Duran Duran epitomized the sleek, fashionable side of new wave, specializing in danceable, synthesized pop delivered with visual flair — a talent crystallized in a series of groundbreaking music videos from the early 1980s. The group had the good fortune to deliver their debut album in 1981, the same year MTV began broadcasting, and their success was intertwined: Duran Duran gave the network clever, cinematic clips for “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” which MTV played ceaselessly, helping to turn the Birmingham, England-based band into global superstars. Between 1982 and 1985, the band were fixtures on the British and American charts, with “Is There Something I Should Know?,” “Union of the Snake,” “The Wild Boys” and the James Bond theme “A View to A Kill” reaching the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic. Unlike many of their new wave peers, Duran Duran managed to sustain a career that lasted for decades, withstanding a shifting lineup — the duo of keyboardist Nick Rhodes and vocalist Simon Le Bon were the only two members to stay with the group throughout the years — and changes in musical fashion. The group forged an alliance with Chic’s Nile Rodgers for 1986′s funky Notorious, then refashioned themselves as mature balladeers in 1993 and landed one of their biggest hits with “Ordinary World.” The original lineup from the New Romantic era reunited for 2004′s Astronaut, a move that helped revive the band’s profile. Over the next decade, they collaborated with a number of prominent modern hitmakers, including Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Mark Ronson, and Blur’s Graham Coxon, who featured prominently on their 2021 album Future Past.
Inspired by David Bowie and Roxy Music, as well as post-punk and disco, schoolmates Nick Rhodes (keyboards) and John Taylor (guitar) formed Duran Duran in 1978 with their friends Simon Colley (bass, clarinet) and Stephen Duffy (vocals). Taking their name from a character in Roger Vadim’s psychedelic sci-fi film Barbarella, the group began playing gigs in the Birmingham club Barbarella, supported by a drum machine. Within a year, Duffy and Colley both left the group — Duffy would later form the Lilac Time — and were replaced by former TV Eye vocalist Andy Wickett and drummer Roger Taylor. After recording a demo, John Taylor switched to bass and guitarist Alan Curtis joined the band, only to leave within a matter of months. The group placed an ad in Melody Maker, which drew the attention of Andy Taylor, who became their guitarist. However, Duran Duran were still having trouble finding a vocalist. Following Wickett’s departure in 1979, a pair of singers passed through the group before Simon LeBon, a former member of the punk band Dog Days and a drama student at Birmingham University, joined in early 1980.
By the end of 1980, Duran Duran had become popular within the burgeoning new romantic circuit in England and had secured a record contract with EMI. “Planet Earth,” the band’s first single, quickly rose to number 12 upon its spring 1981 release. Immediately, Duran Duran became the leaders of the new romantic movement, and media sensations in the British music and mainstream press. The group’s popularity increased through its cutting-edge music videos, especially the bizarre, racy clip for “Girls on Film.” Although the BBC banned the Godley & Creme-directed video, the single became the group’s first Top Ten hit, setting the stage for the fall release of its eponymous debut album. Duran Duran reached number three upon its release and stayed in the charts for 118 weeks. The band quickly followed the album with Rio in the spring of 1982. Rio entered the charts at number two, and its singles — “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Save a Prayer” — became Top Ten hits. By the November release of the remix EP Carnival, the bandmembers were superstars in Europe, but only just beginning to make headway in America. Their exposure in the U.S. was helped greatly by the emergence of MTV, which put the group’s stylish videos into heavy rotation. MTV’s constant playing of the videos paid off, and “Hungry Like the Wolf” became a Top Ten hit early in 1983. Rio followed that single into the Top Ten, eventually selling over two million copies.
