LOOK THROUGH THE EYES OF A STRANGER
Pop music has icons, heroes, tragedies, clowns, mistakes, and unforgettable moments. One of the most underrated pop music groups in the brief history of rock 'n roll music is Duran Duran. Scorned by the music press, loved by a devoted fan following, and impossible to compare to any pop music group before or since, Duran Duran's legacy is not clearly understood. I hope to clarify Duran Duran's place in pop music history by looking at Duran Duran from several different perspectives 1) the music press, 2) fan websites, 3) 80's popular culture.
Duran Duran was formed in the late 1970's in England. All of the founding members of Duran Duran grew up with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the glorious excesses of the glam music explosion in the UK during the early 1970's. David Bowie, Roxy Music and Marc Bolan represented rock 'n roll stardom at its flashiest. Not only were these rock 'n roll showmen image conscious but their song lyrics were concerned with art, irony, media, futurism and how surface glamour and contributes to individual alienation. These themes of sex and media are prevelant in Duran Duran's songs. Just listen to Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" and you can hear in its the same detached sensuality as Duran Duran's "Girls on Film". The visual image of Roxy Music and David Bowie in particular played into Duran Duran's sense of visual presentation. Nick Rhodes' orange hairstyle in the early 80's was an update of Bowie's famous Ziggy Stardust look. Duran Duran's early "military" look was inspired by Bryan Ferry's use of military uniforms during the "Love is the Drug" Roxy Music tour in 1976. Brian Eno of Roxy Music seems to have been a role model for Nick Rhodes who went on to become as flamboyant and accomplished a keyboardist as the befeathered and sequined glam era Eno. Simon le Bon's lyrics also seem to owe a debt to the songwriting style of Marc Bolan. Bolan's fanciful lyrics and poetry conjured up emotions and images but were not the typical "boy meets girl" lyrics of most pop music and the same can be said of le Bon's lyrical style. And finally, John Taylor has said that his original conception of Duran Duran was to combine the punch of the Sex Pistols with the danceable groove of Chic. All in all Duran came pretty close to this combination with a little Roxy Music and Japan thrown in for good measure. Duran Duran did make danceable music, but they were inspired by the "do it yourself" punk ethic, and what the founding members of Duran Duran aspired to be were pop stars like their heroes David Bowie and Bryan Ferry.
FRIENDS OF MINE
CALLING PLANET EARTH
Duran Duran's self-titled debut LP has a sound that is at once icy, almost ominous, but is also pop enough to be danceable and infectious. The darkest songs on the album are "Waiting for the Nightboat" - a song examining fears using water imagery, "Friends of Mine" - a song that seems to be about madness, "Tel Aviv" - an eerie soundscape. Still dark but somewhat more upbeat are "Is There Anyone Out There?" - a call for human contact, "Careless Memories" - a tale of love gone wrong. The two successful singles from the album are "Girls on Film" and "Planet Earth". Early singles...
Duran Duran became a phenomenon for several reasons but their music has always been the most important aspect of their appeal. Their energetic live shows, sensual and arty videos, and their perfect pop star qualities that recalled the innocence of the Beatles.
The press reaction to Duran Duran was one of envy and, for the most part, derision. The press in the UK especially had a reputation for being angry at any trend that they themselves did not create. And since Duran Duran and other futurist pop icons like Gary Numan and Adam Ant managed to get famous because of their own fan bases and grass roots appeal it ticked off the UK music press. Since the press didn't make Duran Duran famous they decided to try and destroy them with words. Also at this time in the UK there was a new kind of music press, glossy mags with lots of pictures that were meant for the growning number of teen music fans who were getting excited about these flashy, fun new groups who were popping up in the postpunk era. The serious music press felt that these new magazines were not important in the same way that they were in that they were for pretty bands with makeup on their faces and no politics in their music. Here is an excerpt from an article by Paul Morley, one of the most poisonous pens in the UK music in the early 1980's, about Duran Duran that was written in 1982. It pretty much sums up the ambivalence of the UK press towards Duran Duran:
Signing autographs in HMV record stores is a thing that has to be done, it seems. It's expected. It's now part of the day when you tour.At 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon at the Birmingham HMV in New Street, Duran Smile are squeezed behind some tables faced by scores of young girls and a handful of young boys holding out armfuls of record sleeves, posters, articles, tickets . . . Girls with blood-red lipstick, white faces, frizzed black hair, drowned dreamy eyes, wearing waves of black, take snaps with cheap cameras. Duran's handlers have trouble keeping the crowd orderly; Duran Teeth soak up the pleasure-pressure with warm pride, adoring to be adored.
