They weren’t as talented or even as wary of what was happening as their British forerunners, The Beatles, but Duran Duran changed music in so many different ways in the early 1980s, that even the most hardened music snobs acknowledge their impact. The five art school fashion plates who intentionally presented style over substance are not under serious consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. And they just might deserve it.
Duran Duran did something between the years 1981-1986 once thought impossible. British glam rock (other than David Bowie), New Wave (other than Blondie) and punk (other than The Clash, although they were never mainstream in America) had all failed in the United States. But what none of those movements had were a video music channel to showcase five good-looking guys, willing to sell themselves as much, if not more than their music.
The radio and music stores in the early 1980s looked like dumping ground for every corporate now classic rock band of the time. Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Toto, and Reo Speedwagon could burp on record and it will stock my local Turtles. The shelves were R&B, sixties music like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and the rest of the first British Invasion, and hard rock like the aforementioned bands and metal such as Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC and Van Halen. Alternative was considered a lifestyle. College rock was whatever your friends older brothers and sisters were smoking pot with and it all sold maybe twelve copies each. But when MTV came on August 1, 1981 with “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll” and then The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star, mainstream America said, huh?
I lived in suburb of Atlanta, 40 miles away called Grayson. It was Mayberry RFD but our sheriff wasn’t Andy Taylor, yet. He’d show up on our television in a few weeks as the guitar player of an English band named after a character in Barbarella. My part of town didn’t get MTV, or cable for that matter, until February 1982. By then, I’d heard about the racy videos from British bands being shown on the channel. Duran Duran had two, Planet Earth and Girls On Film, from their self titled debut album in 1981. Watching MTV for an 11-year-old sheltered country suburban boy was like watching Marlon Perkins’ Wild Kingdom. It seemed foreign, exotic and completely surreal. Because seventy-five percent of the acts shown in the first year of MTV weren’t at my local Turtles. The metal acts had a few videos on, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest but most mainstream rock bands hadn’t taken to the medium because it wasn’t “cool”, yet. Then, Duran Duran happened.
Even among music snobs, Rio is a record that almost every ones. Starting in June 1982, it was being issued to the suburbs like Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks. Duran Duran was a boy band that could play instruments, write songs, and they took videos so seriously, you’d swear they were trying to win Academy Awards with each release.
The first time I saw Hungry Like The Wolf, it changed me. Some people my age go on and on about Star Wars or Star Trek or Raiders of the Lost Ark but I had no attention span, loved music more than any art form, and in three and half minutes I had Simon LeBon and some exotic model with face paint writhing around a Sri Lankan jungle. Then they were in Antiqua in suits and on a boat. By the end of the summer, my local Turtles, the only record story within three towns, was having to back order Rio the album. You could buy pirated video tapes of Hungry Like The Wolf, Rio, and Save A Prayer from backs of dudes’ El Caminos behind the Burger King in Snellville, Georgia. That’s a true story.
Girls loved Duran Duran. I was twelve and thirteen while Duran Duran mania hit. I wasn’t “dating” but some of my friends were. Girls were not impressed with your Van Halen records or the first Motley Crue album but you showed them Rio and suddenly they wouldn’t look at you with disgust.
Duran Duran was the lead soldiers of a second British (and Australian)Invasion. Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100, Squeeze, Billy Idol, Culture Club, Flock of Seagulls, Tears For Fears, Wham!, Banarama, Eurthymics, Crowded House, and INXS followed. Because of this spur in interest of British bands, Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, T.Rex, Genesis, and Paul McCartney all saw their careers rejuvenated. That’s right, the Fab Five helped some of the Fab Four.
By 1983, my local Turtles’ stacks looked like Central London more than Central Georgia. A year later, on one of my first “dates”, I went with a girl (and her parents) to see Duran Duran in concert, my fifth concert ever, and it was wild, like my parents described The Beatles when they were teenagers.
And the radio? It sounded like MTV looked. Whether you wanted to call it New Wave or New Romantic or British Invasion Music, you could go through three or four stations for an hour at a time and not hear an American band. Duran Duran has expanded the borders of my musical knowledge.
This didn’t last. The new sheriff in town, Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor, as well as drummer Roger Taylor left the band. Solo projects, Simon Lebon nearly killing himself in a yachting accident and the inclusion of Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna into MTV’s rotation saw things change quickly. But what Duran Duran did to my ears and eyes prepared me for the alternative, punk, and new music phenomena that would happened later in the decade.
Duran Duran didn’t make the Hall of Fame in 2013 but after realizing what they did, in a short amount of time in the early 1980s, and making a comeback in the 1990s, it’s time to forget the pretty boys’ sheen and respect the smart guys’ career.
Darken the city, night is a wire Steam in the subway, earth is a afire Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Lance Burson is a writer living outside Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and three daughters. He writes at http://lancemyblogcanbeatupyourblog.wordpress.com He’s the published author of two books, The Ballad of Helene Troy and Soul To Body, both available on amazon/kindle or in paperback from Lulu.com. His favorite Duran Duran member was Nick, because Nick hated boats.