40th anniversary of Duran Duran's Duran Duran
Updated: Jun 21, 2021
Amongst the girls I knew in my teenage years in the 80s, they were either Duranies, Spandau or Whamettes. Being at an all boys' school that was very far from enlightened, I kept my Duranie status to myself for some years. I'd already been whacked for writing Soft Cell and Scritti Politti on my note book ("are you a fackin' poof??" etc etc), I decided discretion was the better part of valour...
But they were clearly the coolest of the teenage pin-ups - they really could play, and they influences were far more interesting and artier than their contemporaries. They were formed by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor with the aim of combining The Sex Pistols with Chic - a very cool concept.
Having gone through various line-ups, including one fronted by Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy, later of The Lilac Time, Duran Duran seemed to coalesce with the arrival of Simon Le Bon, former choir boy and star of a Fairy Liquid advert. Le Bon could really sing and more importantly came with books of lyrics, something Rhodes and Taylor desperately needed. Along with Andy Taylor and drummer Roger, they were finally ready. Three Taylors, none related - how many times did they have to explain that?
There were already tensions in the band, between guitarist Andy Taylor's more rock tendencies and Rhodes' art pretensions for the band. But everything came together on that first album quickly - and they had catching up to do as they were late to the scene, already dominated by Japan, Spandau and Ultravox.
Planet Earth was an agenda setting piece (why on earth it didn't open the album is beyond me), anthemic and neatly encapsulated their futuristic sound in 3 and a half minutes of post-disco punk. Girls On Film critiqued the culture of super models (they'd soon be dating and marrying them themselves) and was accompanied by a "raunchy", banned (though now a bit sad and tragic) video. They had that mix of great tunes, good looks and scandal.
Elsewhere their punk interests showed on tracks like Careless Memories and Anyone Out There, though both were filtered through a very pop lens. Meanwhile Friends Of Mine is pure joyous pop, even if it references notorious robber Georgie Davies and it dismisses the music that went before - “No more heroes, we twist and shout”, surely kicks against the old guard of The Stranglers and The Beatles.
To The Shore and Night Boat were atmospheric and strange, the latter heavily indebted to David Sylvian's Japan and Mick Karn's bass playing, but with its own "horror film" mood.
The whole album is held together by the marvellous Colin Thurston who had engineered Bowie's Heroes and Iggy Pop's Lust For Life, as well as producing The Human League. He gave them a sound and edge they needed, marshalling Taylor's rock guitar so it worked well with the disco punk feel they strived for. Though it's a little dated in its sound now, the songs still hold up, especially the singles.
Duran Duran was their calling card, swiftly followed by Rio. Though the latter is cited as their classic, 40 years on the debut holds up well and has moments of perfection.
If I was back at school now, I'd write their name on my school bag with pride, and risk the beatings...