"Rio" was a big hit for one of the biggest rock bands of the 1980s. Now, a late Summer Song is putting Duran Duran back in the spotlight. Anthony Mason caught up with the band on the road:
On a hot August night in a vineyard in eastern Long Island, four musicians climbed the stage, and suddenly it was the '80s all over again. The "Wild Boys" were back.
"It's almost astonishing to all of us, I think, to accept that Duran Duran is three-and-a-half decades old," said Nick Rhodes.
They released a new album this past Friday, called "Paper Gods." If it were the debut from some upstart band, Rolling Stone wrote, "the buzz would be insane." For hard-core fans (Duranies as they're called), the insanity never ended.
To listen to Duran Duran's "Pressure Off" (featuring Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers), from their new album, "Paper Gods," click on the Soundcloud player below.
In the eighties, the Fab Five, as they were then, led the Second British Invasion.
"We had ambition, and we had a plan," said Simon Le Bon.
"What was the plan?"
"World domination within five years," he said. "And what did we get? World domination within five years!"
They'd come together in Birmingham, England, where keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bass player John Taylor had been childhood friends:
"When I was 16, he was 18, we formed Duran, Duran. And we were convinced that it was going to work," said Rhodes.
"I was like a super nerd in school," said Taylor. "The first time I put on an electric guitar, I played at the school dance, life was never the same again. My standing went from zero to hero!"
With Andy Taylor on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums (none of the Taylors are related), and Simon Le Bon as front man, Duran Duran crossbred punk and glam, charting 11 Top 10 hits, such as "Hungry Like a Wolf."
If girls ate them up, critics spat them out. "A mall version of Roxy Music," read one review.
"We grew a thick skin really quickly," said Le Bon. "The more girls we got kind of following the band, the more [critics] hated us."
"Did you think the rock press just didn't get you?" asked Mason.
"I still think the rock press didn't get us, actually. I think all the rock press saw was the audience."
Duran Duran arrived at the dawn of MTV, and no one rode the wave of the video revolution with more style or mascara.
"Your image became such a powerful thing," said Mason. "Did it ever become too powerful in your view?"
"Yeah, I think we had no idea how potent they were at the time," said Rhodes. "But they ended up becoming quite iconic. The image of the 'Rio' video on the boat and some things from the 'Girls on Film' video. And they left marks.
"For a while I think people thought, 'Those are the guys that wander 'round in colored silk suits and hang out on yachts all day.' Actually I'd probably spent two hours of my life to that point on a boat. And that was it, in the video."
"I think a lot of people wanted you to be living that lifestyle, too. They wanted to believe it."
"Yeah, me too!" laughed Le Bon. "Absolutely, I tried as hard as I could."
Le Bon succeeded. He married model Yasmin Parvaneh, and in 1985 was racing the yacht Drum across the English Channel when it capsized. He was nearly killed.
"And it was the fact that somebody was standing on the shore looking through binoculars, saw the first three boats: Nirvana, Drum, Condor ... Nirvana, Drum, Condor ... Nirvana, Condor -- where's Drum? It was only because that happened that they sent up a helicopter to come and look for us. Twenty-six guys on the boat, me and another five stuck inside an air pocket inside the hull.
"And it was the first time -- the one and only time -- that Duran Duran made the cover of People magazine!" he laughed.
But by then, the band was starting to splinter:
"We split into two," said Rhodes. "Three went one way, two the other. Actually, Roger was right in the middle."
Duran Duran never officially broke up. But John and Andy Taylor went off to form Power Station (with Robert Palmer), while Rhodes, Le Bon and Roger Taylor formed Acadia, before Roger tired of the rock lifestyle: "So I felt that I had to step away from it. I wanted to live a normal life for a while, and maybe at the right time I'd go back to it. I mean, that turned into a long time."
"Did you think it was over?" Mason asked Le Bon.
"I knew it would never be the same again," he replied.
John Taylor said, "And the end of the '80s it felt like the media particularly was saying, 'You guys are ephemeral. You've had your time. Out. Next!'"
Duran Duran looked to be dead and buried. But then in 1993 they released "Ordinary World."
"And suddenly, Bam! 'Ordinary World' put the band in a place it had never been before," said Le Bon.
"Ordinary World" took the band back to the top of the U.S. charts, and won a major British award. "That meant everything to us," said Le Bon.
"The comeback in the '90s must have felt pretty sweet."
"It was amazing. Absolutely amazing."
Le Bon and his band mates are all in their 50s now. They have their hobbies. For Le Bon, it's still boats: "I'm fascinated by the wind and the water."
But the tide keeps pulling them back to the band.
When Mason asked, "Do you want to be doing this for another 15, 20 years?" Rhodes replied, "I haven't got a better idea right now!"
"Are you still aspiring to have hit records?"
"Oh, hit records!" sighed John Taylor. "Yes, I vaguely remember that."
"Do you feel competitive in any way with other bands?"
"Well, you know, my higher self is not in competition with anyone," he laughed. "But my lower self is very much at the wheel most of the time. So, yes, I'm very competitive!"
"We want the attention," said Le Bon. "We see ourselves as a band who have got the attributes to be able to compete with everybody else for that attention."
And with their new album, Duran Duran is getting it again. The "Wild Boys" are cover boys once more.
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