It's easy to talk about it, and easy to imitate it - this grand dream of quality. It's harder to achieve, or enhance. But there's been no failures, no black spots, to suggest to Duran Ownway that their definition of show business, their entertainment aesthetic, is in any way flawed. There has been nothing to tell them that their judgement is distorted, their music and presentation obvious or lightweight. Just a rash of reviews from clever rock writers whose value is rapidly diminishing - Duran Precious are heroes of the movement away from reading the self-important words to looking at the pictures. As far as Duran Jelly are concerned, and its not far, pieces in the rock papers can be packed with sharp cynicism: as long as they're accompanied by clear photographs, preferably in colour, then that's their equivalent of a good review. Photographs can turn people on, words just get in the way. Words are an ordeal, photographs possibly a temptation.
Hours later Duran Din dish out what is paid for. Despite the day's troubles the Odeon is almost full: hundreds of Duran-kids kept off the street. Modern Duran are an '80s Osmond family: wholesome and kind of holy, but it really depends on how you define 'honest'. Hard working? Duran Damp are not timid or lazy. If you've never heard Magazine, Simple Minds, Japan . . . then Duran Fun Fun must be mighty and magnificent; Duran Flash in the Pan as a first love must be brilliant. I'm twice as old as most of the audience, months away from the pension, very possibly the wrong sex, and too familiar with the grand Magazine things . . . I even know about the very beginnings of Roxy Music.
It is simple to criticise the Duran energetic attraction, to moan about the implications and complications to Dilute to Taste, but no words can cripple its force, its promise, its prettiness. Only the Time of the Revolution can halt Duran's darned drive. Duran Efficacious are a symbol of the futility of attempting to control or organise the Pop Mass. It seeps everywhere. It saturates reason. The teen stars of today are smart: they've a lot to go on. Duran Fluke are classic effective innocents. They succeed where their elders and betters Simple Minds fail; they're pretty and they're not yet confused; they've reduced it all to entertainment instead of deciding or pretending that there are more 'important' things. They may celebrate superficiality; they may be the kind of encouragement they think their pop can be. It's all so easy for them. How can anyone tell them it's not? They won't shorten anyone's life. In the face of darkness they glow and grin with a happiness lighting up the lives of the little girls. As the fighting gets closer their resolve to escape gets firmer. "I want to thank you all for turning up," singer Simon says from the stage after a few songs. "We know it must have been difficult for you." The crowd, crushed up to the front and having one of the best times of their lives, scream as if for murder. Here we go . . . "I want you to remember what's happening out there has nothing to do with what's happening in here." He could as easily have said, let them eat smoked salmon.
Paul Morley's points out in his essay above, "A Salmon Screams", that even though people like himself may resent the success of the pretty Duran boys he has difficulty in hating them because they are so adored by their fans and they seem to adore being adored so much - living out the lives of their own rock heroes.
Here is another press excerpt from the New Musical Express, another serious music magainze. It again outlines the problems that the press had with Duran Duran - the press's obsession with their image and their fame. From the New Musical Express, 7th September, 1985
Noting the nation's obsession with pop, it's no surprise that the elected few are Puppies, that is, popstars-upwardly mobile, but also so-called for their extreme youth: they've barely lost the puppy fat from their cheek. And so the Puppies – the most prominent being DD, Spandau Ballet and Wham! – make up the imperial panorama of Britain. Like never before, at least not since the Beatles, Britain was made out to be a happy place, under the strict, but fair rule of a Victorian-principled prime minister, and tempered by the gaze of benign monarchs. In return for scoring the panorama with happy soundtracks, the Puppies have been rewarded with an eminent place init, their success stories in turn serving as an example to other of how to live.
Despite their youth and the vanity that goes with it, even the Puppies sense Fleet Street's absurd idea of proportion. “Of course, yes, it's way out of proportion that my haircut got front page space next to 30,000 people dying in an Indian disaster,” asserts Simon Le Bon, Duran Duran's singer. “It makes me quite sick. On the other hand it makes me quite incredulous. It's only music, for God's sake.”
