Duran Duran had it all. Five good-looking lads from England who made smashing pop songs, pioneered the music video format and were adored by princesses. Their fans, Duranies, were the noisiest in the world (the band was entered into the Guinness Book of Records for the “loudest pre-show concert noise”). They partied hard, dated (and married) supermodels. They wrote the soundtrack to the first half of the ‘80s. Awards poured in; Grammys, BRITs, an Ivor Novello for “outstanding contribution,” in recognition of a collection of works which includes “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Girls on Film,” “The Reflex,” “Ordinary World,” “A View to a Kill,” “Save a Prayer” and others. And there’s more to come. The band is on a well-deserved break having just completed a two-year world tour in support of Paper Gods, their 14th studio release, from 2015 (the album hit No. 5 in the U.K. and No. 10 in the U.S.). Over the coming months, “they will be heading back into the studio to work on a new record”, the band’s manager Wendy Laister tells Billboard via email from NYC. While Duranies wait for the next chapter, Billboard digs in with a selection of 10 outstanding but lesser-known cuts or remixes from their deep catalog.
Sometimes, a deadline is the essential ingredient for greatness. “Secret Oktober” is proof of that. The B-side to 1983’s “Union of the Snake” is a one-off, created under the pressure of deadline and distance in a pre-Internet world. “We did that on a tour,” keyboardist Nick Rhodes recounted in a May 2005 interview with this reporter. “Simon and I wrote that one night in Australia at the 301 Studios in Sydney. We got a phone call saying ‘we’re pressing Union of the Snake tomorrow in New York and you haven’t sent us the B-side yet. And we realized we didn’t have a B-side. So we stayed up with (the late producer) Alex Sadkin and wrote ‘Secret Oktober.’” The result — an inspired experiment fusing Simon’s vocals and poetry with Nick’s electronic wizardry.
“Too Late Marlene”
A shamefully overlooked album, Big Thing was punished by what was happening elsewhere. So much of the pop and rock music dominating the charts in the late ‘80s was spectacularly poor. Something had to give. Welcome grunge, which flushed away the garbage in the same way punk hit the restart button in the ‘70s. The “summer of love” had arrived, and with it the explosion of house music across the U.K. and Europe. Indie was bubbling away, Britpop was coming. Big Thing, with elements of house, pop and rock, dropped at a time when popular music was wistfully staring at its gaping navel. It’s an LP out of time. “Too Late Marlene,” built on a bed of cocktail lounge keys, sounds like no other DD track. It’s a nod to the band’s determination to evolve, a trick they likely learned from their hero and mentor David Bowie (see below).
Duran Duran’s members were understandably heartbroken with David Bowie died in January 2016. The band probably wouldn’t exist without the direction of the Thin White Duke in their formative years. Duran Duran covered some of his songs, from “Diamond Dogs” to “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Fame.” And they became close. So much so, the band’s Strange Behaviour tour joined forces with Bowie’s Glass Spider for a run of North America co-headlining dates in 1987. Duran Duran’s recording of “Fame” appeared as the B-side on the 12″ edition of the band’s second single, “Careless Memories.” Their version eschews the funk of the original and injects a darker, post-punk sound.
“Faster Than Light”
Another early track, “Faster Than Light” was the B-side to the band’s third single “Girls On Film” (the controversial video for which helped put the band on track for the big leagues). On paper, none of this should work. And Simon’s falsetto should torpedo “Faster Than Light.” But somehow, in some way, it captures the sound of a band with the world at its feet.
“New Moon on Monday” (extended mix)
Duran Duran destroyed the myth of the “difficult second album” with 1982’s Rio, by hitting the ball so far out the park it hasn’t yet landed. Seven and the Ragged Tiger from 1983 was the “difficult third album.” Depending on which mags you read, Duran Duran was now the biggest pop band on the planet. And with a global hit in “The Reflex,” they mounted a major tour in support of Ragged Tiger. But the album was costly and couldn’t match the magic of its predecessor. The album has some fine moments. “The Seventh Stranger” is a fan fave. “New Moon on Monday” is from the top shelf and its 12” version takes things up a notch. Nick Rhodes’ effects-loaded synth chords at the 1:15 mark are sublime, and its B-side carries a reworked version of the instrumental album track “Tiger Tiger”. Seven and the Ragged Tiger represents the end of an era. The classic lineup of Taylor-Taylor-Taylor-Rhodes-Le Bon wouldn’t reunite for another album until 2004’s Astronaut.
“Burning the Ground”
Ever hear your dad/granddad’s collection of Jive Bunny records? Well, don’t go looking for them and don’t even try associating them with “Burning the Ground,” the 1989 “mega-mix” of Duran Duran’s hits. The effort gone into the track (led by producer John Jones and engineer Chris Potter) and its accompanying video shows, as “Burning the Ground” takes on a life and vibe of its own. Keep an eye out for news footage of the hull of Le Bon’s maxi racing yacht Drum, which dramatically capsized in August 1985 and almost cost the singer his life.
Duran Duran returned to the spotlight in a big way in 1993 with “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone,” and their parent, the so-called Wedding Album. For their next move, instead of striding forward with another album of future classics, they went back in time with Thank You, an album of covers. Bowie did it with Pin Ups in 1973. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and many others have since paid homage to their heroes with covers albums. Duran’s Thank You, however, was mercilessly ridiculed by some sections of the British music press (The Observer’s Music Monthly deemed “911 is a Joke” as the biggest joke of all, appointing it No. 1 in a list for worst-ever covers). For all its well-reported faults, Thank You had some grand moments – “Perfect Day,” “White Lines” — and reintroduced original drummer Roger Taylor into the fold. The only original song on the set, “Drive By,” is the sequel/prequel to the Rio album-closing classic, “The Chauffeur.” But the critics, it seemed, just drove on by.
“Someone Else Not Me”
The early aughts were dark days for Duranies (and almost certainly for the remaining founding band members, Simon and Nick). The magic was still there. The problem was, few were tuned in. “Someone Else Not Me” is one of the great ballads of Duran’s career, a song so impressive it reignited John Taylor’s passion for the band and paved the way for his return, a moment he recalled in his 2012 autobiography In The Pleasure Groove. “Someone Else Not Me” impacted in Italy, a market which held the flame during those wilderness years. Special mention to the B-side and Pop Trash ballad “Starting to Remember,” with its unconventional time signature and melancholy tone a light year from their earlier goods. Classic Duran Duran in a not-so-classic era.
Any band who’d graced the covers of Smash Hits and Number 1 in the early 1980s were in for a tough time when 1990 came into view. Duran Duran’s Liberty introduced former Missing Persons axeman Warren Cuccurullo and David Bowie’s drummer Sterling Campbell as permanent band members. The album didn’t fly on the charts, but the career-revitalizing Wedding Album was next up. Liberty single “Serious” enjoyed a second life in the mid-2000s when Le Bon re-recorded the chorus for Dutch DJ and producer Ferry Corsten’s track “Fire” (credited as “Ferry Corsten featuring Simon Le Bon”).
Arcadia, “Missing” *
OK, not quite a Duran Duran song. But there’s as much “Duran Duran” in this song as anything the band created in the subsequent decade or so. The group fractured after 1985’s “A View To A Kill.” John and Andy then formed rock outfit The Power Station with Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson (both of whom have passed), while Nick, Simon and Roger created Arcadia’s So Red the Rose. The Arcadia side project was a meticulously-crafted piece of art from the imagery down to the codes on the album artwork (we cracked it back in the day: they correspond with letters of the alphabet). The album also hosted a freakish lineup of guests. Here’s a great pub quiz question: Which ‘80s album had guest spots from Grace Jones, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Herbie Hancock and Sting? Yep, you guessed it. Though Roger didn’t promote the album in any way, John Taylor gave a cameo in the clip for “The Flame.” That’s four out of five members connected to the project. So Red The Rose is the album Duran Duran should have made. “Missing” is a standout. The haunting, final track on side-A was reportedly influenced by the story of a father coping with the loss of a child. Its video is a borderline masterpiece, though its pitiful view count on YouTube doesn’t do justice. Also worth noting: the trio only appear in the clip as still photographs (they don’t appear at all in the memorable, kinky video for “The Chauffeur”).