When they first broke in the early 1980s Duran Duran single-handedly transformed music video from a gimmicky marketing tool into one of the music industry's most valued assets. With exotic locations, beautiful girls and stunning effects, Duran Duran took the visual imperatives of the New Romantic movement to another level. Their impact throughout the 1980's was such that Rolling Stone magazine - adapting the old Beatles' sobriquet -dubbed them 'The Fab Five.'
Despite the occasional pause and some re-grouping in the 1990's, Duran today are an unstoppable force who still command the respect of the finest players in the game. On their next studio album (slated for release on Epic Records in the fall of 2007) they have collaborated with top producers Timbaland and Nate 'Danja' Hills, as well as long-time Duran fan Justin Timberlake.
Formed in Birmingham, England in 1978, by keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor, Duran Duran's early sound was an exciting stew of influences: the soul music of their youth, the vibrant New York underground music scene of the 1970's spearheaded by the New York Dolls and Velvet Underground, the iconic art pop of David Bowie and glam bands such as Roxy Music.
At the time, John was at Art College and Nick was still in the 6th form at school. The first incarnation of the band was rounded out by another art student Stephen Duffy and a friend, Simon Colley who was at catering college. Simon played clarinet and bass, Nick had one small synthesizer and a drum machine, John played guitar and Stephen sang and played a fretless bass.
After Simon and Stephen moved on – Duffy to The Lilac Time and more recently Robbie Williams – a number of new faces came and went before Roger Taylor, previously drummer with local punk heroes The Scent Organs. joined the band. With Roger on board, John took up the bass and the newly christened Duran Duran - named after a character in Roger Vadim's sci-fi classic movie Barbarella - started to develop a funkier style, more in tune with some of the up-and-coming bands of the post-punk era such as Japan.
They began to create waves in Birmingham's premier music club, the Rum Runner. Listening to their demos, the club's owners, Paul and Michael Berrow, gave them a residency and a rehearsal space. Auditions for new band members followed, with guitarist Andy Taylor answering an ad in Melody Maker and singer Simon LeBon joining after being introduced by an ex-girlfriend, who bartended at the club. Unlike the rest of the band, Simon came from the suburbs of London, but was studying drama at Birmingham University.
In the months that followed, the band worked tirelessly. By 1980, after supporting Hazel O'Connor on tour, Duran Duran became the subject of a fierce record company bidding war. Eventually EMI Records came through, putting the band immediately into the studio with producer Colin Thurston.
Their eponymous debut album sold more than 2.5 million copies in 1981, staying on the charts for an astonishing 118 weeks and spawning the giant hit single 'Planet Earth'. That same year, Duran began to challenge expectations. They became the first pop act to produce a 12" remix single, for 'Planet Earth.' and also released a controversial video, directed by Godley and Crème, for the dance mix of 'Girls on Film'. Its sexually explicit content led to it being banned by both MTV and the BBC.
Incorrectly perceived by the rock media as the poster-boys for a new generation of teeny boppers, Duran's first major statement was the antithesis of a traditional pop album. The lyrical themes were adult-orientated, and the music – while melodically bright and dance-fueled – had a much darker quality. As the band themselves pointed out, there was a shadowy, European twist to the album. Songs like 'Careless Memories' weren't far removed in mood from bands like The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen. What saved Duran Duran from the gloomy cul de sac of goth however, were their dance-inducing rhythms and Rhodes' experimental electronics.
Duran Duran's ascent coincided with that of the so-called "Second British Invasion" which conquered America in the 1980s. Unlike contemporaries such as Spandau Ballet, Human League, Ultravox and Culture Club, they endured thanks to their exhaustive touring, imaginative embrace of new technology and superior song craft. Classic chart-toppers such as 'Hungry Like the Wolf', 'Rio' and 'Save A Prayer' soon turned Duran's second album 'Rio' multi-platinum worldwide. It was during this period that Princess Diana declared Duran Duran to be her favorite band, and new friends like artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring publicly voiced their support.
From 1983 the band went super nova. The video for Hungry Like the Wolf, which was filmed in Sri Lanka by director Russell Mulcahy went on permanent rotation on MTV. Later that year 'Is There Something I Should Know' went straight to 1 in the UK and hit 4 in the US. The band's third album, 1984's 'Seven And The Ragged Tiger' earned Duran Duran their first Stateside 1, with 'The Reflex'. In 1985 an invitation to write for the movie 'A View To A Kill' earned the group another first when their song became the only Bond theme tune to make it to 1, an accomplishment that is still unrivalled today.
Now that the Duran brand had become a licence to print money, EMI wanted another album. For the first time in years, the band said "no", taking time out to draw breath and regroup creatively. John and Andy teamed up with Robert Palmer, former Chic drummer Tony Thompson and bassist Bernard Edwards to form the Power Station; while Nick, Simon and Roger embarked on a side project: Arcadia, with guest performers Grace Jones, Sting, David Gilmour and Herbie Hancock.
While the Power Station's self-titled album found Andy and John moving further away from Duran Duran's signature sound, with a loud hybrid of funk and glam rock, the Arcadia album 'So Red the Rose' was a sublime reaffirmation of the mother ship's style. Pulling threads of darkness from 'Duran Duran', and adding glittering shards of pop reminiscent of 'Rio' and 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger', the album's first single, 'Election Day', was dark electro-dance-pop at its very best.
In July 1985, the five members of Duran Duran reunited to play in Philadelphia at the historic Live Aid concert. Although no one knew it at the time, this would turn out to be the final performance of the original lineup. Chapter One of the Duran saga was now over
Other projects beckoned. In early 1986, John was approached to write the theme for the film "9 1/2 Weeks." In April, his solo tune 'I Do What I Do', charted on both sides of the Atlantic. As plans started to take shape for Duran Duran to begin work together again in the studio, drummer Roger Taylor abruptly announced that he wanted another year off and would be returning to his Gloucestershire farm. The four remaining band members convened in the studio in June but before long they were down to three when Andy Taylor followed Roger into temporary retirement. With hindsight, he says his departure wasn't fuelled by a desire to embark on a solo career. This was, however, the outcome.
With Andy gone, and Roger officially resigning shortly thereafter, Duran Duran were in free fall. But not for long. In August, the remaining trio were contacted by guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, whose own band Missing Persons had recently folded. Later that year Duran Duran 'Mark II' teamed up with producer Nile Rodgers to record the funk-based album 'Notorious.' The album's title track topped the charts, propelling the record to multi-platinum status. (Fourteen years later, the same song was sampled by Sean "Puffy" Combs on the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. release, 'Born Again').The band were back on a roll. 'Notorious' was followed by 'Big Thing' in 1988, and the release of 'Decade' in 1990, celebrating what for them had been a glorious ten years.
Their sixth studio album, 'Liberty,' came out later the same year, with new drummer Sterling Campbell replacing two-time collaborator Steve Ferrone. In 1993, Nick, Simon, John and Warren went back into the studio to record 'Duran Duran 2'. Better known as the 'Wedding Album' – because the album artwork featured photos of their parents' weddings – the CD spawned the award winning smash "Ordinary World" and its equally acclaimed follow-up 'Come Undone'. Released the following year and garnering some of the best reviews of their career, as well as a prestigious Ivor Novello songwriting award, the 'Wedding Album' sold more than four million copies around the world. A new generation of ardent 'Duranies' were born.
'Thank You,' a covers album, gave the band a chance to pay homage to many of the artists who had inspired them over the years, such as Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Led Zeppelin, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Later in 1995, LeBon performed with tenor superstar Luciano Pavarotti at the War Child benefit concert in Italy.
Other festivals and tour dates followed, while, between gigs, John Taylor teamed up with the Neurotic Outsiders, a quartet of rock and roll wastrels comprising former Sex Pistols' Steve Jones, Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. Originally formed to play a benefit gig in LA their onstage jam led to them signing, for one eponymous album to Madonna's Maverick Records.
In 1996, John Taylor officially left Duran Duran to pursue various solo projects. Undeterred the following year the band contributed 'Out of My Mind' to the film version of 'The Saint' and released 'Medazzaland,' The album featured 'Electric Barbarella,' the first song ever to be sold in a download format across the Web.
In 2000, after the release of two Duran tribute albums - featuring artists as diverse as Kylie Minogue and Ben Lee on one, and the Deftones and Goldfinger on the other - Hollywood Records put out the 'Pop Trash' CD. The band supported this with an extremely successful international tour that featured the first ever use of 'augmented reality' technology in a live concert. At the end of the tour, Warren Cucurrullo left for his original group Missing Persons. And then there were two…
As the 21st century loomed the future of Duran Duran lay in the balance. Simon took a well-earned break, while Nick joined his long time friend and original band mate Stephen Duffy, as The Devils, to work on an album, 'Dark Circles', which was released in late 2002.
But no sooner had Duran finally disbanded than the impulse to re-form began to assert itself. Conversations jump-started old allegiances. As 2001 rolled around Duran Duran's original 'Fab Five' went back into the studio to embark on writing together for their first album in almost eighteen years. Energised by the challenge of "taking back their crown", Simon, Nick, Andy, Roger and John worked long and hard on an album which finally appeared on the Epic label in late 2004. 'Astronaut' sold more than two million copies and was heralded by critics as "one of their best studio efforts." The UK top five single "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise" earned the band their highest chart position in their home country for 20 years.
The two-year world tour which accompanied 'Astronaut' was a box office smash which saw them playing to more people, in more places, than ever before. This career-best concert outing served as a reminder that the band remained a fighting force with an incredible back catalogue, an awareness which led to their being honoured with no fewer than five prestigious "Lifetime Achievement' awards in the space of two years. Between 2004 and 2006 Duran Duran's extraordinary creative longevity was recognised by the MTV Video Music Awards, the BRIT'S, the Ivor Novello's, the Spanish music industry "Onda's" and Q Magazine's annual Q Awards.
With three generations of fans now on their case, Duran had no option but to record another album. Not even the departure, for the second time, of guitarist Andy Taylor, could dent their creative momentum.
In September 2006, Simon, Nick, John and Roger flew to New York for a super stellar week-long collaboration with the studio sound genius and Grammy-award-winning producer Timbaland, Nate ’Danja' Hills and the current king of pop Justin Timberlake. The sessions produced three to-die-for new tracks. The rest of the album was completed and mixed with Danja back in the UK.
Duran Duran's future has never looked brighter, or busier. This summer sees them performing at two of the biggest concert events on planet rock, the memorial Concert For Diana at Wembley stadium and the Live Earth eco-awareness bash at Hyde Park. Autumn brings the new album and a tour which will stretch well into 2008, Duran's 30th anniversary year. Having outlived all of their contemporaries, they have nothing left to prove and everything to play for.