Wild boys : Duran Duran’s musical legacy is more than kitsch
New-wave icons Duran Duran will play the Majestic Theatre Monday.
BY JOHNSTON FARROW
Hip-hop be damned, Duran Duran invented bling. Long before Notorious B.I.G. and P.Diddy née Puff Daddy cruised the waves in their massive motorboat in the 1997 video for “Hypnotize,” the boys in the late Princess Di’s favorite band — scheduled to perform Monday, December 1, at the Majestic Theatre — sailed on yachts in Armani suits, scored with a harem of supermodels, ventured to exotic locales to shoot videos, and did enough blow to prang out an elephant herd.
It was the ’80s, the era of sweatbands and legwarmers, Nintendo and MTV. Thanks to the latter, the Birmingham quintet, consisting of vocalist Simon Le Bon, innovative keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor, and drummer Roger Taylor (none of them related), became superstars. Duran Duran took the music video to the next level, pouring more money into the three-to-four minute clips than anyone before, buoyed on a string of first-rate, sexually charged singles such as “Girls on Film,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and “Wild Boys.”
Albums Rio (1982), Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983), and live-offering Arena (1984) were mega-hits, transforming the band into jet-setting playboys. Although they were distinctively a New Wave act, Duran Duran personified the decade of decadence, designer drugs, and most importantly, good music. Yes, we’re still talking about the ’80s.
“I can’t name a girl between the ages of 30 and 40 who wasn’t in love with Simon LeBon,” says Blake Cormier of local band Druggist, who admits his affection for the ’80s. “There is an air of nostalgia, of course, but [their] pop tunes really stand up to the test of time. When all these modern disco-punk, flash-in-the-pan, and sound-like-everyone-else bands are forgotten in 10 years, people will still be buying girls drinks while ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ cranks overhead.”
The songs that emanated over the airwaves during the neon decade still have a lasting impact on today’s acts, so much so that it might be the most influential time period in music history other than the ’60s. The aughts have seen a revival of the ’80s aesthetic, with many alt-rock bands busting out the synthesizers, the dance-floor beats, and god help us, the once-requisite saxophone solo.
“Musically, I’ve always been a big fan of the simplicity and catchiness of the guitar hooks of bands from that era,” says Edwin Stephens, lead guitarist for SA’s Blowing Trees. “I think great melodies on really cool guitar tones played a key role in making some of those hits as big as they were — the opening riff to ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and the Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ being great examples.”
Portland, Oregon eccentrics the Dandy Warhols displayed their kinship to the past in 2003, hiring Nick Rhodes to produce their album Welcome to the Monkeyhouse. The Killers, the Rapture, Cut Copy, Ladytron, even Justin Timberlake, are all examples of acts that incorporate their devotion to the musical influences of their youths.
“I think a lot of what was driving the sounds of the ’80s, especially early, had a lot to do with access to affordable synthesizers and experimenting with futuristic sounds,” adds Stephens. “We’re kind of going through the same experimental phase again — of course, this time with plenty of stuff to learn from and rehash.”
Duran Duran continued to make decent records even as the MTV age entered its prolonged death throes, proving their resiliency with several hits, including “Ordinary World,” “Come Undone,” and “Electric Barbarella.” Following 20 years of personnel changes (all three Taylors left the band) and failed albums, four of the original members (sans Andy Taylor) reunited and released the group’s best record in a decade — 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, with tracks produced by JT and Timbaland. Despite hiring the producers-du-jour, the band still couldn’t shake its roots as the act that dominated one of the most colorful periods in music — “Rio” and “Planet Earth,” will always get more play on radio and retro club nights than the newer songs.
But who really cares? When the band hits the stage at the Majestic Theatre on December 1, it won’t so much be a celebration of a group that began 30 years ago, but a reminder of the footprint they’ve made on our collective memories, a legacy that’s influenced two decades of popular music. Like it or not, the ’80s still matter, and Duran Duran is one of the main reasons why they do. •
8pm Mon, Dec 1
224 E. Houston
Courtesy San Antonio Current