Today, August 10, is Duran Duran Appreciation Day. A chance for us all to celebrate one of, if not the greatest, bands to come out of the 1980s New Wave era. A chance to show admiration and respect to the classic lineup of “The Fab 5” who are singularly known as Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Simon Le Bon, Roger Taylor, and Andy Taylor. And maybe show a little love to one-time Duran Duran members Warren Cuccurullo and Sterling Campbell.
Why celebrate Duran Duran today? I’ll give you one word. Survival. In a time of disposable one-hit wonders (Falco, Taco, Baltimora, anyone?), Duran Duran has managed to endure for more than 45 years, building a catalog of songs of our lives and creating legions of lifelong fans. No content to simply tour the nostalgia county fair circuit, the band continues to grow and explore musical avenues far and wide. Two other words: Cultural impact. More than a band, they have defined cool for a generation.
But how did a group of creatives go from art obscurity to becoming international pop stars, fashion icons, and arbiters of cool? First, a little history. In 1978, John Taylor (guitar) and Nick Rhodes (keyboards) were just a pair of British art school oddballs when they decided to start a band. They enlisted fellow classmate Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy (bass, lead vocals, drums.) Duffy departed soon after, reemerging years later as a solo artist, and John Taylor switched to bass.
A revolving lineup of singers, guitarists, and drummers continued through 1979 until they were joined by drummer Roger Taylor and a vocalist with a pension for nasal crooning and oddball lyric writing, Simon Le Bon. The final piece appeared in 1980 in the form of a scruffy more rock-minded guitarist named Andy Taylor. This cemented what is known as the classic line up. They adopted the name “Duran Duran” after watching the Jane Fonda sci-fi flick “Barbarella.”
The band quickly garnered attention and got a deal with EMI (Capitol in the U.S.). As they say, “timing is everything,” and the timing was right. This band of fashionable art-minded individuals arrived at the same moment a fledgling video channel called MTV. Duran’s first video, “Girls on Film,” considered racy at the time, was one of the channels earliest hits in heavy rotation. Video exposure and touring led to the band becoming a household name.
Their second album 1982’s “Rio” was a worldwide smash thanks in part to hit videos “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Save A Prayer,” and the title track. The band’s following grew to include thousands upon thousands of screaming female fans. The sight of that prompted one rock credit to dub them “The Fab 5” based on The Beatles like hysteria they received. The “Rio” tour would sell out around the globe, and the album earned the band multi-platinum status.
Duran’s third album “Seven & The Ragged Tiger,” a reference to the exhausted state of the five band members and their two managers, would see the popularity grow thanks to “The Reflex,” “Union Of The Snake,” and “New Moon On Monday.” They supported that release with another grueling tour during which they recorded and released the obligatory live album, 1984’s “Arena.” In November of that year, several of the band members joined dozens of other British musicians at a small studio in London’s to create arguably the greatest Christmas/charity song of all time, “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” 1985 saw the band hit several other high marks. Then… Nothing. Or rather the announcement that they were “taking a break.” Aka breaking up.
The group splintered into two very different factions. Simon, Nick, and Roger became Arcadia, a dreamy pop collective similar to one of Duran’s early influences, Roxy Music. John Taylor and Andy Taylor hooked up with Robert Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson to form the rock group Power Station. The ensuing success of both groups seemed to signal the end of Duran Duran.
In 1986, Duran Duran announced a new album, “Notorious,” but the press photos were very different. The “Fab 5” were now a trio of John Taylor, Simon Le Bon, and Nick Rhodes. Both Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor had quit the group.
In a 2015 interview I did with Roger, he gave many reasons for leaving, including, “I was struggling with the fame side of it. I was unprepared for that.” Roger disappeared into the country, and contrary to mythology, he did not become a sheep herder. “Well, there were no sheep involved,” he laughed. “I can tell you that. I lived a quiet existence. I bought this place in the countryside of Gloucestershire. I had 150 acres of solitude.” While Andy went solo, the new look and sound of Duran Duran was helped by producer/guitarist Nile Rodgers of the band Chic.
Three years later, the trio returned with another new album, “Big Thing.” At that time, I had just graduated college and was starting my music business career at Capitol Records, where I entered the band’s orbit. Aa a longtime fan, it was a dream to work with Duran Duran. We set up a very successful instore at Tower Records in Boston and well over 500 fans lined around the block of Newbury Street and Massachusetts Avenue. I also took several important retail and radio folks backstage at their Worcester, Massachusetts show. (Hence the vintage photos.)