Duran Duran mania was in full swing across America, with “Is There Something I Should Know” reaching the Top Ten — it became the group’s first English number one that summer — and the group’s first album climbing its way to number ten. Duran Duran capitalized on their popularity by releasing Seven and the Ragged Tiger in time for 1983′s holiday season. The record hit number one in the U.K. and number eight in the U.S., spawning the hit singles “Union of the Snake” and “The Reflex,” their first number one U.S. hit and their second British chart-topper. The band took an extended break after completing its year-and-a-half-long international tour in the spring of 1984. In November, the group released the non-LP single “Wild Boys,” which reached number two in the U.K. and the U.S., where it was added to the live album Arena.
By 1985, Duran Duran fever was beginning to cool off, and after completing the title track for the James Bond film A View to a Kill, the group went on hiatus. Andy and John Taylor formed the supergroup the Power Station with vocalist Robert Palmer and former Chic drummer Tony Thompson in January, releasing their eponymous debut album in the spring; it spawned the Top Ten singles “Some Like It Hot” and “Get It On (Bang a Gong).” The remaining members of Duran Duran — Nick Rhodes, Simon LeBon, and Roger Taylor — responded with their own side project, Arcadia, releasing an album called So Red the Rose in the fall of 1985; the album launched the Top Ten hit “Election Day.” Early in 1986, Roger Taylor announced he was taking a yearlong sabbatical from the group; he never returned. Several months later, Andy Taylor also left, reducing Duran Duran to a trio. Late in 1986, the band released Notorious, its first album in nearly three years. While it was relatively successful, going platinum in the U.S. and generating a Top Ten hit with the title track, it was noticeably less popular than their earlier records. For the remainder of the decade, Duran Duran’s popularity continued to decline, with 1988′s Big Thing producing “I Don’t Want Your Love,” their last Top Ten single for five years.
The greatest-hits album Decade was released late in 1989, followed several months later by Liberty, the first Duran Duran album to fail to go gold. By that point, former Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo had become a permanent member of the group. In 1993, the band returned from a prolonged hiatus with Duran Duran [The Wedding Album], a mature, layered record of lite funk and soulful adult contemporary pop that became a surprise hit. “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” became Top Ten hits in America and the U.K. as well; the album itself climbed into the Top Ten on both continents and went platinum in America. Not only did the record restore their commercial status, but it earned them some of their best reviews of their career. The group followed the album with one of its poorest-received efforts, 1995′s all-covers Thank You, which managed to go gold in America despite negative reviews. While Duran Duran were recording the follow-up to Thank You in 1996, John Taylor left the band to pursue a solo career, leaving the group a trio of LeBon, Rhodes, and Cuccurullo. That follow-up, Medazzaland, was released in 1997 but failed to produce any major hits. Released in 2000, Pop Trash suffered a similar fate.
In March 2001, the three Taylors — Andy, John, and Roger — met up in Wales and worked with each other for three weeks. Around this time, rumors of a five-member reunion began to circulate. Two months after Rhodes and LeBon denied the rumors, the reunion was confirmed. Duran Duran recorded on and off for a new album over the next three years and also toured sporadically. After signing with Epic, they released Astronaut in October 2004. Red Carpet Massacre, produced by Timbaland and without Andy Taylor, followed in 2007. In 2011, Duran Duran delivered their 13th studio album, the Mark Ronson-produced All You Need Is Now; it was greeted with positive reviews and debuted at 11 on the U.K. charts and 29 in the U.S.
Duran Duran began recording for their 14th album in 2013 and worked on it over the next two years. When it finally materialized in September 2015, Paper Gods bore tracks produced by both Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers, alongside additional contributions in this area from Mr. Hudson and the band’s engineer of choice, Josh Blair. The album also included vocals from Janelle Monáe, Kiesza, and Mew’s Jonas Bjerre, as well as guitar from former Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante. The record was their first to be issued through Warner Bros. and its release date coincided with a headline slot at Rob da Bank’s Bestival event on the Isle of Wight.
Duran Duran supported Paper Gods with an extensive tour, then turned their attention to recording its sequel in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release of the ensuing Future Past until October 2021. Largely produced by DJ Erol Alkan and featuring Blur’s Graham Coxon on guitar, Future Past was their first record for BMG. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine