From New Romantic trailblazers to elder statesmen of pop, the best Duran Duran songs established them as icons that defined the 80s.
Since the early 80s, Duran Duran have been one of the UK’s greatest bands who once stood at the forefront of the new wave revolution. Far from being a manufactured boy band, the talents of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and the three Taylors (Andy, John and Roger) proved they had the songwriting abilities to match their good looks. Churning out dozens of chart successes across their 40-year career, they built upon a legacy of iconic music videos that dominated MTV and took the US by storm. Revealing why the synth-pop band are icons above and beyond the new wave era, here are our 20 best Duran Duran songs.
20: (REACH UP FOR THE) SUNRISE (2004)
In 2001, the “classic” five-piece Duran Duran line-up reunited for the first time since 1985 and recorded the band’s 11th album, Astronaut. Chosen as the album’s lead single, (Reach Up For The) Sunrise was a total blast from the past in more ways than one. An energetic dose of 80s pop nostalgia with an uplifting, anthemic chorus, it quickly took its place among the best Duran Duran songs.
Speaking about the song, guitarist Andy Taylor said, “That’s one of the things that drives us – melodic songs that people can relate to has always been our thing.” Lovingly crafted for their ageing fanbase, it’s remarkable to hear how little Simon Le Bon’s voice had changed – despite being in the pop game for 20 years at the time, he’d lost none of his passion and sounded like he hadn’t aged a day. A true crowd-pleaser.
19: CARELESS MEMORIES (1981)
Arguably closer to the morbid post-punk of The Cure than the Day-Glo pop of Kajagoogoo, the downbeat, pulsating Careless Memories was the second single taken from Duran Duran’s debut album in 1981. Scraping into the UK Top 40, it’s a fascinating and underrated track that more than deserves mention as one of the best Duran Duran songs – Nick Rhodes’ whirling sequencer pattern and Roger Taylor’s trance-inducing beat showcases the band’s potential to be dark and mysterious. A true enigma among their work, Careless Memories suggests a different path Duran Duran rarely took: one of gloomy post-punk ambience and Robert Smith-esque lyricism (“Fear hangs a plane of gun smoke drifting in our room”).
18: I DON’T WANT YOUR LOVE (1989)
With house music striking out in all the late 80s clubs, Duran Duran turned their hand to techno-inspired dance-pop on I Don’t Want Your Love, a 1989 single with a tinge of funk bursting into Eddie Van Halen-esque soloing courtesy of Chester Kamen on guitar. Despite Duran Duran’s former standing as New Romantics, the song is anything but lovelorn, as Le Bon tells the listener he simply isn’t interested in romance (“I don’t want your love to bring me down”).
By mixing the burgeoning sounds of Chicago house and European dance music with Prince’s funk-pop formula, it’s clear Duran Duran were trying to stay ahead of the musical curve – and the gamble seemed to pay off. I Want Your Love hit No.4 in the US, proving the band still had enough commercial appeal to reach the Top 10.
17: SKIN TRADE (1987)
Again showing the influence of Prince, Simon Le Bon gave his best falsetto to Skin Trade, the second single taken from Duran Duran’s 1987 album, Notorious. Written as a lyrical exposé examining sexual exploitation and female prostitution, and inspired by a Dylan Thomas book, at the time Nick Rhodes sincerely felt Skin Trade was “the best thing we’ve ever written”.
Expecting it to do even better than their previous single, Rhodes was in for a disappointment. “We put it out and it bombed, pretty much,” he remembers. Despite only reaching No.22 in the UK, Skin Trade certainly stands as one of the best Duran Duran songs – its cool-headed rhythm combined with its immaculate blasts of brass from The Borneo Horns truly sets it apart. As a distinguished work of assuredness and maturity, the song deserves to be dug out and reappraised.
16: ALL SHE WANTS IS (1988)
The robotic funk of Duran Duran’s 1988 single All She Wants Is continued the electronic dance fusion on the band’s fifth album, Big Thing, and reached No.9 in the UK. Kept on his toes by hyperactive hi-hats, guitarist Warren Cuccurullo squares off against a series of orgasmic yelps with jarring guitar solos which are as angular and dissonant as any post-punk experimentalist’s.