Simon Le Bon bounds into one room of the President's suite at London's Hilton Hotel, where he and two other Duran Duran members are playing musical chairs with the press by way of promoting their offshoot group Arcadia. Presumably the maturity of the resulting music is why they've re-opened a dialogue with NME previously shut off after Paul Morley's interview in 1980. Before finding a proper resting place, Simon breezes over to the balcony, breathes deep and bellows “WANKERS!” into the howling wind for no reason except, perhaps, to remind us that Duran Duran once sold themselves as a cross between the Sex Pistols and Chic. Or maybe it's his way of expressing sheer elation at still being alive.
The mood of Roger Taylor is difficult to divine, disguised as it is behind that native Birmingham mix of resilience and resignation. His accent is the firmest reminder of where they come from. They should jealously guard it, for ultimately their sole claim to fame, once their music pales in the memory, might reside in their origins. Unless one counts the tack of Roy Wood, there was no local precedent for Duran Duran. "That was the thing when I joined Duran – I'd been working with such negative people, who believed they'd never get out of Brum – so it was great to be working with these completely positive people who were already talking about playing Madison Square Gardens, while they were still rehearsing in a squat!” (This exclamation mark's a lie. There is little to no modulation in the Birmingham accent.) “It was quite infectious to have that kind of optimism around, escapism maybe, but it's quite interesting that we were the only ones back then. I suppose.”
Earlier this summer, on a rare visit to my hometown, I played guide to a Japanese pilgrim who'd come to this wasteland solely to pay homage at the shrine of Duran Duran: the Rum Runner club, where it all began. Inside this inner sanctum, this fan's holy place, I check my bitterest cynical tendencies to ask myself: exactly what is it the little girls understand that the big boys refuse to see? Hasn't such a remark always been a ready excuse to preclude hurtful criticism, one capable of wounding those writers who haven't the courage to admit they do not belong here?
Undoubtedly the fanaticism of the fan converts the group of his/usually her dreams into something deeply private, at once bigger and beyond what the group actually is or does. The hyperbole that originally placed the group before her and helps hold it there is no longer significant. The outsider will never convince her that there is an abundance of better raw material for her dreams. She has already chosen. It is no use, for instance, in pointing out that Duran Duran's pedestrian musical notation is a pallid impression of rock with added discord oomph and adenoidal whine. Or that the little girls deserve better idols, ones with a greater sense of adventure. Water off a duck's back now, especially after Simon's display of courage.
“I knew we would get to the glamorous videos sooner or later,” groans Nick Rhodes, his voice a lilting hypnotic drone. “I wouldn't claim that Duran Duran came from the street or anything but nobody in the group came from wealthy families. When we started none of us had any money, we just wanted to do something, try and be successful. We always wanted to be successful." “And the whole thing about 'Rio' was it was a pisstake song about jetsetting. That's why we did a very tongue in cheek video about all the losers chasing after a girl and none of them impressing her. “We didn't think of the implications at the time, that people would call us spolit brats forever more.”
If they did, it was only because nothing Duran did countered the idea that they had one pride only: success and how to sustain it. It is not the apparent disinterest in the grim realities that surround them that disturbs as much as the shape of the fantasy they represent. It looks less like fantasy from here than ambition; that upwardly mobile one of wanting to be seen in the right places doing the right things at the right time. The proclaimed honesty of their endeavor is not in dispute; it does not, however, make it any more appealing to watch. As it is they've scaled the ladder as if it was laid out for them, arriving at this present stage where they easily fit into a broad panorama alongside Charles and Di at James Bond premiers. It would seem their supplying the theme song to A View To A Kill is a pinnacle of sorts for the group.
Nick Rhodes proudly plays the new Arcadia tape. It dabbles in Doors-like 'End' atmospherics, in a “mature” sort of way, the lyrics are noticeably more “advanced”(?). Like the Power Station project it signals the end of Duran Duran's dream moment – they bounced between the swoon of teen idols and saturation press coverage. When the moment subsides it'll leave them stranded on the plateau of their achievements such as they are, probably selling as many records as ever, not rising, not falling. The hard fact of the matter is: The thrill is gone. It went with the puppyfat.
Once again the perceptions of Duran Duran is what drives these journalists opinions - the music is the last thing that they want to write about - it's written off as soundtracks to something the only little girls understand.
Steve Sutherland, another infamous British music pressman, takes a look at Duran Duran in a Melody Maker article from April 7th 1984 in New York City when Duran Duran was conquering America and playing Madison Square Garden.
