A lot of ’80s pop gets a bad rap for having more style than substance. While there were plenty of fluff bands, few had the substance to back up their high glamour aspirations. Duran Duran was one of those bands that could play with the best of them while looking fabulous doing it. They earned the nickname “The new Fab 5” during the height of their popularity. The rise of Duran Duran and others during the early ’80s marked an era that many were calling the Second British Invasion.
The Birmingham based band could be loosely associated with fellow New Romantics like Japan and Spandau Ballet. Known in the U.S. mostly for their nearly pornographic video for “Girls on Film” from their 1981 debut album Duran Duran , the band would make a conscious effort to change their image from frat to playboy with the release of Rio a year later.
For this make-over to work, the band worked closely with top fashion and graphic designers as well as photographers and filmmakers. The stylized cover art from Malcolm Garrett featured a Patrick Nagel girl who’s flat graphic lines set the tone for the material inside. Duran Duran would set a precedent for the ’80s as similar style makeovers involving prominent designers and pop stars would occur (Grace Jones and Jean-Paul Goude for instance).
The result was a runway ready and carefully crafted look. When combined with great songs it equaled chart domination in most of the English speaking world. Soon, the pretty boy blonde band leader Simon Le Bon would be featured in magazines as varied as Time, GQ to SPIN.
The single “Hungry Like the Wolf” was boosted by excessive MTV rotation. It was actually the first music video that I had seen on MTV when my family got cable in the autumn of 1982. The sail boat, exotic beaches and girls crawling in the sand in the video only feed into the image of glamour, setting the groundwork for other singles like “Rio” and “Save a Prayer”. “Rio” was actually released first in 1982, but was ignored in America until the popularity of “Hungry Like the Wolf” prompted its re-release in 1983.
Of course none of it would have work if it weren’t for the expert playing of the Taylor brothers (John, Roger and Andy) along with Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon. In fact many of the bands members were in demand for session work. Andy Taylor for instance would work with Rod Stewart and Belinda Carlisle. He also become one of the charter members of The Power Station.
Rio is one of Duran Duran’s most successful if not critically acclaimed albums. It ranks high on best of lists of ’80s albums and would be a great place to start for those wondering what the clash of New Romantisicm and sexy commercialism looks and sounds like.