The song’s lyrics are fairly oblique, apparently about an aimless girl in clubland who has it all but is unsure of what she wants next (“What do you care?/What do you dare?/What does your heart say now?”). By focusing on the girl’s unspecified needs, the oscillating funk rhythm starts off alluringly, erupts noisily, before the song reaches its febrile closure. Not only one of the best Duran Duran songs, All She Wants Is could well be one of their most sonically adventurous.
15: NEW MOON ON MONDAY (1984)
Owing as much to Bryan Ferry’s sultry vocals as it does to David Bowie’s 80s balladry, New Moon On Monday was the second single released from Seven And The Ragged Tiger, and became the band’s fourth Top 10 hit in America. From Le Bon’s Roxy Music crooning to the jangling guitar tones of its rousing chorus, this dream-like song sails along ecstatically on a throbbing bass groove.
The only thing that let the song down was its cringe-inducing music video in which the band became resistance fighters conspiring to overthrow the militia controlling a quaint French town. “That video was really awful,” remembered Nick Rhodes. “When the director dresses up as the blind man, you know you’ve got a catastrophe on your hands.” Luckily, you only need your ears to appreciate the song as it is.
14: NOTORIOUS (1986)
Performing as a trio for the very first time, Duran Duran’s 1986 single Notorious saw producer Nile Rodgers flesh out the band’s funk influences – even introducing a brass section, The Borneo Horns, to freshen things up. As Simon Le Bon dishes out a veiled attack on ex-guitarist Andy Taylor (“Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?”), John Taylor’s ragged bassline gives the song its most memorable hook.
Reaching No.2 in the US and No.7 in the UK, the success of Notorious gave this newly slimmed-down Duran Duran line-up cause for optimism, proving to Simon Le Bon, John Taylor and Nick Rhodes that the best Duran Duran songs weren’t yet behind them. This single would eventually be sampled on The Notorious B.I.G’s posthumous gangsta rap anthem by hip-hop producer Puff Daddy in 1999.
13: UNION OF THE SNAKE (1983)
Tantalising the listener with cryptic lyrics rumoured to be about anything from demonic possession or tantric sex to falling victim to a dangerous cult, Union Of The Snake was the first Duran Duran single to be released from their third album, Seven And The Ragged Tiger. Snaking its way into No.3 in both the UK and the US, the song was an intoxicating funk hit that boasts a wailing saxophone solo from Andy Hamilton.
Once again setting his sights on MTV, Simon Le Bon spent the music video impersonating Mad Max by traipsing across sand dunes while fleeing strange blue desert creatures. This wouldn’t be the last time Duran Duran toyed with a post-apocalyptic aesthetic, largely due to the influence of video director Russell Mulcahy (who would later go on to helm the cult-classic fantasy movie Highlander in 1985).
12: MY OWN WAY (1981)
With its quick speed and an injection of Richard Myhill’s disco strings, the band’s UK No.14 hit single My Own Way preceded the release of their Rio album by six months. With Simon Le Bon improbably basing his lyrics on travel directions to a New York nightclub, the song is a vibrant snapshot of things to come before Duran Duran’s brand of funk-laced synth-pop brought them widespread fame and glory.
Claiming the band rush-released the song in a shallow bid to score a hit, Nick Rhodes held a particular disliking for My Own Way. “Biggest mistake of our career. Ever. We’ll never do it again,” he later said. Despite his misgivings, My Own Way is impeccably arranged and leaves the listener giddy with its amphetamine-fuelled tempo. One of the best Duran Duran songs of the early 80s, it’s much better than the band think it is.
11: THE WILD BOYS (1985)
Following director Russell Malcahy’s suggestion to seek inspiration in William Burroughs’ 1971 novel, The Wild Boys: A Book Of The Dead, the resulting 1985 single was an abrasively bombastic dance-pop tune that became a UK No.2 hit courtesy of Nile Rodgers’ uncompromising production work. “It is the best thing we have ever done,” John Taylor was quoted as saying. “We are getting more meaty. We are moving towards a rougher sound.”
