duran duran redux - 40th anniversary

At their peak, I couldn’t much stand Duran Duran. They were too good looking and ubiquitous, and besides, I was a rocker. In the mid 80’s peak Duran time I was a northern council estate kid into the LA rock scene - Van Halen, Ratt, Motley Crue, that kind of stuff. Duran Duran was literally, music for girls.

Then something strange happened. Duran won me over with a trio of really incredibly catchy and innovative singles: The Reflex, Wild Boys, and A View To A Kill (still probably the best bond theme, no?). All three had something groundbreaking about the music, the videos - the whole shebang. If you were into music at all, you simply could not help but be impressed and I was.

Then, when they released Notorious, things went up another notch. I thought the single was bravely different and I liked the funkiness. But what struck me most was the production and the quality of the playing. It was like Duran Duran had grown-up. Of course, that had something to do with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. One senses the band were stretched, but stepped up to the plate. Given Rodgers has since claimed his work with the band was his most enjoyable collaboration (what a compliment!) there can be little doubt that they proved themselves (as they did when recording A View To A Kill with the legend John Barry) as a real creative force.

When Duran Duran released Skin Trade, I was properly hooked. It was even better than Notorious and remains one of my favourite Duran tracks. Ironically of course, this period represented a commercial downshift for the band. I remember an interview with Simon Le Bon in which he declared how shocking it was that Skin Trade only reached the lower end of the top 20. They had past their hayday, and it was mostly the slow descent into the commercial wilderness from there. One gets the feeling the band has never stopped striving to climb back up, which is admirable but not necessary with the cult status they have now.

It has been a roller coaster ride sticking with Duran Duran since the Notorious album. The follow-up Big Thing saw them just about hanging onto chart positions with singles I Don’t Want Your Love (cough, now listen to Uptown Funk and see which is better) and All She Wants. That album plays well now (and has some fab production), with quality tracks like Do You Believe in Shame and Too Late Marlene - which are featured in this Redux playlist.

The Liberty Album (1990) was a flop, but it has some great tunes on there. I have never stopped loving the title track, and have dropped it on my prized ‘Despacio’ slow disco playlists along with more classic Duran tracks like Save A Prayer, and the recent banger Pressure Off. Plus, on LIberty you have Serious, My Antarctica and First Impression which are all good grown-up pop songs, with more personal and emotional lyrics from Le Bon.

What followed was a resurgence of sorts, with the release of Ordinary World. I remember hearing it for the first time on the radio on a night drive through London, and feeling a rush of warmth from the chorus. It was a relief to know they had written another great song, and that the radio could do little else but embrace it. The Duran Duran ‘The Wedding Album’ is similar to Big Thing to my mind, with a mix of hits (Come Undone), experimental tracks (Breath After Breath), attempts at dance numbers (None of The Above) and more signature pop-rock (Too Much Information). It was a return to form and the limelight that ultimately did not last.

In an interview with The Times last year, Brett Anderson of Suede said that bands go through four stages: early struggle, the rush of success, the crash back down to Earth, and eventually, renaissance, or resurgence. Duran Duran have been through this cycle at least three times. The years following The Wedding Album were the roughest. I remember seeing the band at Wembley Stadium, touring the Pop Trash album (not available on Spotify and so not included here, as with the Medazzaland and Astronaut albums). That was a rough gig, but LeBon and Rhodes got through it. Through thick and thin, the two of them just carried on. What else can you do?

By keeping going, the band not only reformed successfully as a five piece (the comeback show at the London Forum is still among my top five gigs, ever - and so is the band’s War Child charity gig at Wilton’s Music Hall. Some six months later, I was lucky enough to see the band again in yet another small venue - the Apollo theatre in Harlem NYC - and their renaissance phase was complete. The band had released the Paper Gods album and were enjoying chart success from the single Pressure Off (after all that striving, finally back in the charts!). But live, they sounded better than ever, Simon in better voice, John’s ever-superb bass playing thumping along with Roger Taylor’s muscular drumming (though sadly Nick was absent from that particular show - prompting my good friend Fenner who was there with me at the Forum reunion, to declare he would not have stayed!).

Back to the playlist then - some later cuts from the All You Need Is Now album (one of the better later albums) and Red Carpet Massacre (the track The Valley was my Nokia N95 ringtone for about a year). If the ‘lost albums’ ever get back onto Spotify (surely they must for this 40th anniversary year), then I will add to this selection appropriately. For now, let’s celebrate and wonder, what will the Wild Boys do next…?

Playback notes: play in order to tell a chronological story, otherwise randomly feel the quality and be surprised by the variety of styles but the unmistakable Duran Duran signature sound.