"I met Ronnie Wood too, and he knows all our names. I mean, imagine! One of the Rolling Stones knowing ALL our names!" Andy Taylor
Last July John told MM: “When we were starting, Nick and I actually envisaged what stage we should be at each year, worldwide . . . it wasn't just sitting and dreaming, it was Hammersmith by '82, Wembley by '83, Madison Square Gardens by '84. . .” Spot on schedule, America falls. Texas has just made them honorary citizens, the deep South got down and boogied and now these Madison Square Garden shows on March 19 and 21 are the first time ever that a band has debuted there with two solo shows. They say the 20,060 tickets for the first show sold out in three hours.
“It's the dream,” says Andy. “It's the dream you have when you're a kid. I think it's the most prestigious gig in the world - everyone's played there who's ever existed. I read about it in lan Hunter's 'Diary Of A Rock 'N' Roll Star' when I was 11 and I've wanted to play there for the last 12 years.”
The “Tiger Tiger” intro tape starts and I feel sick and giddy. The screaming's so loud, I'm suffering vertigo, my hearing's impaired and my balance is going. It's a cliché of course but over here everything's bigger if not better, screaming included. The fans are much like those at Wembley last winter, mostly girls, mostly young with the occasional boyfriend looking slightly embarrassed. But this is New York and brash as they come. A couple of cuties some 20 rows forward raise a banner. On one side it reads: “Hop On Me Froggie”. On the other, “Fuck Me, Roger”. Quaint . . . The show itself is bolder than ever, tanked up and tuned to the audience's taste. Simon dons a cap during “The Chauffeur” - a bit too Bowie “Boys Keep Swinging” for my liking - and he backflips from the horizontal onto his feet during the “Girls On Film” finale. Someone says at least it's better than his dancing. Cruel boy . . . They still employ the video screen above the stage so that everyone gets a fair eyeful, but this too, has developed along with the razamatazz. The filming's damn near choreographed now, the camera persons are aware of the onstage highlight every second of the show. At the end of “Save A Prayer” for instance, there's a neat little bit of Pavlovian titillation with Nick, pouting gorgeously side on into the lens holding back the smile he normally cracks and, in the last split second, he whips off his jacket to reveal a hint of nipple and an awful lot of shoulder peek-a-boo from a tastefully torn silk shirt. Those cheek bones, that breast! The Yanks, of course, go mental.
It's irritating sometimes, the way Duran play with history. We've seen this gross showmanship before. It's old hat with no humour but to them it conveniently represents an escape from dismal post-punk politico puritanism. It was beginning to depress me but I thought what the hell? They do it so well, where's the harm? (I'll have this out with Andy later). If Madison proved one thing though, it's that Duran are now unashamedly an American band working to American standards. It's what they do best and I can't see the British love-affair lasting at this rate. This over the top stuff doesn't pass for fun where I come from, it passes for insincerity. Still the show, as a show is stunning.
He laughs but he sounds sad and, as he fondles the bendy guitar that Ronnie Wood gave him - the one from the “She Was Hot” video - I recall how boredom in Japan drove John to smash up a hotel bathroom kung-fu Who style. Andy tries to cheer up, telling me how, to brighten up the general dragging monotony of the day, Simon had recently pretended to have slipped on the ice and turned up to a soundcheck with his arm in a sling . John had been for cancelling all the remaining shows the road crew realigned the set for a less athletic performance and the promoter was having a fit until, two hours later, Andy asked Simon how he was gonna induce the crowd to clap along with “Girls On Film” and Simon said “Like this,” flinging off the sling to the astonishment and then joy of the others. Reprisals, Andy insists, are in order.
He says he's not too worried that sales in “Blighty” weren't what they should have been for “Ragged Tiger” - he claims it did half a million in the first week alone so that can't be too bad and anyway, they'll be back soon to promote new material. I tell him that many other pop people I meet don't so much object to what Duran sound like these days as what they stand for and the way they go about things - their elitist attitude. “People like stars in America,” he snorts. “It's the American way. Everyone's a star in LA, you know.”