As the 1980s slid into the 1990s, change was in the air. Pop and hair metal were falling out of favor. A new style of angst-ridden rock called “Grunge” was now the favorite sound around. Duran had always been able to adapt, but I knew there was one style they could never do, and that was grunge. The only thing to do was release their greatest hits compilation, “Decade,” and see what was next.
1990’s “Liberty” should have been a reason to celebrate. The band’s sound was now fuller than ever with the addition of drummer Sterling Campbell and ex-Missing Persons guitarist/Zappa protégée Warren Cuccurullo added as official full-time members. Sadly, no one noticed or seemed to care.
At Capitol, we planned a party in New York City and invited everyone we knew in the business to have dinner and drinks in “Little Italy” with the band. In an establishment that could hold up to 150 people, less than 35 showed. And they were mostly female Capitol Records staffers hoping to get some face time with John. Unfortunately for them, John spent well over an hour hanging out with me. Because I had recently relocated to NYC from Boston, he spent the time drawing up a list of all the places that I must go to never realizing that half of them were off limits to non-rock stars with less than male model looks.
The band did not tour to support the album, and Sterling Campbell departed a year later. Two years of silence followed while behind the scenes, we knew the band was planning a comeback album. They would even go so far as to title it “Duran Duran,” signifying a rebirth. The album cover featured old wedding photos of the band’s parents.
At Capitol, we held a modest listening party a few weeks before the first single would be released to radio and the public. In a conference room in Hackensack, New Jersey, we huddled with the four band members and key retail figures we had bribed to be there. As the opening guitar licks of “Come Undone” played, something happened. The cynicism faded off the faces of everyone present and was replaced by grins.
Thunderous applause followed the closing notes. Then, the second single, “Ordinary World,” played, and everyone was cheering. These were hits, and we all knew it. Fuck Grunge. Duran Duran was back. As someone in the meeting quipped, “Styles change. Style doesn’t.” The “Wedding Album,” as it became known, went on to sell over 2 million copies, and a massive tour followed. Against the odds, Duran Duran was on top again.
Their next move was an odd one. They released “Thank You,” a cover album of songs by everyone from Lou Reed to The Doors to Iggy Pop and even Public Enemy. Soon after its release, John Taylor left to pursue a solo career and acting gigs alongside dealing with personal issues. The group was once again reduced to a trio, this time comprised of Simon, Nick, and Warren. That configuration released the terribly received “Medazzaland,” their last for Capitol.
2000 became 2001. Warren quit and returned to a short-lived reunion with Missing Persons. Then 2002 and 2003 went by with rumors but not much else. Duran was said to be in London recording a new album without a label. Nile Rodgers was said to be there, as were John Taylor, Andy Taylor, and Roger Taylor. In late 2003, the band announced a handful of reunion shows to mark their 25th anniversary, which sold out in seconds.
2004 saw what fans had long wanted, “The “Fab 5” were back with a brand-new album called “Astronaut” and a worldwide tour. The album sold well, even going gold in the U.K. A new album entitled “Reportage” was said to be close to finished but was rejected by their record label for not having a “hit” single. The band regrouped and teamed up with Justin Timberlake and his producer Timbaland to try and create a hit. Around that same time, news came that Andy Taylor has once again left the group and returned to his hermit like existence in Monte Carlo. Duran soldiered on, releasing “Red Carpet Massacre” in 2007, but the Timberlake and Timbaland collaboration wasn’t enough to help.
In 2012, an unlikely collaborator, producer Mark Ronson, teamed up with the band for the album “All You Need Is Now.” That led to a solid modern sounding album and a slew of great press. For “Paper Gods” (2015), the band went both new and old school, using the production skills of Nile Rodgers again and new wunderkind, Mr. Hudson. The result was their best received album since “Astronaut” thanks in part to Janelle Monae’s vocal turn on “Pressure Off.” Despite the pandemic, Duran Duran managed to get into the studio and record their 15th album, “Future Past,” which was released in 2021. The band is currently on a 2022 stadium tour.
What’s next for the band? Well first up, their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2022. After that? Many longtime fans are hoping the ceremony will include of performance of the reunited original “Fab 5” with Andy Taylor on guitar. And that performance might spark Andy Taylor into realizing he needs back in Duran Duran. Full-time. But for now, those are just wishes and fantasies of lifelong fans, including me. The reality is whatever Duran Duran does next will be like what they have done in the past: creative, forward moving, and innovative. And I, for one, appreciate that.
Go see Duran Duran on Aug. 23 in Columbia, Maryland, at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More
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