Duran Duran: Middle Class Heroes
Like the other members of Duran Duran, Andy has invested a good portion of his earnings in houses: he also owns a loft in London and a cottage on a couple of acres of land outside Birmingham, where he and his wife can raise animals, a particular passion of theirs. Simon Le Bon and his girlfriend, Claire Stansfield, have just purchased an apartment in her hometown of Toronto and are looking for a place in London. Keyboardist Nick Rhodes has a house in a chic section of London, while bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor (none of the band’s three Taylors is related) still live in Birmingham, though they, too, are scouting around for places in England’s capital.
The money for those houses has largely come from the band’s enormous success in Great Britain, where they have had a string of nine hit singles dating back to 1981’s “Planet Earth.” But, as Andy Taylor was pointing out, the group’s rise to international stardom wasn’t made complete until Duran Duran finally cracked the U.S. market.
It was early last year that Duran Duran’s fortunes in the U.S. began to change. The reason was MTV. From the group’s inception, Duran Duran had invested a good deal of time and money on videos. The decision to exploit video to such an extent was a deliberate one reached by the band and its management. “Video to us is like stereo was to Pink Floyd,” said Nick Rhodes. “It was new, it was just happening. And we saw we could do a lot with it.”
Indeed, while other groups were content to film live concert sequences for their videos, or maybe toy around with a few special effects, Duran Duran were flying off to places like Sri Lanka and Antigua for location shootings. The resulting video clips, which more often than not showed the band members prancing around exotic locales with beautiful women on their arms, engendered some hatred for the band among older, more serious rock fans. After all, what was a British band doing espousing a jet-set lifestyle when millions of people in their own country were on the dole? How could it be that the members of such a young group had already adopted Rod Stewart-like personas? Whatever happened to the idea that rock & roll was supposed to be subversive?
But those kinds of thoughts weren’t entering the minds of the young girls who were glued to their television sets watching MTV every waking hour. These girls had little use for the Clash’s left-wing politics, or the ranting and raving of that weird-looking Elvis Costello. But Duran Duran, now they were something else. Five extremely good-looking young men. Dream dates.
Suddenly, these guys were video superstars, like the Monkees. It didn’t matter that their nine British hits had come without extensive use of videos, or that they had released two albums, Duran Duran and Rio, in America. It didn’t matter that, unlike so many of their made-by-TV predecessors, Duran Duran could actually play their instruments and had already paid their road dues in America with two grueling club tours and an opening spot on Blondie’s ill-fated final tour. They were cute, their videos were wildly popular, and that meant they were marketable.
No wonder Capitol Records started putting their publicity machine into overdrive. They spread word of the Beatlesque mania afflicting the Durannies in the U.K. and began organizing stateside media events: publicizing the time and flight number of the group’s arrival at a New York airport (only a handful of fans showed, but what the hey) and setting up an appearance in an already overcrowded Times Square video store. By the end of 1983, Capitol’s efforts had more than paid off: both of Duran Duran’s earlier albums had made it into the U.S. Top Ten, while Seven and the Ragged Tiger had reached Number Twelve only three weeks after its release. Video had brought them their huge following — at the cost of their rock & roll credibility. Not that they seemed to mind at the time. Good looks and a little hype never hurt anyone, right?
Hooray For Hollywood
Nick Rhodes and John Taylor grew up in Hollywood, and they named their band after a character in a movie. The movie was Barbarella, but the Hollywood wasn’t in California. It was a suburb of Birmingham.
Rhodes, who’s now twenty-one, had lived right around the corner from Taylor, who’s two years his senior. As youngsters, they shared an avid interest in music; in fact, recalled John, they were the only kids on their block hip enough to own a copy of David Bowie’s Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust LP.
From the start, Rhodes knew he wanted to be a rock star. “I have immense ambition,” he told me, tugging at his lip as we sat in the bar of the Plough and Harrow, a posh Birmingham hotel. “And I had a very vivid impression of what I wanted to do.” So when he was sixteen, he left school and bought a cheap synthesizer. His mate Taylor took up guitar, and they enlisted two other would-be musicians from Birmingham: Steve Duffy, who sang and played bass (and who now records under the moniker Tin Tin), and Simon Colley, who also played bass, as well as clarinet. They christened the band Duran Duran and, in proper rock-star fashion, Nick adopted the surname Rhodes, dropping his real name Bates (“aesthetic reasons,” he explained).
That version of Duran Duran, like several others that were to follow, didn’t last long. But by 1980, the group had attracted a fairly significant following around Birmingham. In addition, Taylor (who had switched from guitar to bass) and Rhodes had settled on a permanent drummer, another Birmingham native named Roger Taylor, who was the same age as John.
Still, Rhodes was determined to get things moving at a faster pace. He decided to pay a visit to a swank Birmingham disco called the Rum Runner, which was owned by two brothers, Paul and Michael Berrow. “It was full of businessmen with trendy shirts on,” said Rhodes, still tugging at his lip as if it would help him remember. “But it was also the hippest club in town.” As it turned out, the Berrows were as eager to make their mark as the members of Duran Duran were. Paul had recently returned from a trip to New York City, and he, too, had big plans. He wanted to turn the Rum Runner into the Studio 54 of Birmingham. But how?
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