Duran Duran will most likely go down in musical history as the first MTV superstars. A perfect example of the right band at the right time, the Birmingham, England quintet wisely took full advantage of the video medium and the advent of MTV with exotic clips that exploited their pretty-boy looks and with-it fashion sense. As an unfortunate result, their hairstyles, mascara and leather trousers received more attention than did their music, and they were maliciously reviled by critics. But that was typical of the video age; Duran Duran were a video group first (the only Grammy they have ever won was for Best Long-Form Video) and a musical group second. Still, for better or worse, they helped cement the star-making power of MTV, and their influence on the style of music video is undeniable.
Inspired by David Bowie’s androgyny, Japan’s Eurodisco and Chic’s funky groove, Duran Duran formed in 1978, taking their name from a character in the sci-fi cult flick Barbarella. Their 1981 debut met with some underground dance club success, but their sophomore effort Rio made them an international phenomenon–largely due to heavy MTV rotation. “Durania” swept the globe, with Duran Duran plastered on every conceivable piece of merchandise and the covers of practically every teen mag. Their third album, Seven & The Ragged Tiger, was equally successful, yielding their first No. 1 hit, “The Reflex.” However, after the band took a long break to work on the side projects Power Station and Arcadia, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor departed, and the band never quite regained its popularity. They were dismissed as washed-up teen idols until they finally crossed over to the adult market in 1993 with Duran Duran (The Wedding Album). Too bad they foolishly followed this comeback with a wretched, universally-panned covers album, Thank You. Bassist John Taylor subsequently quit the band in early ’97 to pursue a solo career and record with all-star band the Neurotic Outsiders.
The albums released during the lull in Duran Duran’s career–Notorious, Big Thing and Liberty–are all mixed bags, with a few shoulda-been hits and a few clunkers; Thank You is an unwelcome addition to any self-respecting record collection. But their first two glorious albums, Duran Duran and Rio, and triumphant return The Wedding Album, are bona fide, must-have classics. Taken as a whole, the band’s body of work is much more respectable than all their cheesy pin-ups, lipgloss and fedora hats suggest. Their first album released after John Taylor’s departure, Medazzaland, sold poorly, but a strong return to form with the year 2000’s ballad-heavy Pop Trash may be yet another comeback for the perservering group. That remains to be seen, but who knows? There may come a time when there are no original members left in Duran Duran, but they’ll probably still be around.They are survivors.