It was 1978 in Birmingham when Nick Rhodes (keyboards) and John Taylor (bass) created Duran Duran, a British New Romantic band. Within two years they were joined by Simon Le Bon (lead vocals), Roger Taylor (drums) and Andy Taylor (guitar) and by 1980 the band was complete.
The band played extensively in both Birmingham and London, finally gaining notice from EMI and Polygram Records, whilst on tour with Hazel O’Connor in late 1980. After lengthy discussion and deliberation, the band finally signed with EMI. They immediately began work on their debut album ‘Duran Duran’, which was released in 1981 and reached number three on the UK charts and sold over 2.5 million copies. The first single ‘Planet Earth’ made the UK’s Top 20, but it was ‘Girls on Film’, their third single, that grabbed everyone’s attention and went to number five on the charts. The saucy video to ‘Girls on Film’ ended up being banned by the BBC and heavily edited by MTV, but the controversy only served to pique everyone’s interest in Duran Duran.
Encouraged by their UK reception and wanting to test the American market, the band played an extensive US club tour that included a run at the Roxy in Los Angeles and the Ritz in New York. Duran Duran was an instant success with their undeniable chemistry, pretty-boy looks, catchy synthesizer sounds and vibrant, groundbreaking videos.
Their second album, ‘Rio’ (1981) produced three UK Top 10 hits: ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, ‘Save a Prayer’ and ‘Rio’. The spectacular videos for these singles were filmed in Sri Lanka and Antigua. In 1982, Duran Duran supported Blondie on their US tour. The single ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ shot straight to number one in the UK and reached number four in the US. It seemed the band could do no wrong.
The third album, ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ (1983), was another UK number one, with the single ‘Union of the Snake’ an explosive worldwide success. The album also produced their first US number one single, ‘New Moon on Monday’. Nick Rhodes did some work with Kajagoogoo in 1983, producing their hit ‘Too Shy’. Duran Duran performed on MTV’s first New Year’s Bash, on Saturday Night Live and also at the Prince’s Trust Concert at the Dominion Theatre, London. Both Prince Charles and Princess Diana attended the concert. The band could now count Royalty amongst their fans.
It was 1984 and Duran Duran’s fame had reached superstar status, with some likening it to ‘Beatlemania’. In reference to this, they were even christened ‘The Fab Five’ when they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. During a major US arena tour, they were the first band to use screens and live video footage during a live performance, enabling fans further back to have a clear view of the band and to feel more included. They were mobbed wherever they went and their merchandise broke all sales records. One of the shows on this tour was recorded and resulted in the release of the live album ‘Arena’ (1984). A documentary style film ‘Sing Blue Silver’ (1984) was also made during this tour and showed the hysterical hurricane that surrounded Duran Duran. The band then participated in the Band Aid charity single ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ (1984) and won two 1984 Grammy Awards for Best Long and Short Form Video.
By 1985, the band was starting to show signs of division and differing musical interests. Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor formed the more atmospheric band Arcadia, working with artists such as Sting, Grace Jones, Herbie Hancock and Dave Gilmour. Meanwhile, John Taylor and Andy Taylor joined Robert Palmer (lead vocals) and Tony Thompson (drums) to form hard rocking Power Station. Roger Taylor drummed mainly for Arcadia, but also worked with Power Station. It was an odd time for Duran Duran and caused uncertainty in their fan-base. They did, however, all come together to record ‘A View to a Kill’ (1985), the theme song from the James Bond film of the same name. It reached number one in the US and number two in the UK, the only Bond theme song to do so. On 13 July 1985, Duran Duran performed at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia for the Live Aid charity event and this turned out to be the last performance featuring the original band line-up for a very long time. Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor left the band, Roger to rest in the English countryside and Andy to pursue a solo career in Los Angeles.
In September 1986, Warren Cuccurullo, formerly of Frank Zappa’s band and Missing Persons, joined Duran Duran on guitar for the funk-based album ‘Notorious’, released in October 1986. It produced the hit singles ‘Skin Trade’ and ‘Meet El Presedente’ and the band set off on their Strange Behaviour world tour.
After two years, Duran Duran released ‘Big Thing’ (1988) their sixth album, with hits ‘I Don’t Want Your Love’ and ‘All She Wants Is’. The album showed a slightly new musical direction, with Warren given scope to exhibit his creative guitar skills, with more mature lyrics and with tracks including tastes of house and rave music.
To celebrate ten years of being together, the band released their greatest hits ‘Decade’ (1990), as both an album and a video. It was at this time that Warren Cuccurullo and Sterling Campbell (drums) joined the band as permanent members and Duran Duran released their sixth studio album, ‘Liberty’ (1990). The soft rock/R&B style album entered the Top 10 UK chart but soon slipped in ratings. Duran Duran surprised the world by electing not to undertake their usual post-album-release tour. The band’s momentum seemed to be slowing down.