The music video for The Wild Boys was a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic sci-fi extravaganza, apparently acting as Russell Malcahy’s mini-film pitch for what a William S Burroughs movie adaptation might look like. Russell’s associate Marcello Anciano mentions the band “wrote the song and Russell did the video based on all the ideas for the film”. Sadly, Duran Duran’s star power wasn’t quite enough to get the movie bankrolled, even though the video cost $1 million to make.
10: COME UNDONE (1993)
As the follow-up to their 1993 comeback, hit Ordinary World, Duran Duran continued their hot streak with Come Undone, which yet again entered the US Top 10 and remains one of the best Duran Duran songs of the 90s. A moodily enticing ballad, Simon Le Bon sings plaintively over a trip-hop beat about the incomparable heartbreak of losing your first love (“Who do you need, who do you love/When you come undone?”).
Refreshingly, Duran Duran guitarist Warren Cuccurullo was the primary instigator behind this song, composing the kind of bittersweet riff which might have been equally at home on The Cure’s Wish. In fact, Cuccurullo did not originally expect Come Undone to be a Duran Duran song; instead, he envisioned it being sung by singer Gavin Rossdale for his grunge-inspired band Bush. Thankfully, Le Bon was open to embracing a new style and, subsequently, Come Undone became a live favourite.
9: IS THERE SOMETHING I SHOULD KNOW? (1983)
Finding themselves at the peak of their powers, Is There Something I Should Know? deserves far more recognition, not just as Duran Duran’s first UK No.1 single but also as a melodic Beatlesesque pastiche. With playful zeal, Andy Taylor’s glassy guitar riff gives a new wave sheen to 60s jangle-pop, while Simon Le Bon’s vocals are typically imploring (“Please please tell me now!”).
As the lyrics take in the threat of the H-bomb (“You’re about as easy as a nuclear war”), it’s obvious Duran Duran – leaders of the Second British Invasion – are paying tribute to the Fab Four’s role in the first British Invasion. Is There Something I Should Know? even has a Lennon-McCartney-esque middle-eight, and the music video sees them wearing identical suits and ties. You get by with a little help from your influences, after all.
8: THE REFLEX (1984)
Duran Duran had always been Chic’s biggest fans, so inviting the funk guitar maestro Nile Rodgers to remix their 1984 single The Reflex seemed a logical move. Having just set the music world ablaze with his production on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album, Rodgers set to work: “I picked up on this obvious little hook thing. I went, ‘Wow, that’s the record, I could make a loop out of that.’”
Bringing a half-buried hook to the forefront, Rodgers revitalised The Reflex and gave it an authentic, hard-edged funk flavour more in tune with Duran Duran’s black influences. Though undeniably one of the best Duran Duran songs of all time, the end result was such a radical departure that Capitol Records were initially reluctant to release it. The band, however, dug in their heels. “The guys fought for it,” Nile Rodgers remembers. “They released it and it shot to No.1.”
7: A VIEW TO A KILL (1985)
For a band that exemplified the suave and sophisticated fashion styles of the new wave era, it made perfect sense for Duran Duran to compose the theme song for Roger Moore’s final movie as James Bond, A View To A Kill, in 1985. The band collaborated with legendary film composer John Barry, whom Simon Le Bon described as “working with us as virtually a sixth member of the group” as they crafted one of the best James Bond theme songs of the 80s.
Typically dramatic with stabs of orchestral strings, A View To A Kill was enormously successful, topping the US charts and hitting No.2 in the UK. As Roger and Andy Taylor would leave the band the following year, it also marked the last time Duran Duran would play as a five-piece until their 2001 reunion. To this day, it’s still the only Bond theme song to hit No.1 in America.
6: GIRLS ON FILM (1981)
Peaking at No.5 in the UK, Duran Duran’s breakthrough hit, Girls On Film, was the most successful song taken from their debut album. The chorus was originally written by a former member of Duran Duran, Andy Wickett, who (perhaps not realising how successful the band would become) was paid a one-off fee of £600 so the group could avoid any legal repercussions by releasing it.
Though standing in its own right as one of the best Duran Duran songs, a major factor behind the single’s success was controversy. Despite lyrics decrying the exploitation of fashion models, video producers Godley & Creme gave Girls On Film into a borderline pornographic promo video featuring women pouring champagne over each other’s breasts, in addition to topless girls engaging in mud wrestling. “My memories of it are not that great,” John Taylor said. “I remember being a bit embarrassed about it.”
5: RIO (1982)
The frenzied pace of Rio immediately sped its way into the UK Top 10 in 1982, fuelled by its arpeggiated synth hook while Simon Le Bon evoked Bryan Ferry’s lounge-lizard persona. As well as Roxy Music, the song was inspired by the Rum Rummer in Birmingham, with John Taylor saying the bassline showed “how that club influenced us, with the jazz-funk bands that played there on a Monday night”.
Rio’s glamorous promo saw the band wearing expensive suits onboard a yacht in the Caribbean. The extravagant video came to define the 80s – by virtue of Nick Rhodes playing saxophone on driftwood in the tropical heat, the song instantly left its mark on popular culture, forever cementing its place among the best Duran Duran songs. Rhodes, however, disliked the experience. “God, I hated that boat,” he remembered. “Wrecking my Anthony Price suit with those dreadful waves splashing everywhere.”
4: PLANET EARTH (1981)
Released on 2 February 1981, Duran Duran’s debut single, Planet Earth, is a sci-fi-tinged synth-pop classic written from an alien’s point of view of our human homeworld, fusing the futurist thrust of electronic synthesisers with the attitude of punk. Though it only reached No.12 in the UK, the song’s throbbing bass and Chic-inspired stabs of guitar gave us a glimpse of the future of dance music, laying the blueprint for the clubland classics of tomorrow while also establishing itself as one of the best Duran Duran songs.
Throwing down a gauntlet with Planet Earth, Duran Duran would find themselves paired with Spandau Ballet as embodying the New Romantic fashion scene, largely thanks to the inclusion of an impish lyric (“Like some New Romantic looking for the TV sound”). Today, Simon Le Bon feels this was purely opportunistic. “We jumped on the bandwagon,” he explained. “We needed something to give the band a sort of personality – and it worked!”
3: SAVE A PRAYER (1982)
Released during the height of their new wave notoriety, Save A Prayer was one of Duran Duran’s best love songs, reaching No.2 in the UK in 1982. A tremulous flute-like synth sound gives way to a dreamily melancholic fever dream, with Le Bon singing wistfully to his teenage fanbase of his deepest desires (“Some people call it a one-night stand/But we can call it paradise”).
Like other songs featured on their Rio album, the promo video for Save A Prayer was also filmed in Sri Lanka, but, unlike the song, the video shoot was nowhere near as romantic. Guitarist Andy Taylor remembered accidentally swallowing infected water from an elephant’s watering hole. “I got really sick with a virus,” he said. “That’s my memory of making those videos.”
2: ORDINARY WORLD (1993)
Proving the band’s best days were far from behind them, the single Ordinary World was a noticeably mature pop ballad which revamped Duran Duran’s sound for a brand new decade. Written in memory of his late friend David Miles, who died in 1987, Simon Le Bon sings of pain and loss, capturing the malaise of grief (“Where is my friend when I need you most?/Gone away”).
Many fans consider Ordinary World to be one of the best Duran Duran songs, providing evidence they had moved beyond teen-friendly pop. Suffused with a heartrending riff from Warren Cuccurullo on acoustic guitar, Ordinary World won the band an Ivor Novello Award in 1994 and deserves to be regarded their most significant accomplishment. As Nick Rhodes reflected: “All I can say is I think that the song goddess looked upon us kindly that day.”
1: HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF (1982)
From the catchy arpeggiated synth notes of its intro, it’s easy to see why Hungry Like The Wolf made Duran Duran a household name in the US. With lyrics depicting a predatorial stalker on the hunt for young meat, the song has a knowingly lascivious edge, baring its fangs thanks to Andy Taylor’s stinging guitar riff.
The promo video was filmed in Sri Lanka, in tribute to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and featured Simon Le Bon wearing a fedora hat and chasing an exotic tigress through the jungle. MTV’s senior executive vice president Les Garland called it “the greatest video I’d ever seen” and the song was played in heavy rotation on the music channel, helping Duran Duran’s popularity skyrocket. Topping our list of the best Duran Duran songs, Hungry Like The Wolf reached No.3 in the US and remains the band’s definitive 80s album.