Not a lot of people were focused on Duran Duran by the time that 1993 rolled around. It had just been 11 years since Simon Le Bon put on his iconic white suite and stepped onto a yacht for the “Rio” video, but this was now the peak of the grunge movement and they seemed hopelessly passé. They were down two founding members (Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor) and their last album, 1990’s Liberty, landed with a colossal thud. It seemed like they were fated to a purgatory of singing “Girls on Film” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” at casinos and state fairs until the end of time.
The only way out of such a mess was to write a song so amazing that absolutely nobody could ignore it, which is exactly what they did with “Ordinary World.” As soon as radio stations began playing the anthemic tune, requests started pouring in and it flew up the charts, eventually reaching Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100, held out of the top spot only by Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Peabo Bryson’s “A Whole New World (Aladdin’s Theme).”
They followed it up with “Come Undone,” an equally catchy tune (largely written by new guitarist Warren Cuccurullo) that hit Number Seven on the Hot 100, proving this wasn’t a one-shot deal. Sadly, it was a two-shot deal. Le Bon suffered vocal cord issues that forced them to prematurely end their tour, and their subsequent singles failed to make any sort of impact. The logical move was to head into the studio and try to write some more hits, but they made the baffling decision to cut a covers record entitled Thank You instead. Critics tore it to shreds, and the only real reaction to their take on “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash and the The Furious Five was confusion.
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Six months after the Thank You fiasco, Le Bon was invited to perform at a Pavarotti & Friends benefit concert to aid the children of war-torn Bosnia. This was the third consecutive event that teamed up the opera legend up with pop stars. The 1995 show featured Bono with the Edge and Brian Eno, Michael Bolton, Meat Loaf (not long after his own stunning comeback) and Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. Le Bon and Pavarotti did “Ordinary World” in both English and Italian. It was one of the highlights of the show, and you can see it above.
Duran Duran have spent the last 22 years trying to regain the momentum they achieved with “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.” In that time they’ve reunited the classic 1980s lineup, toured like maniacs and recorded with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Mark Ronson, but none of it quite did the trick. They’re going to try again in the fall when they release a new album featuring contributions from Nile Rodgers, Mark Ronson and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante.