How ’70s U.K. Music Icons Inspired Duran Duran: Book Excerpt
Duran Duran's second album, Rio, cemented the Birmingham band's status as '80s pop superstars. Released on May 10, 1982, the LP spawned global hits such as "Hungry Like the Wolf" and the title track.
Rio's music reflected the inventive ways the members of Duran Duran incorporated their influences. Although Roxy Music and David Bowie were permanent guiding lights for the band, the troupe famously wanted to craft a sound that was akin to disco legends Chic meets punks the Sex Pistols - two bands bassist John Taylor adored.
However, each musician brought eclectic inspirations to Duran Duran's songwriting. Drummer Roger Taylor also listened to punk and disco. Keyboardist Nick Rhodes was a fan of Japan, Brian Eno and the Human League. Guitarist Andy Taylor, meanwhile, admired Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Gary Moore and Angus Young, among others. And singer Simon Le Bon could have moodier tastes; in fact, in 2020 he recalled seeing a double bill of Joy Division and the Cure in 1978.
Combine all of these sounds with the band's ambition, tenacity, optimism and steely focus — and you get Rio.
The following text is excerpted from Duran Duran's Rio, which published as part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on May 6, by Annie Zaleski.
Although the elaborate Rio-era videos gave people the impression Duran Duran were ruthless capitalists or Thatcherites, these clips were filmed after Rio was complete but before the LP was a worldwide blockbuster. While recording the album, the band members weren’t jaded jetsetters, but hopeful dreamers. The cosmopolitan and escapist vibe permeating the Rio LP is aspirational, rooted in sincerity and earnestness.
“It was all unconscious how we did it. We certainly didn’t sit down and plan that we were going to make this album of escapism and aspiration,” John Taylor says. “No conversations were had to that effect. But subconsciously, all the lives that we had all lived up to that point all got sort of poured into it and expressed.” Duran Duran believed in themselves — and believed they could actually manifest these glamorous and exciting lives — because they had tangible role models. “There was a lot of confidence in what we were doing,” the bassist continues. “I mean, an extraordinary amount of confidence, the kind of confidence that only we could have gotten in Britain at that time, really.”
“And I don’t mean confidence of, like, you know, ‘Hey, man, we got it. We got this,’” he adds, affecting a deliberately gruff vocal tone. “Not gym confidence — just an innate sense of having spent the last 10 years of our lives watching bands like Pink Floyd and Roxy Music and the Sex Pistols and the Clash and David Bowie. Watching these extraordinary, iconoclastic musicians [and] songwriters come out of Cambridge, Bromley, Shepherd’s Bush, Newcastle — wherever.”
John Taylor relays a story that mega-AC/DC fan Andy Taylor used to frequent the same bar in Newcastle as Brian Johnson, a musician who was in the band Geordie and later replaced Bon Scott as AC/DC’s frontman. “And the day Brian Johnson got the job in AC/DC, Andy was in the bar — and Brian Johnson bought a round for everybody,” he says. “And for Andy, that was like, ‘Holy shit. Someone from where I’m from can get that kind of recognition.’”
“That was beyond encouraging — I mean, talk about aspirational,” the bassist continues. “You know, aspiration is fine, as long as there’s some sense of real possibility there. I mean, if it’s just a complete fucking fantasy, then that doesn’t serve any purpose at all. But if it’s grounded in enough energy or self-belief that you can actually build on that fantasy and make it a reality — then it’s substantive.”
Taylor’s perspective points to one reason why Duran Duran were so driven, so determined to make their escapist adventures come true. Some artists are content to revel in fantasy and possibility; it’s akin to someone who pines after a crush and loses interest when feelings are reciprocated. Duran Duran not only loved the romance of the daydream; they also found beauty in the consummation, being able to visit those sunlit beaches and take in the magnificent vistas with their own eyes.