Sterling Campbell left the band in 1991 to work with Soul Asylum and David Bowie. The remaining four - Simon, Nick, Warren and John – resolutely began preparation and writing for their next album. It was two years later that they finally released their second self-titled and ninth album ‘Duran Duran’ (1993). In order to distinguish it from the first, it became known as ‘The Wedding Album’ (1993), due to the artwork on the cover, and it was a big success. The much-acclaimed single ‘Ordinary World’ won them an Ivor Award for song writing. This time Duran Duran went on a lengthy world tour and were honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1993. Things, it seemed, were finally back on track.
Unfortunately, the ‘Thank You’ (1995) album of covers that followed was rather poorly received. The band had recorded it as a tribute to their musical influences, including the likes of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. Roger Taylor had even returned from retirement to drum with the band but it transpired that the album was fraught with delays and disagreements. It had taken two years to finally release and at that point, the band’s interest in the album promotion had waned.
In 1996, a disillusioned John Taylor left the band to pursue a solo career. He co-founded B5 Records, recorded a solo album, went on tour with the Neurotic Outsiders and even tried to reform Power Station. He was forced to withdraw from music in order to deal with his divorce from Amanda De Cadenet, followed by his rehabilitation for substance abuse. Simon Le Bon meanwhile collaborated with Pavarotti and performed in Italy in support of the Bosnian War Child charity. Duran Duran then gathered in London to work on their eleventh album. After months of difficulty, John Taylor finally announced in January 1997 that he was leaving the band for good. Duran Duran was reduced to three members - Nick, Simon and Warren - who were determined to continue with the recording of the album.
Showing that they were still on the cutting edge of music and technology, Duran Duran released ‘Medazzaland’ in October 1997 and it not only made Internet history, it also received much critical acclaim. The album emulated the creative energy and sound of ‘Big Thing’ (1988) and one of the tracks, ‘Out of My Mind’, was selected as the theme song for the film ‘The Saint’ (1997). Duran Duran was the first band to digitally download a song for sale on the Web and it was the album's first single, ‘Electric Barbarella’. The video for this song was filmed in the UK with Ellen Von Unwerth, but ‘Medazzaland’ was only released in the US and not in the UK, due to that market’s waning interest in the band. Later that year, Duran Duran went on a two-month North American tour and performed at the opening night of the Whitney Museum Exhibit in New York, which featured Andy Warhol’s work.
After 18 years, Duran Duran left EMI Records in 1998. To mark the event, EMI released ‘Night Versions: The Essential Duran Duran’ (1998), an album of remixes, and ‘Greatest’ (1998), their second greatest hits album. Simon Le Bon performed the Duran Duran single ‘Nightboat’ with the Smashing Pumpkins at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 1999 and Duran Duran released ‘Strange Behaviour’ (1999), an album of remixes of their 1980s and 1990s hits.
The band then signed a three-album deal with Disney’s Hollywood Records in 2000 and in May, released the album ‘Pop Trash’ (2000). The first single ‘Someone Else Not Me’ from this album once again helped Duran Duran make Internet history. They premiered the video on shockwave.com on 13 June. It was made using Flash technology and was the first video broadcast on MTV and VH1 using this kind of digital animation. The band then embarked on a 33-date Pop Trash US tour, with their 30 August gig being broadcast live on HOB.com. In the UK version of the Pop Trash tour, working with a computer graphics producer, Duran Duran featured ‘augmented reality’ technology which created advanced visual effects in 2-D and had 3-D animated characters appearing live on stage with the band - another world first in a live concert. For all the digital hype, the album fared poorly on the charts and the deal with Hollywood Records fell through.
Things weren’t looking all that rosy for Duran Duran until Nick and Simon were approached in late 2000 by John Taylor to reform the original band line-up. Agreeing to this, they callously fired Warren by letter as soon as the Pop Trash tour was over. Warren made an official announcement in May 2001 that he was leaving Duran Duran and reforming his 1980s band Missing Persons. Nick and Simon immediately confirmed this and announced that they were being joined by John, Roger and Andy Taylor, to once again work together as their original group.
From 2001 to 2003, the five headed back to the studio and worked continuously on new material, both in France and London. They were also looking for a new record deal, in order to release their new music, but that was proving difficult. They decided instead to simply get out there and play for their fans. Duran Duran began with some 25th Anniversary dates in the US in July 2003. This highly anticipated reunion was overwhelmingly well received by their fans, other celebrities and the music media. Duran Duran was back in full force. Their shows were sold out and they headlined radio shows. Thinking they were merely presenters at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, they were pleasantly surprised when presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
They were also presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by Q Magazine in London in October 2003. Later that year, they were photographed by Mario Testino for British Vogue and participated in ‘Fashion Rocks’, a Prince’s Trust fundraiser at the Royal Albert Hall which raised over a million Pounds for charity relief for Hurricane Katrina victims. Nick Rhodes worked with The Dandy Warhols and co-produced their ‘Welcome to the Monkey House’ (2003) album. The band joined Robbie Williams as special guests on his 2003 tour of Australia and New Zealand. To satisfy demand, Duran Duran added some solo shows in Australia, before finishing with a sold-out show in Singapore. They also participated in Amnesty International’s second Annual Music for Humanity Auction, donating concert tickets, backstage passes and a signed skateboard.
