Nearly 40 years into their recording career, New Romantic pioneers Duran Duran are still making waves. Their 14th and latest studio album, Paper Gods, reached the number 10 spot on the Billboard charts earlier this month, making it their first top 10 hit since their self-titled 1993 album (a.k.a. The Wedding Album). The band is also currently touring the world in support of the album—a catchy, dancey collection of tunes that proves the Fab Five still know how to bring their A-game. In celebration of their continued success, here are 10 things you might not know about the suave, stylish pop icons.
1. THEY HAVE AN ENTIRE ALBUM THAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD.
Before original guitarist Andy Taylor left the group for the second time in 2006, Duran Duran recorded the shelved album Reportage with him, then regrouped to create 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre. Nick Rhodes later told Details that the initial album’s worth of songs was angrier and more political than the band’s usual fare, and that it was not well received by Sony, who did not hear any lead single contenders. At the suggestion of their label, they began working with producers/songwriters Danja and Timbaland, while Justin Timberlake sang on two tracks of the subsequent Red Carpet Massacre album. There have been rumors over the years that at least nine unreleased Reportage tracks will come out, with titles including “Transcendental Mental,” “48 Hours Later,” and “Criminals In The Capitol”.
2. THEY WERE CENSORED ON MTV IN THE ’80s AND ’90s AND BANNED BY THE BBC.
While they were the darlings of MTV back in the day, Duran Duran actually found themselves nearly banned from the network in 1997 because of their risqué video for “Electric Barbarella,” which had to be edited due to its racy content. The video, which features Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Warren Cuccurullo purchasing and programming a sexy female robot (a scenario reminiscent of the movie Cherry 2000), was banned from the BBC and pulled from MuchMusic in Canada. While not quite the hypersexual clip that “Girls On Film” had been back in 1981 (which was banned on MTV and the BBC at the time), it still generated some controversy for the band at a quieter point in their career. Incidentally, their name comes from the moniker of the villain in the Jane Fonda movie Barbarella, to which the 1997 video is a nod. The song, in turn, inspired the name of the ill-fated MTV reality show girl band, the Electric Barbarellas.
3. NICK RHODES ORATED A SONG INSPIRED BY SIMON LE BON’S DENTAL SURGERY.
The 1997 album Medazzaland is the only one to feature vocals from keyboardist Nick Rhodes. In this case, it is a spoken word performance on the trippy title track, which was inspired by a visit Le Bon made to the dentist. He returned to his bandmates after taking the intravenous drug Midazolam, which allegedly removed all traces of the surgery experience from his memory. His sluggish state prompted at least one of them to say, “You’re still in Medazzaland, buddy.” And a quirky song was born.
4. THEY HAD THEIR OWN BOARD GAME.
At the height of their 1980s fame, Milton Bradley released the Duran Duran board game Arena, the title drawn directly from their hit live album from 1984 and released in conjunction with the 1985 video version. Designed for two to four players, the objective was to collect video cards and band member cards and accumulate as many points as possible. The person who finished with all the required cards and the highest score won. You can find it selling on eBay for around $45.
5. ROGER TAYLOR IS THE ONLY BAND MEMBER WITH HIS OWN DOCUMENTARY.
Duran Duran aficionado Aaron Barnett premiered his documentary, Searching For Roger Taylor, in 2000. The pet project, which does not seem to be available commercially but can be streamed on the director’s website, is both a quest to find the group’s drummer—who quit the band and the music industry in 1985 but returned full-time to Duran Duran in 2001—and a look back at the New Wave movement of the early 1980s.
In related work, an hour-long documentary about Simon Le Bon’s former yacht, Drum—The Journey Of A Lifetime, was narrated by the singer, featured a solo song from him, and is the companion piece to the book he co-authored. It came out in 1988.
6. NICK RHODES HAD TO FILL IN FOR HIS CHEMISTRY TEACHER.
When he was in school, Rhodes’ chemistry teacher used to go put bets on horses for his students, and would leave the classroom to do so. “It was not a good room to be in because people lit up paper darts on Bunsen burners and threw them around the room,” Rhodes told American Way in 2007. “I’m amazed that the school never burned down. And I used to get left in charge.”
7. SIMON LE BON STARTED HIS CAREER IN THEATER AND TV.
Before he made it big with Duran Duran, frontman Simon Le Bon embarked on an acting career when he was young. He appeared in a Persil soap commercial (among others) and made his West End theatrical debut in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Those acting chops certainly paid off with all of the group’s flashy music videos as well as a “Rio”-inspired Sasson commercial in 1986.
8. JOHN TAYLOR IS MORE PROLIFIC THAN YOU THINK.
Bassist John Taylor has been involved in nine studio albums outside of Duran Duran. When the Fab Five briefly splintered off into two side projects in the mid-1980s, he joined the popular quartet The Power Station, which included Robert Palmer, Tony Thompson, and Duran Duran bandmate Andy Taylor. They scored a top 10 album and hit (their cover of T. Rex’s “Bang A Gong (Get It On)”). John Taylor did not rejoin the band for their 1996 reunion album, but he has nine co-songwriting credits on it. He recorded one self-titled album with Neurotic Outsiders in 1996; personnel included Taylor, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, Duff McKagan of Guns ‘N Roses, and Matt Sorum of Guns ‘N Roses and The Cult.
Between 1996 and 2002, Taylor released six solo albums along with two live releases and numerous EPs and singles. In 2006, he and Rhodes curated a collection of ‘80s New Wave songs called Only After Dark that was meant to recreate the musical vibe of Birmingham, England’s famous Rum Runner club, where the band got their start.
9. NICK RHODES AND WARREN CUCCURULLO’S TV MANIA PROJECT TOOK 16 YEARS TO GET RELEASED.
During the Medazzaland recording sessions, while Rhodes and Cuccurullo were waiting for Le Bon to come up with vocal melodies and lyrics, they embarked on a project called TV Mania that was later called a “triptych opera” that foretold the coming of reality television. The dancey music ranged from atmospheric to almost industrial in nature, with samples of TV shows ranging from a fashion program to The Outer Limits being the only “vocal” approach. Ultimately a single disc set entitled Bored with Prozac and the Internet? was released in 2013 after the project, which had languished due to label non-interest in the late 1990s, was unearthed by Rhodes in an old drawer.
10. SIMON LE BON NEARLY DROWNED. TWICE.
An avid sailor, Le Bon’s yacht, Drum, capsized during the FastNet Race in 1985, and he and five crewmates were trapped underwater but survived thanks to an air pocket beneath the overturned vessel. The Royal Navy soon saved them. The year before, the singer was strapped to a rotating windmill for the video shoot of “Wild Boys” when it unexpectedly stopped turning while he was underwater. Divers had to go in to save him. Does Simon have a hotline to Poseidon?
Special thanks to social media guru and Duran Duran aficionado Katy Krassner for her valuable input.