Totally 80s readers don't need convincing, but there's a lot more to Duran Duran than just good looks and eye-catching videos. The Birmingham rockers became "The Fab Five" for a reason: their powerful combination of dance-rock and New Wave has transcended the decade in which it was released, and their catalog remains some of the most solid popcraft released anywhere in the past four decades.
If you're curious about Duran's domination, we have just the book for you: Bloomsbury Publishing has added to their 33 1/3 series (a digest-sized deep-dive on a popular album) an entry on the band's 1982 breakthrough Rio. Annie Zaleski, one of the hardest-working music journalists out there - with bylines at Rolling Stone, NPR Music, The Guardian, Salon, Time, Billboard, The A.V. Club, Vulture and The Los Angeles Times as well as insightful liner notes in the 25th anniversary edition of R.E.M.'s Out of Time - has penned an insightful read into the creation and impact of Duran's second album, which featured the hits "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Rio" and "Save a Prayer."
The book features new interviews with keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor and founding guitarist Andy Taylor, who take readers through the creation of Rio, the remixes that helped them break into American clubs and radio stations, and the music videos that helped turn MTV into a key component of bringing pop music to a new generation. If you're not a total Duranie already, you could well become one after reading; if you already are, you need this book in your life immediately.
Annie was kind enough to speak to Totally 80s about her love of Duran Duran and the stories she wanted to tell in the book. She also dropped a teaser for her next book, which will also thrill '80s lovers. Get ready to shout across the land!
What was your introduction into the world of Duran Duran? What drew you to them as a band?
Watching MTV after school and seeing The Wedding Album videos: "Ordinary World," "Come Undone" and "Too Much Information." I LOVED the latter song especially, and it's still one of my favorite Duran Duran singles. I bought Decade soon after, and so my first exposure was really them as a singles band—and, in terms of quality and variety, it's pretty tough to beat the singles streak Duran Duran had from 1981 to 1993. I loved their songs first and foremost.
When and how did it become clear to you that they were more than just “pop idols”?
I think because I came to them outside of the initial MTV frenzy, I always had a different perception of Duran Duran. They were an alternative rock band to me, played on our local modern rock radio station, and writing these rich and meaningful songs. Pop music was so different in the early '90s, and Duran Duran was much more aligned with the rock world then, even though they had crossover hits such as "Ordinary World," which is absolutely beautiful and absolutely classic. Of course, they always were a rock band even in the '80s; people often misunderstood and mis-characterized the group.
What were the challenges of developing this book?
Honestly, whittling down the narrative—my initial draft was thousands and thousands of words longer. I had a lot more about the band's early days and first album era; it's all tossed in a Word doc on my laptop. It was also a challenge to make sure the book appealed to both casual listeners and die-hard fans—not an easy task where Duran Duran is concerned!
Tell us some things you were surprised to learn about the band while writing.
Many of the things I gleaned were more dots-connecting, if that makes sense. Their ambition and work ethic were always known to me, as well as influences. But it was illuminating to organize everything into a narrative and see how everything fit together both musically and conceptually. Duran Duran really were (and are) brilliant at distilling their various influences and sounds together, and I see that clearer now.
In hindsight, it's pretty astounding how young the band was when making Rio, and how productive they were: Both that album and their debut album were released less than two years after the band formed! When you sit down and crunch numbers and dates, you also realize how long it took for "Hungry Like the Wolf" took to take off in America. These days, bands might not get a chance to have a hit; they'd be dropped or ignored in favor of something else. The stars really did align for Duran Duran's success.
You spoke to some of the band members for the book; how did their insight help you tell the story?
Their insights were really the foundation of the book. I deliberately talked to band members first, as I wanted their recollections and remembrances to frame up the narrative and direct where the book went, and provide direction on other areas to research and explore.
To that end, my questions to them focused on music, videos and songwriting. I wanted this book to discuss and emphasize the greatness of Duran Duran's music and the impact the whole Rio universe—videos, singles, remixes—had on culture. It's started to change these days, but for many years articles on the band seemed to focus on everything but their songs and music. As a fan, that always made me mad, so I wanted to write a book that placed Duran Duran in context with other great bands and musical movements.
Duran weren’t the first to embrace music videos, but they might have been one of the most significant. How did their approach shape the way we listened (and watched)?
Their videos are often described as mini-movies, which is correct. their songs were the soundtracks to their music videos—but unlike other artists, who maybe went random or abstract, Duran Duran's videos (especially in the Rio era) were well-thought-out and matched the songs. Russell Mulcahy and Duran Duran were the perfect pairing, and Ian Emes helming "The Chauffeur" was also brilliant. They raised the bar for what music videos could be—and knew how to leverage the ways in which the musical and visual experience intersected.
Let’s say you had to convince the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to induct Duran Duran. What’s your argument?
How long do you have? (Ha!) One of the things that really became clear as I wrote and researched is Duran Duran's immense, enduring musical influence. I referenced this in the book, but you can name pretty much any musical movement of the last 35years—even incongruous ones, like nu-metal or grunge—and there will be a Duran Duran super-fan at the forefront. (I mean, I saw British metalcore act Asking Alexandria cover "Hungry Like the Wolf" with Korn's Jonathan Davis a few years ago!) Musical influence is a major Rock Hall factor, so that's one prong.
The other one is simply their musical catalog and musicianship; for example, John Taylor doesn't show up on enough "best bassist" lists, which befuddles me. And, most of all, a large number of Duran Duran's influences are in the Rock Hall—Bowie, Roxy Music, Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, Nile Rodgers, Kraftwerk—and peers such as The Cure and Depeche Mode are inducted now too. Plus, Simon and John inducted Roxy Music! I think if The Go-Go's and/or Devo are inducted this year, it's really going to make people start to ask in earnest, "Where's Duran Duran?"
If you had to pick just one track off Rio…
It changes by the day, but on most days it's "New Religion." That song is a marvel: the arrangements, each individual performance, the mystery, the textures. It's so engimatic and dark, yet poppy. I don't think it's an accident that "New Religion" has remained in Duran Duran's setlist up through 2019. (My runner-up today, BTW, is "Lonely In Your Nightmare.")
Knowing that there’s no wrong answer: which of the five would we most likely find pinned up in your locker?
A photo of the whole band!
I understand your next book will be of interest to Totally 80s fans - can you tell us a little about it?
It’s a book on The B-52s' influence! It should hopefully be out next year.
Thanks again to Annie for talking to Totally 80s! Don't forget to get your copy of the book here or wherever books are sold.