Upstairs, in the palm-lined, pine finished ante room, a TV crew is gasping as an interviewer asks John if his songs are sexist. He smirks and answers: “Oh course.” Downstairs among the hacks, Rog is less adept at the nonchalant wisecrack and simply slogs it out, circulating from table to table. “Oh, so you're against Thatcher?” The greaseball pursues him. “I'm not against her or for her,” Rog parries unconvincingly. “We never try to preach to our audience.” The platitude earns him 10 precious seconds of stoney silence but no one intervenes to bail him out and the greaseball won't take the hint. “Well, in a couple of magazines you've admitted you're all middleclass kids who believe in basic conservatism.” “We've never said that, ever “Rog replies, affecting a semblance of authoritative calm to impress the gaggle of girls from the teenybop comics who are squirming with embarrassment. All they want to know is who does his hair. “We never mention politics,” he continues with a snarl that suggests he'd like to pummel the greaseball stupid in some dark alley. “If you show me the quotes, I'll answer you but I don't believe we've ever said anything like that.”
An uneasy giggle breaks out among the teenies; a kind of nervous applause. The greaseball starts plopping sweat onto the table. “Well, in the Face or whatever, Simon Le Bon said he's from a basically conservative middle class background which is great . . . I mean, I've got no argument with him but...” Simon's back at the hotel nursing his voice but Rog spots the greaseball dropping his guard and steams in. “Okay. He's speaking for himself. He's not speaking for me. I'm from the working class. My dad worked in a car factory all his life.” “So how do you feel about basic politics at the moment?” the greaseball retaliates, speared by 20 looks that dearly wish they could kill. “I don't really want to talk about politics particularly,” Rog replies, pulling rank. “We've got a very young audience and I don't see why we should influence their political views.” Rog won't surrender his private life; he's here as a band representative and that's all.
Suddenly all the decorum has gone and the greaseball clenches his fists in reply: “Well, what about your videos? The . . . er, Snake one, the one in which, what I presume is happening, I might be wrong”(he emphasises this last bit in mockery) “is that within a socialist communist society, an individual is trying to work his way into a form of free society.” The greaseball looks smug but Rog thinks he has him: “What d'you mean? The 'New Moon On Monday' video?” He snorts in an attempt to discredit the guy as some fanatical politico weirdo who's too deranged to have done his homework. “Uh huh,” the greaseball grunts. “Well, that's more about symbolism “ Rog follows through. “It's more about colour breaking through darkness which is what the band has always been about . . .” His voice trails off. How come when Nick says something like that it sounds kinda arty and people believe him? Poor old Rog. One of Simon's snooty stares would have carried this off no problem, but the drummer's fast losing face. “But the society in the video is communist,” the greaseball presses home his advantage. “Not really,” Rog snaps. “It could have been any society.” His voice is bitter and desperate with sarcasm. Where the hell are all the bodyguards now that he needs them. Watching over John like hawks I'll bet.
“So what you're basically saying,” the greaseball drones on in an irritatingly conceited manner; “is that Duran Duran aren't about that, they're about entertainment. “He spits our this last word like he's chewing something rotten. “YEAH” Rog replies with a “so what!” implied. “We're about colour and entertainment and drab, boring things.” He checks himself. He hadn't meant that exactly. This creep's beginning to get to him.
“You've been compared to The Monkees,” the greaseball scoffs. “That's absolutely ridiculous,” Rog spits back. “You've been compared to The Beatles too,” one of the girls ventures nervously. “Yeah,” Rog smiles at her. “We've been compared to just about everybody.” “The Beatles is ridiculous,” the greaseball pronounces. “The Monkees . . . maybe possible.” “NO!” Rog insists. “I don't think so.” The angel of mercy pipes up again: “You said you were striving for success. Now you've got it, what next?”
“There's always another goal,” Rog rattles off, thankful to be back on auto-pilot. “If there wasn't, we'd just knock it on the head. We still haven't had a number one in America. There are some things on the last album were not happy with . . .” “So you're still chasing the tiger?”, she asks. Rog gulps visibly, aghast at the inanity. “Uh . . . yeah . . . of course . . we're still chasing it.” “Has the tiger started chasing you?” another girl asks. “Uh . . . no . . . not yet anyway.” “Excuse me.” It's the greaseball again. “Do you think it's a little . . . uh . . . silly that you have to explain yourself in that, say in '63, '62, '61 no explanation was needed; it was just entertainment?” “Yeah,” snarls Rog. “I hate it. I hate having to justify myself all the time . . . particularly to people like you!” He scrapes his chair back away from the table, rises abruptly and strides away. The greaseball's gloating. He spies Nick. “Next . . .” he slobbers. “Let's have a blonde.”
“The Reflex” comes pumping through the ghetto-blaster Andy bought in Japan and it sounds like nothing else on earth. Vocals stutter, scratch and slide, drum-beats explode like bombs, guitar parts rip through the fabric of the song like bullets through a body, the double chorus is warped all over the place. This is the new, remixed “The Reflex”, Duran Duran's next single. “John! John! I love you John!” A solitary girl has been chasing the limo down East 22nd street and has caught up at the lights. John tantalises her by pressing a button and slightly lowering the automatic window. Nick sticks his head out of the skylight and ducks it back in as the girl makes a lunge. “Ha ha! The wind up boys!” The limo pulls off and Nick settles back into the Madison post-mortem. “I thought it was a thrill personally, I enjoyed it. We were actually quite tense for the first time in ages.” “I got worse,” John admits, “By the end, I was going 'Oh God, I just wanna get off and say I've done it'.” “John! John” I love you John!” The girl's there again, sobbing hysterically. “This is starting to get a bit embarrassing,” says John. “Let's lose this girl shall we driver, because she's gonna get herself killed in a minute. Let's blast it down this bit.” The limon duly accelerates and the girl falls to her knees with a hideous wail. “Oh God, I think she just died anyway,” John chuckles. “Heart attack”.
A Record Mirror article from 1983 examines the Duran Duran dilemma with the press including John Taylor's insights on the matter, excerpts below:
All up, it sounds pretty good for a group of boys that couldn't play a note five years ago. For that matter, it's worth remembering that four members of Duran Duran were receiving social security three years ago. Today they're very rich young men.
Success has undoubtedly brought its share of problems for the band. If they can hardly complain about their fan's devotion, nurtured as it has been in classic Teen Sensation style, they have been the target of often outlandish media speculation and some very malicious criticism. As individuals they've had to contend with the sort of self-doubt experienced by members of most successful groups ("The time is rapidly approaching," says Taylor, "when we'll all have to prove that we can function successfully outside the group"). In an era when pop music's parameters have been radically redefined to include androgynous figures such as Phil Oakey, Annie Lennox and Boy George, Duran Duran are attacked by critics and peers alike for being-depending on who you read-sexist, shallow, simplistic and artistically worthless. They've been accused of plundering third-world culture for their videos, and for being boringly heterosexual. Returning home to England after a particularly long and gruelling tour, one member of Duran Duran found himself reading an English rock magazine's report on the very subject. "The worst thing about their success," wrote the reporter, "is that they don't deserve a penny of it."
"I think part of the problem, in England at least, is that we've never been part of a social scene whereby we were mingling with New Musical Express reporters. I think if they knew us as people, and knew that we're genuine and weren't put together by a record company, then they might not be so critical. We're not the shallow pop group that people think of us as, although we're undoubtedly a pop group. We've always had one or two songs on each album, which are a bit obscure, which we didn't regard as potential singles, and I would contend that we've never made really obvious or trite pop music. We like pop music, but as in Roxy Music's 'Virginia Plain,' not as in 'Karma Chameleon'. That, to me, is too obvious."
Because of their extraordinary success (everywhere else but America it was virtually instantaneous) Duran Duran express strong feelings about their credibility. Young men thrust into the limelight before they had formulated any really strong attitudes towards music or life, they're beginning to realise the possibility that they are only taken absolutely seriously by very young girls. As adults, this disturbs them; they perceive the need to attract a broader, older audience.
"One of our biggest annoyances is that people seem scared or embarrassed to like Duran Duran or to come to one of our concerts. I find it a fairly alarming state of affairs when people are getting about saying 'Don't tell anyone I said so, but I quite like Duran Duran.' I don't suppose there's a lot you can do about it, except there are certain moves you can make. This new album is one of them."
Saying more? The self-pronounced Band Without a Message? Asked if it annoys him that Duran Duran are rarely asked about anything more demanding that the locale of a film clip or the name of a record, Taylor is adamant in his reply. "I find it annoying, damn annoying. I don't mean that we'd like to spread our views about the political situation in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, but I really love those interviews with people like Pete Townshend where they ask him what he thinks of certain issues. Nobody asks us those questions, so they think we're unable to think on any level other than fourteen year-old girls. While I instinctively don't want Duran Duran to be associated with any sort of political preaching, it'd be nice to talk about other things.
