The band that most surely have come closest to being The Beatles of their day, since (like The Beatles) they were a blonde five-piece from Birmingham . . . er.
Their image of being a teeny bopper band whose fans were all under ten did not stop their meteoric rise to stardom. Formed in Birmingham, England, in 1978 by keyboard player Nick Rhodes (real name Nicholas Bates), bassist John Taylor, singer Stephen Duffy and clarinet player, Simon Colley, they took their name from cult space movie Barbarella (1967).
The following year, Andy Wickett replaced Duffy (who went on to a briefly successful solo career as Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy) and Roger Taylor (no relation to John) joined on drums, replacing the rhythm box the group had used to date.
They recruited Andy Taylor (no relation to John or Roger, believe it or not) via an ad in Melody Maker, and London vocalist Simon John Charles Le Bon finally entered the fray as front man in spring 1980.
After a UK tour supporting Hazel O’Connor, the band was snapped up by EMI initiating their manicured career in early 1981 with Planet Earth.
The toast of the London cognoscenti, the extravagantly coiffured (and even more outlandishly attired) poseurs hit the Top 10 as the scene that perpetrated one of the worst fashion crimes in history (legwarmers) stepped up a gear.
Later that summer, an eponymous debut album and the follow-up single, Girls On Film, confirmed the band’s synth-powered pretensions with lashings of attitude and mascara.
Riding in on the floppy fringe of the New Romantic zeitgeist, the album made the UK top three and, with the help of heavy MTV rotation for the Hungry Like The Wolf video, eventually the US Top Ten. The latter track was a transatlantic top five and previewed the follow-up set, Rio (1982).
By this point the band’s fan base had grown from an arty clique to hordes of screaming girlies, ensuring massive success for Save A Prayer and the whining Is There Something I Should Know?. Although the latter track wasn’t included on the album, it did give the band their first UK #1.
With continuing support from MTV in the US, Duran Duran were also churning out ever more flamboyant videos to keep the Yanks happy.
A vague concept affair, Seven And The Ragged Tiger (1983) came in for a bit of a critical pasting, although the hits continued apace with the dodgy Union Of The Snake and transatlantic #1 The Reflex – a quintessential 80s effort complete with stuttering vocals, and a video famous for its water-coming-out-of-the-screen trickery – brilliant. In fact, Duran Duran couldn’t have been more 80s if they had shot JR at Live Aid.
The Zenith of their bombastic heydey came with Wild Boys, a classic slice of white nouveau funk with added rhythmic oomph courtesy of Nile Rogers. The single made #2 in Britain and America, preceding the universally panned live effort Arena (1984).
A James Bond theme tune, for the film A View To A Kill, (another US #1) nicely rounded off the first chapter in the band’s career as the various members took time out to indulge themselves in solo projects.
The less said about Arcadia the better, while the marginally more entertaining Power Station (with Robert Palmer) released an eponymous album (1985) of sterile funk rock, hitting the UK Top 10 with Some Like It Hot and a cover of the T. Rex tune Get It On.
Duran Duran eventually returned in late 1986 (minus Andy and Roger) with Notorious (1986), narrowly missing the top of the American charts. On the ‘Notorious’ tour of 1987, fans got a first glimpse of Warren Cuccurullo, a New York-based guitarist who filled in for Andy.
But the bubble had burst and none of the next three albums shifted too many copies and the critics’ knives were out – Big Thing (1989) and Liberty (1990) became increasingly less interesting . . .
Despite the relative success of the single Ordinary World, Duran Duran’s next album, Duran Duran – also known as ‘The Wedding Album’ (bedecked as it was with wedding photos of the band members’ parents) – saw a brief glimmer of hope, before the ill-advised covers album Thank You in 1994.
John Taylor left the band in 1997 to form his own record label, leaving the band as a three-piece. More video scandal followed in 1997 for the single Electric Barbarella from the album Medazzaland. The video showed the band buying a robot maid who works for them around the house, serving drinks and cleaning up – before her batteries run low and she wrecks the place.
MTV pulled it, saying it was in bad taste and sexually explicit. The band edited the video, adding cursors and poking fun at cybersex sites, but nobody cared.
Another greatest hits album (Greatest) was released, but everyone already had Decade (1990), and nobody liked any of the songs released after then anyway. The end.
Oliver Guy Watts
Simon Le Bon