Taylor signing on and guitarist Andy Taylor recruited through a Melody Maker (a music trade paper) ad. A drama student and former singer with the Punk oriented Dog Days, Simon LeBon, completed Duran Duran. Soon the group built a loyal following, signing a recording contact with EMI and releasing their first single "Planet Earth" which cracked the U.K. Top 20. The next single "Girls On Film" reached the Top 10 despite the BBC's ban of the racy accompanying video. No matter, the group's self- titled debut album stayed on the charts for over two years. Building on that success, Duran Duran recorded and released their sophomore effort "Rio" in '82. The title track, "Hungry Like The Wolf" and the ballad "Save A Prayer" made them European stars. It was time to set their sights on the U.S. market.
The "Hungry Like The Wolf" video with its jungle motif, "Rio's" island location, the group's fashion sense and LeBon's pouty good looks won them maximum MTV airplay. Third single, "Is There Something I Should Know" lodged in the U.S. Top 10 and became Duran Duran's first U.K. #1.
Musically, Duran Duran was a tight unit treading the line between Rock and pop. Keyboards were at the heart of the sound. John Taylor's guitar was ever-present but didn't dominate.
By '83 and the release of "Seven and the Ragged Tiger," Duran Duran had moved in a decidedly dance direction with "The Reflex," "Union Of The Snake" and "New Moon On Monday." Following an eighteen month world tour Duran Duran released the live "Arena" album which also contained the studio recorded hit "Wild Boys," another pseudo-dance track.
They also provided the theme song to the forgettable James Bond flick "A View To A Kill." While these efforts were commercially successful, it was evident the group was losing steam, so they took a break.
Andy and John Taylor formed Power Station with Robert Palmer and drummer Tony Thompson. In the meantime, Rhodes, LeBon and Roger Taylor launched the annoying Arcadia which managed a hit single, "Election Day" from their "So Red The Rose" CD.
Focusing on dance-pop and ballads, Duran Duran re-formed as a trio (LeBon, Rhodes and John Taylor) and produced three albums, each doing worse commercially than the previous one. The group returned again in '93 with a self-titled CD and a pair of hit ballads, "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone." But what really killed them was "Thank You" which despite going gold was a weak record with M.O.R. covers, including the Zeppelin title track.
John Taylor departed for a solo career reducing Duran Duran to a trio again with LeBon, Rhodes and former Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, who'd joined in '89. That line-up released "Pop Trash" in '00. The title said it all.
Cuccurullo left in '01 to reform Missing Persons. Rhodes and LeBon soon reunited with Andy, Roger and John Taylor. Reunion tours, like the one in '05, are far more profitable when you have all the original members.
Returning as a viable road act is one thing but reviving a recording career is quite a different matter. Sold out shows (including Wembley Stadium) and timely honors (A Lifetime Achievement statue at the '03 MTV Video Music Awards and an Outstanding Contributions trophy at the Brit Awards) led to a four album deal with Epic.
Their first effort, '07's "Astronaut," did reasonably well on both sides of the Atlantic cracking the Top 20 on various charts with the first single, "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise," going to #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart.
After recording a cover of John Lennon's "Instant Karma" for Amnesty International's Make Some Noise campaign and yet another departure by Andy Taylor, the band's next effort, "Red Carpet Massacre" sold poorly.
On the rebound (once again), Duran Duran issued their 13th studio album, "All You Need Is Now." Produced by the Grammy Award-winning Mark Ronson, the set was released exclusively on iTunes and topped the download charts in 15 countries (including the U.K.). The expanded physical album arrived a short time later.
Next, Duran Duran received an honor that was all too apropos. They were given the Style Icons of the 20th Century Award and a key to the city of Millian, presented by Mayor Letizia Moratti.
Le Bon's laryngitis and Rhodes' viral infection cut short a pair of tours before band began work on "Paper Gods," an album that featured the former Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist John Frusciante.
Containing the single "Pressure Off," "Paper Gods" landed at #10 on the Billboard Top 200, the band's highest debut in 22 years.
Duran Duran Discography
1981 Duran Duran
1983 Seven And The Raged Tiger
1988 Big Thing
1989 Decade Of Greatest Hits
1995 Duran Duran (The Wedding Album)
1995 Thank You
2000 Pop Trash
2007 Red Carpet Massacre
2010 All You Need Is Now
2015 Paper Gods
Like numerous New Romantic groups, Duran Duran is more interested in style than Rock. That said, Duran Duran did create songs with a pop sense that kicked. Their best effort is "Rio." Confident and cool, the album shows the group at the height of its powers. It also has the strongest songs including the title track, "Is There Something I Should Know" and "Hungry Like The Wolf." The self-titled debut with "Girls On Film" and "Planet Earth" is grittier but lacks "Rio's" sure footed approach. "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" is no "Rio" but it isn't bad with "New Moon On Monday" being the standout.
When the group caves into their dance inclinations, they are less interesting and rely on gimmicks to get their songs across.