My oldest son Graham loves to say that Duran Duran was The Beatles of the Eighties. Since he has such a dry and sly sense of humor, I never can tell whether he really thinks that or is making a joke. Regardless of his opinion, I do not think I am speaking in hyperbole when I say that Duran Duran was huge between the years of 1982 and 1985. They were the first new wave band to really transcend MTV’s influence as they became the dreams of girls around the world. Heck, I even remember some girls’ dorm rooms that had posters of the band hanging up. Even as they were very popular, I think The Beatles comparison is a little much, even an overstatement of their impact. Could they have been more like the Paul Revere & the Raiders of the Eighties? That may be closer in that Paul’s band had a big influence on punk rock, garage rock and power pop throughout the Eighties and Nineties, while Duran Duran’s influence can be felt in the music of such modern day artists as The Killers and The 1975.
Personally, I was grabbed by Duran Duran in much the same manner that the rest of you who are my age were, by MTV. Their videos were mind-blowing romps through exotic tropical locales in much the same manner that Pink Floyd had stretched the recording nature of the studio while making Dark Side of the Moon. The Durans exploited the locales with beautiful models all the while they were wearing pastel-colored suits that all predicted the lifestyle to come. No longer we rock artists wearing jeans with scuzzy T-shirts and long stringy hair and crazy facial hair. Now, Duran Duran was well groomed and good-looking. But what separated them from the Haircut 100s of the world, was that these guys were making rock music that you could dance to.
Let’s begin with their 1982 album Rio. This album is something of a classic now. Maybe not the sense that London Calling or Purple Rain is, but it was musically altering at the time. The album kicks off with the title song, “Rio”, which was a hit in its own right. In this song, you hear the musical influence that Chic had on the band in its rhythm guitar and bass sound. But, it also utilized a keyboard sound that was unique in that it was layered right on top of the guitar during the verses. The other distinguishing sound was that of the squawking saxophone sound that came right out of Roxy Music. What new wave band dared to include a sax while rocking out? Well, more and more artists will, but they seemed to be the first.
With my attention grabbed, it was another couple of songs before I was knocked over again by a song: “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Beginning with that iconic female giggle, the song was one hook after another. Now, we were being treated to the use of electronic drums throughout the whole song, that mixed the organic with the synthetic. Then, you get those sung “Do-do-do-tood-do”s, and I was hooked. But, when it was coupled with the video of beautiful women “hunting” the guys in the band, and, well, what guy didn’t want to be in the band?
Then, there were the last two songs on the album, “Save a Prayer” and “The Chauffeur”. With “Save a Prayer”, the guys had created a yearning ballad that was based upon John Taylor’s bass playing. It is a beautiful yet haunting song that cries out for the old use of a lighter while it is played live in concert. Plus, it was romantic enough to be a great slow dance song, the kind that girls love.
And, after the band finishes their big ballad, they change directions again to show off their best Bowie effect on the strange “The Chauffeur”. The song begins as a Nick Rhodes synthesizer workout, while singer Simon Le Bon displays his vocal chops. When the band kicks in, the haunting mood never leaves. The song slowly pulls you in until you realize that maybe, just maybe, Duran Duran HAD been slightly influenced by Pink Floyd. This song was an unusual but, dare I say, brave way to end the album.
So, was Duran Duran The Beatles of the Eighties? No. They were simply Duran Duran. But, as I re-evaluate their career I am beginning to think they deserve a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If you had asked me back in 1984 if I would have believed that, I would have said no way. But, when you take the greatness of their Rio album plus all of their terrific singles, you have one pretty awesome legacy from Duran Duran.