A Little Megalomania – a look at duran duran in pop music history by Harlowgold

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Little 

Megalomania


Wise on a birthday party in a world full of surprising fireworks And sudden silence shhh Lying on a strangers bed the new day breaks like a speeding train or an old friend Ever expected but never knocking Holding your own in a battered car all night parties cocktail bars And smile when the butterfly escapes the killing jar Sure eyes awake before the dancing is over wise or naked in secret Oktober Freefall on a windy morning shore nothing but a fading track of footsteps Could prove that you never been there Spoken on a cotton cloud like the sound of gunshot taken by the wind And lost in distant thunder racing on a shining plain And tomorrow you’ll be content to watch as the lightning plays along the wires and you’ll wonder Sure eyes awake before the dancing is over wise or naked in secret Oktober Sure eyes awake before the dancing is over wise or naked in secret oktober

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.

TV SOUND

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…

New Wave Band Duran Duran

1981 — Members of Duran Duran are, from left: Simon Le Bon (vocals), John Taylor (bass), Andy Taylor (guitar), Nick Rhodes (keyboards), Rodger Taylor (drums). — Image by © Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

…FAME

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 (and yes, Paul Morley still hates Duran Duran).  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.”

tumblr_mswdrnzW4c1szz4w0o1_1280

These articles above 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?

THE FLAME

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 for 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.

COME UNDONE

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

DURAN DURAN

A Little Megalomania
becomes you evidently…

POP TRASH

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!

 Boys on Film, My Duran Duran Video List for Trades

Since I wrote this in 2002, the band has continued to be prolific in their musical output! I love two of their recent albums (ASTRONAUT and ALL YOU NEED IS NOW) and feel so-so about the other two (RED-CARPET MASSACRE and PAPER GODS). Long Live Duran Duran!

ASTRONAUT (2004)

RED CARPET MASSACRE (2007)

ALL YOU NEED IS NOW (2010)

PAPER GODS (2015)

 

 

 

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