"If we've tried to say or do anything it's been to try and dissipate some of the pessimism and nihilism that existed in Britain at the time we started and which still exists today. We've been a force of positivism, but not in the style of Wham! or Paul Weller. We don't have to say, 'Hey! Get off that chair and do it!' because we've done it, and everyone can see that for themselves. We're the perfect example of a group of people who have worked themselves into a fortunate position by being positive and aiming for something big."
Duran Duran are more than the acceptable face of the New Wave; in terms of that movement, they complete an ideological full circle. Unlike rock heroes like Pete Townsend, they're rich without guilt. They're the ultimate product of Thatcherism, a pop group that not only demonstrates but verbally expounds the value of free enterprise in the midst of the worst depression in the history of Britain.
"I don't really think there's anything constructive about marching on the Houses of Parliament or, you know, breaking down the walls of Babylon. I think we're more in favour of free enterprise. Bands like the Jam and the Clash seem to encourage these sort of tribal movements, this gang mentality, and I don't like it. It seems to me that the only people getting anything out of these movements are the Paul Weller's and the Joe Strummers, who are, as individuals, getting somewhere. I'd say to anyone following these bands that they could each do the same things themselves. But we're not a band that says do this or do that. We're a band that says do what you want."
And yes, John Taylor did read what Boy George said about the band (" . . . the difference between Culture Club and Duran Duran is that audience participation is a very important part of our show . . .") in these pages recently. "I'd rather not criticise him in return", laughs an unruffled Taylor, "but I can't say I've ever read a favourable live review for Culture Club-in fact I've heard they're terrible live. What I would say is that I think we've done a few more concerts than they have. Sure, we've never really been a club band, and we've never geared ourselves to that kind of atmosphere. We're a concert band with what I would consider to be a healthy amount of interaction with out audience. I don't know if Boy George would call 20,000 people in Birmingham singing along to 'Save A Prayer' audience participation. But I would."
These articles give an idea of the extent of Duran Duran's fame and how they were perceived by the critical media.
1985 was the pinnacle of Duran Duran's fame. It saw the fruition of the more mature musical side projects Powerstation and Arcadia, Band Aid, Live Aid, the #1 hit A View to a Kill. After this point it their fame would decline and with it new evolutions of what Duran Duran was all about.
Duran Duran had conquered America in 1983 and ruled it in 1984. Rolling Stone had made them cover boys although the article itself was derisive. The Wild Boys single that was #1 in 1984 was strange, surreal, science fiction and the epitome of the new, bizarre postpunk pop that had taken over the airwaves in the 1980's. Top ten hits in previous decades had for the most part been soft ballads or easy going grocerystore friendly tunes. The early 1980's saw an emergence of incredibly colorful, unique and punchy songs reach the top of the charts and Duran Duran's music was amongst the most interesting. British ingenuity reaching America's heartland.
1985 was quite a year for pop music, I doubt there will ever be another event of the magnitude of Live Aid, everyone from Mick Jagger to a reformed Led Zeppelin played Live Aid. The biggest band in the world at the time was Duran Duran - that moment of power and sway would never again be matched by the group but it was already the end of the classic Duran Duran era. The dream of these five young men from England had been achieved. Where to go from there?
Notorious was produced by Nile Rodgers and can be called the plastic soul period of Duran Duran. It also was the first album of the threesome Duran. Andy Taylor went onto do solo work and Roger Taylor left the music business. It could be said that Simon, Nick and John were always the driving members of the group to begin with and in a sense this makes the Notorious period the most crystallized Duran yet. The album itself was murky as r&b/funk, but the lyrics and Simons singing were better than ever before. The glamorous world of London nights, windswept moors, and encrusted elegance were still there - as were Simon's snooty stare and Nick's nose in the air. The Three to Get Ready documentary of this time is the best look at what Duran was going through in adjusting to a new musical world - one where they weren't the biggest band in the world. Three to get Ready is a fascinating look behind the surface of the music business at the hard work and conflict that go into putting out the promotion to get your album to sell. Notorious the title track may be one of the best Duran songs ever - its the Wild Boys as unrepentant as ever ("thats why I done it again") and striking back at their critics.
Big Thing was an even more mature work for Duran Duran, one that borrowed from Bowie's Low, dance music on side one and ethereal ballads on side two. Big Thing's songs had more individuality and distinctiveness than Notorious. This period seemed to be a struggle for Duran though with Simon putting on some weight, John looking terribly coked out and thin and record sales dropping. The playfully cynical lyrics of I Don't Want Your Love made it an intelligent club song, and the eerie All She Wants Is was Duran sexiness and innuendo at its finest. One of Duran's most poignant ballads was also on this album, Do You Believe in Shame? Warren Cuccurullo, the new guitarist, was finding his own sound here and adding a new more experimental edge to Duran's sound.
Decade was a greatest hits compilation that the band released to complete the decade. The 1990's were to be a decade of change, of ups and downs fo the band.
Liberty was the first Duran album of the new decade. Although the album is accomplished and as mature as the band had yet released an audience was not there to receive it. The low sales were disappointing for the band and they did not tour the record because John Taylor was not happy with the way that it had turned out.
WILD BOYS IN AN ORDINARY WORLD
The success of the Ordinary World single in 1993 and Duran Duran's selftitled 1993 album (also called The Wedding Album) were quite extraordinary. Ordinary World took off on radio because of caller requests for it and it became a #1 smash hit for Duran Duran. The song, not a video to a song, was what struck home and created a whole new generation of Duran Duran fans. The album went platinum and the subsequent tour was a massive success. This came seven years after Duran Duran's height and was possibly the most exciting time ever for the band. Simon's voice had matured and sounded scratchier, sexier and more emotive. The bands playing was at its peak - Duran Duran's ultimate sound is here on this album.
Thank You was Duran's followup to the Wedding Album and unfortunately it was not well received among critics or fans. In paying tribute to their musical heroes Duran was doing what Bowie and Ferry had done in the early 1970's by putting out covers albums (Ferry and Bowie being models for Duran it isn't suprising that they'd do the same) but misguided choices like "Ball of Confusion", "911 is a Joke" and "Lay Lady Lay" helped to bring down an album that had some good work on it (notably Zeppelin's "Thank You", the Doors' "Crystal Ship" and Lou Reed's "Perfect Day". By fumbling the followup to the Wedding Album Duran lost their momentum and one of their founding members.
John Taylor left Duran Duran in 1996 and ventured out on a solo career. With John's departure a major part of their special sound left with him - those Chic-inspired bass riffs were gone as was the honest, jaunty personality of the last of the Taylor boys.
Medazzaland was the first Duran album without John. Duran was grappling with a more updated sound and succeeded on some tracks, particularly the incredible "Electric Barbarella", "Out of My Mind", and "Big Bang Generation". Sales for Medazzaland were as disappointing as Liberty though.
Pop Trash did not sell as well as it should have considering how mature and interesting the music on the album was. Hollywood Records did even less for promoting it than Capitol Records had on Medazzaland,. Duran Duran made several US tv appearances but it was not enough to boost sales. The tour in 1999 was a great grassroots way to drum up publicity, and it will remain to be seen whether the DD2K tour in 2000 will do the same. The album itself was praised by some critics while the image of Duran Duran still annoyed enough reviewers that they gave it bad reviews (talk about image fixation! The media cannot forgive or forget Duran Duran for their success) Whether Duran Duran fans from the 80's will embrace it seems doubtful. The lyrics are for the most part not Simons and it makes the album feel different. The words ar Nicks - his obsession with pop art, Warhol, his Enoesque fixation on turning trash into art (hence Pop Trash!) is in overdrive. While this overly arty and wink-wink style is very Duran the poetry of Simon's lyrics are missing. While there are sad and lovely songs on the album (courtesy of Warren, the other half of TV Mania) the straightforward emotional appeal of these songs is not on par with le Bon's obscure Jim Morrison poetry
A Little Megalomania becomes you evidently...
how will pop history remember Duran Duran? Well, fortunately for all of their fans, in 2002 the band - all original five members - reformed to start recording new music together. In 2003 they began a world tour in Japan which took them all over the world, including the US and the UK, to play their new songs and their classics to their still enthusiastic fan base. It's been 20 years since the height of the 80's and it's the perfect time for the biggest band of the time to come back for a reunion. I think that Duran Duran will be remembered in pop culture for being the quintessential rock group of the time period that they were famous in, the 80's. They were the band that melded the art rock of Bowie and Roxy with dance music and made it big. No UK band since has done the same. The time of exotic British boys making great music is sadly gone, but what a time it was! And how nice to see and hear the fabulous boys from Birmingham still making that beautiful pop music!