Duran Duran on Rio: “We’re still trying to figure out what it means” | Duran Duran

John Taylor, bass

I was obsessed with writing songs to start a gig. I would say: “We have to make an opening!” I had worked on this groove with Roger Taylor, our drummer. It just wouldn’t go away. We played it every soundcheck, every rehearsal, trying to make it work. And then we landed on that vibe and I knew we broke it. It was Rio.

It was the early 80s and we were all playing really well, with absolute confidence. Doing 60 shows in six months does that to you. The song is very flashy. I like to say it’s a young man’s bassline. As I got older, I thought much more economically. I could achieve the same effect without playing so many notes.

“An extraordinary alchemy”… Simon Le Bon and John Taylor pose on site for a video shoot.

I loved Chic. While I had no illusions that I could play like their Bernard Edwards, I tried to tilt my head in that direction. But what I played in Rio had power, I think. Brian Eno said in his diary that it’s always exciting to hear a band playing at the peak of their skills, even if those skills are weak, and he’s right. The song is basically everything we had learned up to that point. But there was no crowd on it, even though everyone was playing something that said, “Me, me, me!”

My wife and I were driving home from a restaurant recently and I put on KLOS, a rock station based in Los Angeles where we live. The first thing I heard was my bass line from Rio, with two guys talking on it, analyzing it. They couldn’t believe I played like that for seven minutes. And it made me realize that, yes, this song is a motherfucker and no one can ever take that away from us. You can try. Duran Duran has taken plenty of punishment over the years – some of which he deserved – but this track is here to stay.

That’s what happens when you have five guys raised in glam, punk and beat, with the audacity to think they have something to say, jostling each other and causing extraordinary chemistry. I find it remarkable.

Nick Rhodes, keyboards

I was 19 years old and I was very ambitious, like all the other members of the group. We were moving at full speed every day. We barely slept, did all the interviews we could, all the TV appearances we were offered. We stayed up until the middle of the night polishing songs, recordings and sounds. We gave our lives to Duran Duran.

Rio is a weird mix. For the intro, I recorded the sound of metal rods landing on the strings of a grand piano, the kind of experimentalism I got from hanging out with Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Although the video captured a pop culture moment like nothing else, I still have very mixed feelings about it. I wouldn’t have admitted it back then, but back then all I worried about was getting salt water on my Antony Price suit. Simon Le Bon, our Action Man singer, loves it all, but I wasn’t happy. I don’t like boats. Still, being on a yacht in the Caribbean and wearing an expensive suit wasn’t the worst thing in the world. And that was just a few days of my life. Did any of us ever think the video would last longer than two weeks on Top of the Pops? Absolutely not.

It felt like we only drank martinis on yachts. It was hard to bear. It was hard to be taken seriously when it seemed like we were all “rich and famous lifestyles”. But the idea was just to do something rich and shiny that worked with the song. And what’s wrong with a little suction?

There were a lot of bands at the time who decided to stay in the UK and complain and make a lot of moaning songs. It is very good. I like a lot of moaning songs. But we fully understood what was going on in the UK – we had been through the late 70s, which was a pretty dark time, and we wanted to get out. We wanted some light. We grew up in lovely old Birmingham, a place I really love, with the people, but if you looked at the 1978 Birmingham skyline, let me tell you, you wouldn’t have wanted to stay there.

As for the lyrics, I still don’t know what Simon writes about half the time. And I like that – a bit of surrealism or abstraction. The lyrics should leave things vague. When things are black and white, they are rarely so interesting. People are still trying to work on Rio. I think Simon is too.

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