Her Name is MS Paint

Duran Duran Singles Ranked, 1-10

Breaking with tradition, most of my top ten Duran Duran songs are also their huge hits. Neither of their US #1’s but several top ten and top 40. They played all but three of these in their entirety when they were here in Honolulu last month. Let’s not waste any time:

10. Rio

From the 1982 album Rio, Third Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor

Look into your heart and you know this is true – what makes “Rio” great is John Taylor’s bass work.  If you don’t believe me, listen to it again and just focus on the bass.  No, no, just after the amazing part that sounds like a synthesizer vomiting up random beeps, and just behind the stabs of guitar.  That bass line makes the song.  John Taylor and Nick Rhodes were the two original members of the band and most of their most interesting work in the early years can be traced directly to one of them (in my opinion).  I also dig the harmonies they employ on this song (and on many others).  I don’t know the correct musical term, but it’s not unlike the sort of harmonies Alice in Chains used in the 90’s – they sound just a little off but very pleasing at the same time.  Trained music people, please explain to me how this works.  One of my favorite recent memories involves singing this song at karaoke with my friend Brandon.  In addition to being a fine singer with excellent taste in Duran Duran songs, Brandon is a good 20 or more years younger than me.  It always makes me happy when a young person knows all the words to songs from my generation.  Indeed, it makes me feel both happy and maybe not so old after all.

9. New Moon On Monday

From the 1983 album Seven and the Ragged Tiger, Second Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor

I don’t know what the lizard mixture is, but she’s got a picture of it.  Duran Duran hated that video (and somehow, I have absolutely no memory of it).  As with “Union of the Snake” (#27) at the time of this song’s release, I thought it was a David Bowie tune.  I think I can be forgiven this error because Simon Le Bon does legit sound a very little bit like Bowie when he uses his lower register at the beginning of the tune.  I feel a little bad that I didn’t finish this particular entry in time to share it during the eclipse yesterday.  I mean, an eclipse isn’t a new moon, but the moon was involved and it was Monday.  I’m rambling more than usual here.  Le Bon’s vocal performance is my favorite thing about this song.  He use his falsetto but he really shows off the whole rest of his vocal range.  They did not perform this song in concert in Honolulu last month but did use the chorus as the bridge in “Reach Out For The Sunrise” (#12).

8. Notorious

From the 1986 album Notorious, First Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor

I had no idea that I liked this song before I saw them perform it in concert last month.  Indeed, I rather thought this song was going to be at the bottom of the list.  Then Roger Taylor and John Taylor got funky and blew the roof off of Neil Blaisdell Center.  Roger, of course, wasn’t the drummer on the original (that would be Steve Ferrone of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers guesting in) but John Taylor played on that album version.  Duran Duran originally set out to be a band that combined punk and Chic-style disco.  They might not have ever quite achieved the punk part, but with “Notorious,” they nailed the disco part.  I’ve since listened to this song about two dozen more times and it gets better every time I listen to it.  Its parent album, also called Notorious, doesn’t even come close to living up to the promise of this song, which is a shame because if it had, it would have been among Duran Duran’s best albums.  Seriously, go to see them live even if only to hear this song.  It was the highlight of the whole night (and the night had several highlights).

7. Pressure Off (feat. Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers)

From the 2015 album Paper Gods, First Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor

I was aware that Duran Duran was playing four or five songs from Paper Gods on their current tour (I mean, it is the Paper Gods tour so, you know) and had made a playlist with the tracks they typically play from that album so I could prepare for the concert.  I never listened to it (I listened to almost nothing but Madonna all summer).  Thus, the first time I heard “Pressure Off” was in concert and it knocked my socks off.  The album track – which features guitar by Nile Rodgers and guest vocals by Janelle Monáe – is equally excellent.  This is another track that is elevated by the funky rhythms of John Taylor and Roger Taylor.  The highlight for me is singing along with Simon Le Bon as he goes “you you you” and then launches into the high energy chorus.  It’s a real treat and a great late career single.  Worth your time, I think.

6. Come Undone

From the 1993 album Duran Duran (The Wedding Album), Second Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Warren Cuccurullo

This is another song that I liked much more post-concert than pre-concert.  Without a doubt the finest single from the Cuccurullo years – indeed, the guitarist was the song’s primary composer.   Vocalist Tessa Niles‘ contribution to this song is one of the absolute highlights for me (vocalist Anna Ross received a well-deserved huge round of applause in Honolulu for her interpretation of that part of the song).  The interplay of Le Bon’s slow and steady vocal line with the more rapid interjections from Niles is extremely appealing.  As is the case with many Duran Duran songs, I’m not entirely sure what they’re singing about (I really should spend more time thinking about this) but I do know it might take a little crime to come undone, which is worrisome.  Anyhow, singing along with the backing vocals is one of life’s true joys right now.

5. Hungry Like The Wolf

From the 1982 album Rio, First Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor

I still love this song 35 years later just about as much as I did when I first heard those hollow electric drums for the first time.  Between the iconic “doo doo” on this song and the fade-out “doo doo” of “Rio,” I confess I assumed “doo doo” was sort of Duran Duran’s thing (there’s even a little “doo doo” on “Save A Prayer”).  Turns out it was just a Rio thing.  The song and its accompanying video have become cultural touch-stones – the video is almost synonymous with early MTV and I’ve seen it parodied half-a-dozen times over the years (unexpected parodies of this video always make me champagne-cork laugh).  I remember liking this song so much that I sang part of it once in Newtown High School locker room before PE.  I don’t remember why I did that, but I didn’t get beaten up for it so it must have been socially acceptable at the time.  I can’t even begin to explain the 80’s or why teenage boys do the things they do.  Hats off to a song I could sing in a locker room without getting beaten up, though.

4. The Chauffeur

From the 1981 album Duran Duran, Promo Video

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor

The video is entirely NSFW.

Is Simon Le Bon hurting himself on this song?  I mean damaging his voice?  I worry, Simon.  Take care of your voice.  You have at least 36 more years to go back in 1981 and hopefully more.  “The Chauffeur” is so 80’s.  I mean, if Duran Duran hadn’t wanted to have major pop hits, they could have had a glorious brief career doing moody synth pop.  Nick Rhodes is in fine form here with his cold, menacing synthesizer work here and Le Bon croons something about “sing blue silver.”  I want to put my headphones on and imagine I’m swimming through this song.  Well, better headphones than mine.  Seriously, pour this song into a pail and ice-bucket challenge me with it.  They did not play this song in concert here in Honolulu which is a damn shame.

3. Is There Something I Should Know?

1983 Stand-Alone Single, later added to Duran Duran

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor

This song was a huge hit but I reject that reality.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m the only one who has ever heard this song and its mine and mine alone.  I (almost certainly incorrectly) believe that I was the first one of my friends to hear this song.  I spoke about it with no one.  As it climbed the American Top 40 charts, I secretly rejoiced.  I have no idea why I am so attached to this song.  I like the “please please tell me now” chant, the ridiculously enormous electric drums, the stupid guitar riff, the bizarre lyrics (“you’re about as easy as a nuuuclear waaar”) and Nick Rhodes little Morse code keyboard riff right before the chorus.  The song is 4 or so minutes of pop perfection and if it’s not quite as big and dumb a song as “The Reflex” (which is gloriously big and dumb), its kind of big dumb song that I love with all my heart and rank at #3.  They didn’t play this in Honolulu because the world is cruel and everything is awful.

2. Planet Earth

From the 1981 album Duran Duran, First Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor

Everyone in 1981 was singing about nuclear annihilation.  I sort of hoped by now that those songs would stop being relative BUT NOPE.  Duran Duran’s first single is this infectious, dance-able number that seems to be pretty clearly about the end of everything.  It’s also the first song to reference the term “New Romantic,” which is broadly the music style and fashion choice that Duran Duran embraced at the time.  It sounds like there’s some sort of effect applied to Le Bon’s voice here, or perhaps he just needs to gargle.  Hard to say.  Either way, it’s very effective despite the fact that it screams the name of the decade into the darkness of Armageddon.

1. Save A Prayer

From the 1982 album Rio, Second Single

Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor

Sharon recently explained to me that this song is about a one night stand.  What?  No, no, no, never tell me what Duran Duran songs are about.  I avoided trying to learn this because I’m always disappointed.  I’m disappointed right now.  I have to suspend disbelief to enjoy most music.  If I start thinking too hard about most lyrics, I get a sad.  I wish I could go back in time and eliminate the person who told me that “Lola” by The Kinks wasn’t intended to be moving., for example.  Back to “Save A Prayer,” yes, yes, they even sing the line “one night stand” in the song, so I should be aware of this.  I think “Save a Prayer” is the band’s best tightrope walk between the kind of atmospheric pop they secretly wanted to do and their top 40 desires.  Rhodes flute-like keyboard line and Le Bon’s pained vocals paint a picture in my mind of people being separated forever (for reasons that are more meaningful than that they just had a one night stand and didn’t really know each other all that well to begin with, I mean holy cats, what?).  It was one of the concert highlights last month and remains my favorite song by the band even after all these years, and even after learning the sad truth.

Coming Soon: Speaking of sad truth, next up is The Smiths.

Duran Duran Singles Ranked: 61-6451-6041-5031-4021-3011-201-10

4 comments

  1. The most interesting part of this section for me was you sharing your personal experiences, especially singing in the locker room. I think the majority of these songs would be in my personal top ten, if I cared about doing that.

    Side note: Save a Prayer looks like it was filmed in some temple ruins I’ve been to. My mind is saying Cambodia, although it could also be Thailand?

  2. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to play earlier, but here’s my 1/2 cents worth. I admit to being unfamiliar with much of their mid-90s stuff, so I can’t truly comment, but listening to it for your list, it is a lot of fun.

    As for your top 10, I agree with your top 3 (and I’m hard put to decide between Planet Earth and Save a Prayer). I have to say I wasn’t very familiar with Chauffeur. I listened to it a couple of times and I do like it, but it’s just edged out of my top 10. Rio also isn’t as high for me. I don’t know why but that songs a little over done for me, whereas, your over done, Wild Boys, would be higher on my list (on a side note, is it my imagination or is Rio the only video where Le Bon has gone Le Blonde? – oh I had to). I’d move Come Undone to #4 and put (Reach Up for the) Sunrise to #5. Pressure Off is good, but again not my top 10. I would include Lonely in your Nightmare.

    That all being said, I love hearing these songs with your ear. I do think Rhodes synth and Taylor’s bass are a great match and Le Bon’s voice is perfect for the songs. I, too, try not to think much about the lyrics and I love a catchy beat. (I’m not a straight ballad fan. I like more oomph, less lullaby). Well done, R!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *