Duran Duran and Americans’ growing love of all things British

Duran Duran’s second album, “Rio” catapulted the group into pop music history. The singles from that album remain part of the American pop music canon. “Rio,” was released 35 years ago this week. It yielded such hits as the title track, “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and “Save a Prayer.”

Since 1982, pop fans have grown to love the sound and scenes created by Duran Duran on their recordings and in their videos. The videos released to accompany the songs allowed fans a glimpse into exotic worlds.

The early 1980s was the age of college rock, of thought-pop, and a great deal of that music was created by British bands. The demographic likely to watch music videos ranged in age from approximately 10 years old to college age and the groups most likely to create music videos were British. Early Music Television was replete with bands from the United Kingdom, as they seemed the first to embrace the new medium.

Aside from music videos, the ideas associated with past and present day England were presented to American youth through literature and public television shows, and many young people became fascinated by British culture.

Before there was Downton, there was Duran Duran

British culture creeps into the lives of bookish American children before anyone realizes what is going on. Before there was Downton Abbey, there were Duran Duran videos. And a small cadre of dramatic movies set in manor houses. Between Victorian literature, British comedies on public television and British pop music videos, children of the 1980s were exposed to the British way of life, or at least a version of it, every day.

 

The world of Duran Duran did not discriminate. Brown women were commonly made love interests, an idea that seemed practically avant-garde in flyover country. Then, there were the clothes. Viewers did not see the members of Duran Duran in the ripped clothing of so many American rock stars. It seemed that Duran Duran was always wearing ties and singing on a yacht, or something like that.

Lyrically Duran Duran

Duran Duran always had an unusual way of putting things. Compared to other pop songs of the early 1980s, the group sounded a bit smart, as if they were in on a secret. True, romantic entanglements are a common theme in Duran Duran songs, but the way they are approached is what separates them from the rest.

About “Rio”

“Rio” is Duran Duran’s second album. Much could said about the early new wave sparseness of the first album, which was self-titled, but the growth from debut to sophomore effort is clear.

The ingredients for a successful Duran Duran song include Simon LeBon’s clear tenor, and John Taylor’s funk-oriented bass. The keyboards can be made to set a party scene, or to craft an eerie situation, such as in “The Chauffeur,” where Taylor’s bass frequently runs down to low notes, and Nick Rhodes’ keyboards continue their keen piping.

The songs “Rio” and “Last Chance on the Stairway” are gems in the pop music crown of Duran Duran. All of the ingredients are there–the romantic intrigue, the dancing bass, the spry ’80s keyboards, and a soaring tenor voice on lead vocals.

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