By guest blogger Eric Generic
She was born on May 10, 1982. The second album from New Romantic pop gods, Duran Duran. Home to a trilogy of classic singles (apologies to a fourth that, um, wasn’t).
Her name is Rio and she turns 40 today.
More than any other contemporaneous release, more than any of the other acts jostling for supremacy as the 1980s became more than just music from the early part of that decade, and formulated into a “thing” in itself, Rio epitomized the union of sound and vision, the dawn of the MTV Generation. Promo videos driving how an artist could and would be perceived, how they were marketed. Duran Duran were MTV pop in excelsis.
Mention of either band or album will inevitably bring up talk of the videos for “Hungry Like The Wolf“, “Save A Prayer” and the title track. Those paying close attention to the mid-80s UK scene might even recall the memorable line in Weekends by The Mighty Wah! (from their 1984 opus A Word To The Wiseguy), “swan on a beach in Sri Lanka, just like Duran Duran”. The suits, the hairstyles, the exotic locales. The models. Oh and the yachts (in 1982, they were still waving not drowning).
It was a long way from the Midlands of Great Britain, and the clubs of London where their mix of Roxy Music and Bowie-inspired sleek synth pop/rock was in tune with peers such as Spandau Ballet and Visage. Their eponymous debut LP, launched in 1981, spawned a Top 5 UK smash in the form of “Girls On Film” and an almost-Top 10 hit at the first time of asking, “Planet Earth“. It hadn’t all been plain sailing, however, as their second single “Careless Memories” flopped, while the original “My Own Way” (later re-recorded for Rio) limped to #14 at the end of that year. Success in America, meanwhile, had yet to materialize, at least in chart terms.
The Rio era turned Duran Duran into a global phenomenon, taking their ubiquity and cultural status to levels not really reflected in pure record sales. A glance at their Billboard Hot 100 achievements during this period wouldn’t suggest anything especially momentous; “Hungry Like The Wolf” was the big one, reaching #3, but Rio was the only other charting single, peaking at a respectable #14. This is clearly where MTV played its part, with heavy rotation of the videos and other related programming designed to bring Simon, Nick, John, Andy and Roger closer to the viewers in ways that old-fashioned terrestrial television in the UK, and relentless touring of the provinces, would never achieve.
In short, their profile during the early part of their international career far exceeded the number of singles and albums they were shifting. Before long, however, that would change.
Having watched the twin powers of Adam & The Ants and The Human League dominate in their homeland during 1981, Duran Duran would end 1982 as unofficial top dogs despite no chart-topping single or album. They came mighty close on both accounts; “Save A Prayer” rose to #2 (denied by the all-conquering “Eye Of The Tiger“), as did the album (held off by the mighty Complete Madness…which it was!).
Even more than their great rivals Spandau Ballet, they were a five-piece outfit with distinctive roles within the band, and each had an identifiable persona. Simon out front, bleach-blonde Nick behind his banks of synths, heart-throb John on bass, Andy throwing some axe-hero shapes, and Roger – the quiet one – underpinning it all on drums. There was no saxophone player, but that didn’t stop Rio (the song) from having a prominent sax solo!
It’s with that title track that Rio introduces the blend of gurgling keyboards, choppy guitars and elastic basslines that characterize the sound of the album, and of the band up until the mid-1980s. It’s aimed squarely at the pop market, yet betrays the artier tendencies which would become more prominent as the years and albums passed. Colin Thurston was retained in the producer’s chair, and Rio has a similar superficial zip and thrust of Duran’s debut; the funkier elements would develop over the following two records (1983’s “Seven & The Ragged Tiger” and “Notorious” in 1986).
The new version of “My Own Way” slots seamlessly into the album’s aesthetic, more muscular and confident. “Lonely In Your Nightmare“, “Hold Back The Rain” and “Last Chance On The Stairway” are typical Duran Duran album fillers (though the latter has hints of the dramatic energy surging through their very next new recording post-Rio, “Is There Something I Should Know?“). “New Religion” and “The Chauffeur” became live favorites, and it’s the closing duo of “The Chauffeur” and “Save A Prayer” which leave the most satisfying impression.
There was always a slightly risque and exotic undercurrent to Duran Duran (the mud-wrestling ladies of “Girls On Film“, the “Night” versions of their singles designed for after-hours club play), and on “The Chauffeur” it manifests itself via a memorably off-kilter synthetic arrangement. Set to a poem written by Simon Le Bon in 1978 (and yes, it does rather show), it nevertheless conjures up a sultry mood and while later work on the Arcadia project operated in a similar territory (with more sophisticated production), there’s nothing quite like it in the Duran catalogue. And then of course, there was the music video (unusual in 1982 for an album-only cut), a clear homage to the 70s art house film “The Night Porter“.
The hit singles, and the MTV exposure may have been turning the band into teen idols around the globe, but they were still cultivating the moody, arty side of their image, especially with Malcolm Garrett’s sleeve designs based on the magnificent paintings by Patrick Nagel adorning album and single sleeves alike. Rio may be heading into middle-age, but it still looks as timeless as ever.
About the Author: Eric Generic runs the music blog “Amazingly few discotheques provide jukeboxes“ – A home for everything to do with music from the 1980s and 1990s, viewed through a retrospective lens. Personal recollections, all-time lists, fantasy compilation projects…and more besides!
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