From the Record Crate: Duran Duran – “Rio” (1982)

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What’s the most seminal, classic, 1980s pop song you can think of? What’s the song that perfectly encapsulates the musical trends and styles of the decade? This is a question that will get a multitude of answers from people, but at least a fair number of people would answer “Hungry Like the Wolf”, by Duran Duran from the band’s 1982 album Rio. More than just “Wolf,”

Rio is a quintessentially 1980s album, an album that helps to define a decade, despite it’s release early in the decade. After all, Rio was released in 1982. It shows just how on-point Duran Duran was that they could release an album that helped to serve as a cornerstone of the decade when the decade had just started.

More than anything, Rio is fun. This is to be expected–Duran Duran took the band’s name from a Barbarella character, for crying out loud, this is a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Songs on Rio are willing to push the envelope, delving into something that’s goofy yet spectacularly well-made. “My Own Way” ends with Simon le Bon shouting phrases over a pulsing guitar melody, in an endearing yet slightly dumb manner.

The biggest candidate for Duran Duran’s well-polished fun is “Hungry Like the Wolf”, a song that’s equally iconic and equally stupid. “Hungry Like the Wolf” is an amazing song, three minutes of pop perfection with an amazing vocal line, wonderful backing vocals, a beautiful thirty seconds in the final chorus, and the dumbest lyrics known to man. What on Earth does “I smell like I sound” even mean to begin with? The bit before the final chorus, where Simon le Bon whispers “hungry like the wolf” over the sound of heavy breathing is also hilariously silly–and that’s the point. Duran Duran knows it sounds silly, why else would they do this? This is a beautifully silly song that they play 100% straight and that makes it all the better.

Rio is an album full of amazingly well-crafted and well-produced songs that are actually quite long. A good number of the songs on the album are over four minutes, eschewing the traditional pop radio time constraints. And yet, they don’t feel like they’re over four minutes. “The Chauffeur” pushes five minutes and yet sounds shorter and longer at the same time. The song is haunting, le Bon’s vocals flitting over a minimal score, the synth dropping in like raindrops before swapping to a flowing, lilty overplay, bringing so much atmospheric power to the piece. Those moments where le Bon sings the phrase “Sing Blue Silver” are downright transcendent, a musical oddity that somehow sets itself apart from the other songs but fits the tone of the album perfectly.

At least for me, the true highlight of the album is the title track. “Rio” is such a beautifully composed song. There’s no weak moments, there aren’t any obvious faults, it’s just a bright, beautiful poppy with an amazing sax riff near the end. From those opening synths to the pounding guitars, it’s an amazing opening that just drops you right into pop perfection. Do the lyrics make sense? Not entirely! But again, it doesn’t matter. The lyrics are a perfect fit for the moment, only falling apart if I’m also just so happy to see a synthpop song dealing with the American Southwest. So often that area’s just relegated to country/western but nope, here’s a ridiculous synthpop masterpiece that namechecks the Rio Grande River.

There’s a reason Rio’s made plenty of ‘top albums of the 1980s’ lists and that’s simply because it’s a good album. Rio is a beautiful piece of synthpop perfection, with each song intricately written. It’s an amazingly silly and amazingly polished pop masterpiece that deserves all the praise it gets.