They were honoured by the British Phonographic Industry at the Brit Awards in February 2004, where Justin Timberlake presented them with the Outstanding Contribution to Music Award. The after party, held at London’s Adam Street private member’s club, was attended by the likes of Stephen Fry, Badly Drawn Boy, Scarlett Johansson, Gwen Stefani, Alicia Keys, Jamelia and Timbaland. Duran Duran toured the UK in April 2004, supported by Goldfrapp and The Scissor Sisters.
In between all of their touring and promotional work, the band were still meeting regularly and working on their next album. In June 2004, Duran Duran signed a deal with Epic Records, who released their new single ‘(Reach up for the) Sunrise’, which rocketed up the worldwide charts, followed by the October release of the album ‘Astronaut’ (2004). It was the first album of new material that featured the original five band members, since ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ (1983), 21 years before and was eagerly received by fans. In the first week of its digital release, ‘Astronaut’ was number one on the Billboard Download chart. ‘(Reach up for the) Sunrise’ was later remixed by Eric Prydz, Full Intention, Ferry Corsten, Jason Nevins and Alex G. Duran Duran also released ‘The Singles 1986 – 1995’ (2004) album.
‘Live from London’ (2005) was released on DVD and had been filmed during their 17-date UK stadium tour in 2004. It was directed by award winning filmmaker Lawrence Jordan and included behind the scenes footage and interviews with the band. Following their world tour, which culminated in Madison Square Garden in April 2005, the band performed at the Live 8 concert on 2 July in the Circus Maximus in Rome, with their performance being beamed to London’s Hyde Park. The band was asked by tennis pro Andre Agassi to perform at his annual Grand Slam for Children charity in Las Vegas. They finished the year with Christmas shows in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, Duran Duran recorded a cover of Lennon’s song ‘Instant Karma’ for the ‘Make Some Noise’ Amnesty International campaign. On 15 February 2006, the band performed at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy and also played at the Nobel Peace Concert in Norway. Once again making history, John Taylor and Nick Rhodes were interviewed in May about their EMI ‘Only After Dark’ (2006) compilation, in the UK Guardian newspaper’s first Film and Music Podcast show. It was the first time that music from a major record label or music publisher was approved for official use in a podcast.
Duran Duran returned to the studio to work on their new album - a tribute to the band’s New Wave origins. Once again making their presence felt in the electronic world, the band announced in August 2006 that they would be making virtual appearances and performing a virtual concert on the Internet. This will be done via the Second Life site, which is privately owned and partially subscription-based. It is a 3-D virtual world that allows its “residents” to participate in its economy and to view and modify interactions. In August 2006, the band headlined at the Sporting Summer Festival in Monte Carlo.
One of the most commercially successful of the New Romantic bands, and throughout their 28-year history, their image has always been an important part of the Duran Duran package. They have been styled by Vivienne Westwood (1990s) and by Giorgio Armani (2000s), but have always maintained creative control over their publicised image. Through their years together, the band has undergone a number of changes in their line-up but they have always succeeded in moving onwards and upwards.
Having both been launched at roughly the same time, Duran Duran and MTV developed a symbiotic relationship which benefited their fame, exposure and credibility. Duran Duran’s songs have been used in many films, some recent ones include: ‘Ordinary World’ in Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Layercake’ (2004); ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ in the DVD release of ‘Shrek 2’ (2004); and ‘All She Wants Is’ in the fact-based drama ‘Monster’ (2003) starring Charlize Theron. Television shows have also used Duran Duran tracks as theme songs, such as ‘(Reach up for the) Sunrise’ as theme tune for the UK version of ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ (2003). Their songs have often been remixed by other artists, used in adverts and as ring tones and have even been used by the US army and NASA to keep up morale. The band has featured in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Radio Times, Vanity Fair and Vogue.
More recently, they have released the albums 'Red Carpet Massacre' (2007) and 'All You Need Is Now' (2010), and Andy Taylor once again left the band in 2006, with Dom Brown joining as a session and touring player.
With an ongoing history of numerous concerts, world tours, albums, television performances, collaboration with other artists and constant dabbling in the crossover between music and digital technology and the Internet, Duran Duran certainly looks set to last the distance.