As I stated earlier this week, 1982 was the year MTV hit my boring life here in Central Indiana. Shortly after that Fourth of July weekend blowout at the frat house up at Ball State, complete with a bottle rocket fight in the house, Mom’s house cable service had a couple of changes in the programming, including MTV! That meant that I had a couple of weeks of MTV programming at Mom’s house before going back to Ball State after Labor Day. Now, I did not spend a full 24 hours watching the programming, but I did spend many hours switching between it, ESPN’s Sports Center and CNN news. This cable thing was a whole new world of programming. I could flip on the USA Network to caught old SNL shows or go get my Nina Blackwell fix on MTV.
Now, the full impact of MTV on a college campus was not realized until Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video was released. MTV would have the countdown clock on the screen until it would be played, so the TV would be on at a party, but my mixtapes would keep things going until “Thriller” came on. Then, the “fellowshipping,” as we called it, would stop so everyone could watch the video. But, every time the fellowshipping would start over, I made sure that the first song back would either be Duran Duran’s “Hungry like the Wolf” or “Rio,” mainly because the chicks dug D-squared!
That fall, Duran Duran was just catching on with the college crowd but had not hit with the high schoolers yet. But, after winter break, as 1983 began, it seemed as all the young ladies in the accompanying dorms came back with Duran Duran posters for their dormitory room walls. I cannot emphasize how all of sudden those guys’ images were EVERYWHERE! And, some of the guys on this conservative campus were beginning to dress like them too. And, yes, I had parachute pants and a couple of DD-inspired outfits. It was a fun time.
I once read in a magazine that Duran Duran’s original intent for their sound was to become a hybrid of the Sex Pistols and Chic. By the time of “The Reflex” Nile Rodgers remix single’s 1984 release, the band finally attained that level. Bassist John Taylor had become a funky beast with his playing, while guitarist Andy Taylor was on his way to becoming something of a pop/rock guitar god. Like all artists coming out of the UK at the time, Duran Duran was heavily influenced by David Bowie and Roxy Music, thus the band’s inclusion in the New Romantic movement in the early-Eighties. But, the band was able to transcend that sub-genre through sheer will. That, and a little video magic.
Now, bare with me a bit, but Duran Duran were the Pink Floyd of the video age. You know how Pink Floyd sonically changed the sound of the Seventies with their clever use of sound effects and seguing techniques on Dark Side of the Moon? Well, Double-D did similar things with music videos, from the use of glamorous models, filming in exotic locations and utilizing mini-musical movie scripts. They were able to make their terrific music, which seemed to explode from your speakers, to become riveting visuals on your television set. After those early Duran Duran videos, every other artist was playing catch up. But, man, Duran Duran’s ability to combine terrific modern pop/rock/dance music with the visual median was their genius. And, that my friends, is why Duran Duran is so very important to the history of rock music and deserve their place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But, most importantly, the band continues to create terrific music to this day. As a matter of fact, their latest album, Paper Gods, released in 2015, stands alongside Rio as one of their finest albums.
So, in an effort to keep these icons of the Eighties in the public’s mind, here are my 20 favorite Duran Duran songs.
20. “Paper Gods (featuring Mr. Hudson)” (Paper Gods, 2015)
19. “Come Undone” (Duran Duran (The Wedding Album), 1993)
18. “All She Wants” (Big Thing, 1988)
17. “New Moon on Monday” (Seven and the Ragged Tiger, 1983)
16. “A View to a Kill” (A View to a Kill OST, 1985)
15. “Skin Trade” (Notorious, 1986)
14. “Girls on Film” (Duran Duran, 1981)
13. “Union of the Snake” (Seven and the Ragged Tiger, 1983)
12. “Electric Barbarella” (Medazzaland, 1997)
11. “All You Need Is Now” (All You Need Is Now, 2010)
10. “Pressure Off (featuring Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers)” (Paper Gods, 2015). What a great late-career single. Too bad Gen Y doesn’t know great music when they hear it.
9. “Rio” (Rio, 1982). Any song that has a sax in it will ALWAYS get my attention. It’s a great song but an even better video.
8. “Wild Boys” (Arena, 1984). This is Duran Duran at their creative peak, both sonically and visually, even though I still don’t understand the whole thing. Plus, John Taylor’s bass is so funky.
7. “Save a Prayer” (Rio, 1982). This is a forerunner to INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart,” both being beautiful, Roxy Music inspired ballads. This is something that Duran Duran is extremely underrated for doing: moody, sexy slow songs.
6. “Is There Something I Should Know?” (Non-album single, 1983). So, Rio had just exploded in the States, so the boys come back with one of their toughest-sounding singles as a stopgap before the release of their next album. This is just one great pop single.
5. “Hungry like the Wolf” (Rio, 1982). This is the single that allowed the boys to take hold of America. This song is the band’s calling card. And, the video alone should get this band in the RRHOF. Together, this is one sexy package deal.
4. “Notorious” (Notorious, 1986). At this point, Duran Duran had been reduced to a trio. Yet, I contend this album is truly a lost classic. Just listen to this song and you will hear how John Taylor had developed into the second coming of Bernard Edwards, Chic’s late bassist.
3. “Ordinary World” (Duran Duran (The Wedding Album), 1993). Just as grunge was about to make Duran Duran an Eighties relic, along comes another one of their great ballads that only “Save a Prayer” could have predicted.
2. “The Chauffeur” (Rio, 1982). This song is the last one on the Rio album, was never released as a single yet remains the beating heart of the Rio album. It is a masterpiece of moody, icy synthpop that utilizes the new technology of the day, such as samples and loops. This is the fruition of Kraftwerk’s influence on popular music. Once you hear it, you realize where the American band Berlin got their whole sound.
1. “The Reflex” (Seven and the Ragged Tiger, 1983). I should emphasize that I prefer the single remix of the song that Nile Rodgers did. The album cut is okay, but the remix is so much more fun. Plus, the video, just a “live” performance clip, is so compelling with its quick jumps that continues to ripple through videos and movies to the very day.