One of the highlights of 1981 was the introduction of a little cable station called MTV. It’s only fitting that one of the biggest success stories thanks to the onset of the music video was Duran Duran, figuring as their first album debuted in the same year. So, how did Duran Duran make themselves famous with a video? Why, they made it unairable and controversial thanks to a bunch of nudity, that’s how! Duran Duran set the standard for the new romantic movement, creating songs based almost entirely around synthesizer and bass while sporting poofy clothes and gravity-defying hair. Posters of every member, individually or as a group, adorned teenage girls’ walls, including those of my sister. There was no denying the power of Duran Duran, girls wanted to be with them, boys wanted to be them. Out of all of their albums, only their first two have stood the test of time, and it was the first, self-titled album, that proved to be the blueprint for the bevy of 80’s knockoffs out there today.
Duran Duran, or D-squared as the teens used to call them, defined themselves as a mix between the Sex Pistols and Chic. Throw in equal bits of David Bowie and Roxy Music and you’ll come a little closer to what Duran Duran are all about. It’s safe to say that with no Duran Duran, there would be no Killers, VHS or Beta, or Bravery. So, should we be praising them or vilifying them? You can’t blame the original for the sins of the followers, and Duran Duran’s first album is so much better than those of their acolytes, that one wonders how it couldn’t be matched. The centerpiece of Duran Duran is “Planet Earth.” To this day it remains one of their most accomplished songs. The sci-fi feel of that song and follower “Is There Anyone Out There” practically pay specific homage to Bowie, John Taylor’s bassline in the latter is nearly lifted from “Ashes to Ashes.” Not to mention the fact that they named themselves after the villain in the sci-fi softcore porn flick, Barbarella.
“Girls on Film” is, of course, the other standout track, the one with the racy video featuring nude women boxing and wrestling. Is it any wonder why pubescent boys liked them as much as the girls? Asking your parents to rent you the VHS copy of Duran’s videos was a lot easier than trying to get your hands on a porno or Playboy. The song could or could not be about a porno shoot, with words taking on double entendre status throughout. “Night Boat” is one of my personal favorites, a bit darker than the rest of the poppy new wave hits. There’s something sinister about this song, even with such simple lyrics. All of the members play off each other brilliantly in this song, which could be about dreams or death. In the video Simon quotes from Romeo & Juliet, referencing Queen Mab, the bringer of dreams. But is the boat he’s awaiting the boat for the river Styx? A later version of the same album added one more song, the huge hit “Is There Something I Should Know?” The song was obviously catchy and memorable, but I still have a hard time with the lyric, “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war.”
The three Taylors, vertically challenged guitarist Andy, pre-neuroses drummer Roger, and the angular jawed pretty boy bassist John, joined with songwriter / keyboardist Nick Rhodes and whining singer Simon LeBon to create one of the most easily marketable bands in pop history. Girls knew them all by name, and eventually, the quality of the music didn’t seem to matter. But for the first few releases it was all about the music and the look. The dream couldn’t last, and eventually the band split into Arcadia and Power Station. They reformed many times after, never really reaching the same heights they once did. But until then, they’d always have Rio…
To Be Continued….