33 at 33: How the 1980s were Duran Duran’s Decade

It’s the decade that taste forgot, we’re told. 

The time of excess long associated with neon-coloured lycra, mountains of hair and shoulder pads as fashion’s own female empowerment movement, best exemplified by scary monsters like Joan Collins in Dynasty and Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street. It’s the era of The Golden Girls and EastEnders too, and myriad musical earworms from Agadoo and Africa to Mickey and Shaky.

The people that really follow these things will whisper ever so quietly that the latter — aka Michael Barratt aka milkman turned Welsh windbag Shakin’ Stevens — was the most successful artist in the UK singles charts of the entire 1980s, outselling the combined efforts of George Michael and Wham!, and even those megastar American imports Madonna and Michael Jackson.

But can you name a big hit-making English act that survived the entire ten-year period, kept going and are still an active band with almost the same line-up they started the 1980s with? Oh, it’s a trick question. 

For a start, Simple Minds are Scottish, as are U2 Irish. At the turn of the decade, New Order were still Joy Division, while Culture Club also formed a tad too late to qualify (1981). And anyway, Boy George and co imploded acrimoniously first time round in 1987, as did Dexys Midnight Runners and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, with Madness preceding them the year before.

Sheffield stalwarts ABC and the Human League suffered from too many changes in personnel, while Steel City colleagues Heaven 17 have been down to a duo for far too long. Close but no cigar, Spandau Ballet called it a day in 1989 for 20 years and are currently without their original singer, as are UB40.

So that leaves Essex boys Depeche Mode and the rum Brummies, Duran Duran. With the Mode now reduced to a duo after the death of Andy Fletcher in May, that leaves the Duranies as the worthy winners. Phew.

OK, you can hear them now.

Moreover, not only are Duran Duran still going strong but they defined the 1980s in a way their one-time arch rivals can only look on with bug-eyed greenness.

The 1980s often get bad press, but they were actually chock with great music, a fertile period rife with experimentation and diversity. While many of the great ’70s stalwarts struggled to adapt to new technology or evolving inter-personal dynamics (ABBA, Adam And The Ants, Blondie, Roxy Music), Duran Duran were ready to pounce and become one of the great British singles bands of the decade, whatever insufferable rock snobs thought at the time. Don’t believe me? 

Well, they called their first greatest hits album Decade for a start.

Released in time for the all-important Christmas market of 1989, Decade brought the eighties to a close for Duran Duran, and the singles collection shows exactly what turned the chisel cheeked quintet into MTV icons over the preceding years. 

Presented chronologically from 1981’s Planet Earth to 1989’s All She Wants Is, the 14-track set draws from all five of the decade’s studio albums along with a trio of non-album 45s, namely 1983’s Beatles-esque Is There Something I Should Know?, 1984’s Burroughsian The Wild Boys, and 1985’s Bond theme A View To A Kill (the last track recorded by the most famous five-member line-up until their noughties reunion).

Save A Prayer, Hungry Like The Wolf, Rio, The Reflex and Notorious are but a few songs here that will be instantly familiar to anyone who listened to the radio in the 1980s. Indeed, many argue, often reflexively and without thinking, that Duran Duran is a singles band rather than an albums act. Of course, you could say that about a whole host of national treasures, from Madness to Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell. 

The received wisdom about Duran Duran has always been that they were great at choruses and hopeless at verses, and what rubbish that is: they were brilliant at both. Although if I’m honest, I spent much of the decade trying very hard to dislike them. My sister was the one in our house who bought Duran, Wham!, Culture Club and what have you.

In fact, I remember discovering a tape cassette that she’d recorded from Radio 1 and quite liking this new song that magically appeared, and having no clue who it was by, other than the low-sung first verse was moody and mysterious. And then, rising out of nowhere, a big burst of histrionic chorus

“I light my torch and wave it for the New moon on Monday! / And a fire dance through the night!”

Nooooooooo! I was so appalled with myself that for all of a minute I’d liked a Duran song that I taped over part of the first verse that I now decided I hated after all. It should have gone “I said it again but could I please rephrase it” but as a message to my younger sibling I replaced it with the immortal words

“My name is Simon Le Bon and I am a priiiiick!”

It fitted perfectly.

Ironically, for some inexplicable reason New Moon On Monday isn’t included on Decade, and it’s rarely been attempted live either. But thanks to Sis buying a video EP called Dancing On The Valentine long before I possessed such an artefact by anyone I collected, I do rather emanate a gallic glow when I recall how Duran filmed the promo film in a beautiful Mediaeval commune in the Burgundy region of France. I may even get there one day, and will undoubtedly dance as well as Nick Rhodes does when I do.

Anyway, it was only when Decade was released that November of ’89 that I decided to take the plunge. By this point, I was heavily into more ‘grown-up’ artists like Bowie, Ferry and Eurythmics and was subconsciously aware that the bands my sister liked were stereotypical ‘girl’s music’. 

So you can imagine the look on not only Stella’s face but my bestie Judi — lover of all things alternative, especially the Banshees and Pixies — and as we walked through The Point multiplex one Saturday afternoon before the decade was finally drawing to a close, I confessed

“I’ve just bought the Duran Duran best of. I quite like it.”

She gave me a look of abject horror, and I had to qualify my purchase with 

“I think out of those eighties teenybopper groups, they were the best.”

And they were.

I‘ll say it again but I won‘t rephrase it next time.

Steve Pafford

BONUS BEATS:

In touch with the megamix time! Following Decade in December 1989, Burning The Ground was created as a stand-alone single to promote the compilation album. The ‘song‘ is essentially a mash-up of Duran Duran’s history, featuring samples, snippets and signature phrases of all of the band‘s hits from the previous 10 years. 

Liked it? Take a second to support Steve Pafford on Patreon!
Author avatar
Steve Pafford
We use cookies to give you the best experience.