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Several years ago, somebody asked my wife what concert she thought I’d most like to see. Her reply was Duran Duran. At the time she was wrong – I was writing about Duran Duran at the time and, thus, was listening to a ton of their songs – but over the years I’ve gotten more and more interested in the possibility of seeing them live. I even joined their fan club to get my ideal tickets when I heard they were coming to Honolulu (and also because I’ve really become a fan). Thus, thanks to my wife, I saw them last month and they were awesome.
I’ve had a complicated relationship with Duran Duran. I was completely taken with them when they first broke on to the American scene because I was a fan of early 80’s new wave and because their videos sometimes included nudity. I mean, I was 14 or 15 when they broke onto the scene.
Then a stupid thing happened. I mentioned this when I wrote about Madonna. Once a critical mass of girls in my life started really digging them, my teenage misogyny kicked in and I started to find the band suspect. By the time I went to college, I probably would have had rejected them as sell outs anyways. I, like many fans of the band, came back on board in 1993 when they released Duran Duran (aka The Wedding Album) though it was the song “Too Much Information” (which reads as an attack on MTV) that piqued my interest not “Come Undone” or “Ordinary World.” I’ve been following them with mild to solid interest ever since.
While I have some issues with their lyrics (nothing like my issues with the lyrics of New Order), I generally find Duran Duran to be a smart band with excellent instincts. I absolutely adore some of their songs, like many more, and only strongly dislike a few. As with all of my lists, there’s a bunch of songs you’ve likely not heard unless you’re a superfan near the top and some classics near the bottom. I have my opinions.
Duran Duran went through several extensive line-up changes. At one point, three members o Duran Duran formed a band called Arcadia which sounded an awful lot like Duran Duran. I’m counting Arcadia as Duran Duran for the sake of this list. Two other members had some success teaming up with Tony Thompson and Robert Palmer as Power Station. I’m not including them on the list because they don’t sound especially like Duran Duran (they do, however, sound like Robert Palmer so I’ll include those songs on his list). I’ve included a few bonus tracks of other Duran Duran offshoots.
Let’s get this party started.
Bonus Track: Jerk by Neurotic Outsiders
From 1996’s Neurotic Outsiders, First Single
Duran Duran bassist John Taylor was a member of this supergroup with Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones and Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. They were sort of a pick-up band of friends at an LA club (the no-no-notorious Viper Room) that played from time to time. In 1996, they dashed off a fun, hard rocking album that doesn’t especially sound like any of their former bands. “Jerk” is sort of just straight forward 90’s hard rock – its like grunge never happened. Taylor (as the representative of Duran Duran on this track) sings backing vocals and his rhythm work on bass with Sorum is outstanding.
Bonus Track: Dark Circles by The Devils
From the 2002 album Dark Circles, First Single
The original vocalist for Duran Duran (before they recorded a note) was Stephen Duffy (later of Tin Tin and later still of The Lilac Time). He was with the band for about a year but split in 1979 before the band had made an album. In 1979, they did record a show of this line up’s Duran Duran tunes. One day in 1999, Duffy stumble across that live recording and he and Nick Rhodes decided it would be fun to record an album of those early songs. They released it under the name The Devils and it is, arguably, my favorite Duran Duran side project. Duffy is best known (to my group of friends) for the song “Kiss Me.” (He re-recorded that song in 1985) Anyhow, Duffy is a talented musician whose career is also worth following. Perhaps we’ll dive into his work later. In the meantime, dig on this single.
Bonus Track: Take it Easy by Andy Taylor
From the soundtrack to the 1987 film American Anthem, first single
Oh Andy Taylor. He’s the black sheep of the original “fab five,” the first member of the classic Duran Duran line-up who quit and the one who is not currently with the band (he did return briefly in the early 00’s). He had a couple of big years immediately post-Duran Duran with Power Station, his solo career, and working with Rod Stewart on Stewart’s album Out of Order. For reasons that I don’t know, he moved to mostly producing in the 90’s. Anyhow, “Take It Easy” is a hard rock track that sounds almost nothing like Duran Duran but sounds a lot like almost everything else hard-rock that was being released in 1987.
And now, 64 Duran Duran singles:
64. Burning The Ground
1989 single released to promote Decade (but not included on that album)
Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, John Taylor, Roger Taylor
Thomas Dolby’s “Get Out Of My Mix” is a similar piece – both this track and that one are basically remixes constructed out of earlier hits. They were rather ambitious in constructing this piece – elements from at least ten Duran Duran hits are included in the mix. I just can’t get into this track, though. I get frustrated that none of the songs ever actually start – its like listening to a commercial for a greatest hits album. I am amused by the repeated use of the phrase “I tell you somebody’s fooling around” from “The Reflex” (that seems to be the artistic choice of producer John Johns) but that’s not enough to make me a fan.
63. Lay Lady Lay
From 1995’s Thank You, Third Single
Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Warren Cuccurullo
Thank You was Duran Duran’s thoroughly excoriated covers album. I come here today to praise Duran Duran, not bury them. By recording an album of covers, Duran Duran provided all of those songwriters with paychecks. A paycheck is a great way to say thank you. Duran Duran selected songs for the album with an eye towards paying tribute to artists whose work influenced them or that they admired. I feel like they demonstrated through their songs choices (if not always through their interpretations of those songs) that they have excellent taste in music. This cover of Bob Dylan’s classic song sounds like an effort to turn his tune into the next “Come Undone.” Its just kind of wrong headed. One thing I do like about it is that it sounds to me like Le Bon uses Dylan’s pronoun shifts in a pointed way to suggest that the man in bed with the lady in his big brass bed is not necessarily the same man as he. I might just be reading that into his vocal, but its a kind of compelling take on the song. Anyhow, I skip this one whenever the opportunity to skip it arises.
62. Femme Fatale
From 1993’s Duran Duran (“The Wedding Album”), Promotional Video
Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Warren Cuccurullo
As I mentioned when I was writing about R.E.M.’s cover of “Femme Fatale,” there’s some sort of rule about every band covering this song at some time. Most bands have the good sense not to set their cover to tape/vinyl/digits. The original version of this song by The Velvet Underground and Nico is pretty much perfect so nearly every cover is going to pale a bit in comparison. Duran Duran recorded this song for the same album with “Come Undone” and “Ordinary World,” so it sounds pretty much like a bland pop version of The Velvet Underground. I mean, I can hear the potential for the song to be a bland pop tune but that doesn’t necessarily justify recording it as a bland pop song.
61. Meet el Presidente
From 1986’s Notorious, Third Single
Duran Duran on this track: Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor
“Meet el Presidente” (which you can sing as “Meet Present Al Dente” or even “Meet President Al Dente” if you force it) has the distinction of being my least favorite original Duran Duran tune. A single from the album Notorious (one of the worst – but not the absolute worst – reviewed Duran Duran albums), “Meet El Presidente” suffers on several fronts. First, the title track of “Notorious” set a very high bar. Future tracks from the album were bound to be disappointing. Second, Duran Duran was in the process of redefining itself after the departure of Andy Taylor and John Taylor. They decided that Adult Contemporary pop was the direction they wanted to go and sort of abandoned their signature sound. Good for them for stretching, but, hmm, they stretching into some well trod territory here. Finally, the song just isn’t all that great. It was a minor hit but I think that was more on the strength of the band’s name then on love for the tune. Many of my least favorite Duran Duran songs are the ones that sound like they could have been recorded by virtually any other contemporary band. This is one of those songs.
Coming Soon: A really big hit that I really don’t like (but that was awesome in concert).