This past Saturday, one of the overwhelming bright spots on the Life Is Beautiful lineup was Duran Duran. It was the promise of seeing an iconic synth-pop group, and it was the promise of a Saturday night spent in Vegas hearing still-indelible classics like “The Reflex” and “Rio” and “Hungry Like The Wolf” live. Upon the recent release of Duran Duran’s 14th album, Paper Gods, Stereogum published a list of their 10 best songs. And, naturally, the list had a lot of those MTV heavy-hitters represented — how could you not? They’re a band whose hits helped define an era, a band whose most famous songs are some of the best pop singles out there, period. The stuff we all know in and out is hard to deny as Duran Duran’s finest material, but they aren’t purely a singles band, and there are other corners of their catalog well worth exploring. So, we decided to sit down with Duran Duran founding member and keyboardist Nick Rhodes shortly before they took the stage to get his take on what he feels are the 10 best Duran Duran songs. But we both lost count in the middle so, actually, here are Nick Rhodes’ thoughts on 12 of his favorite moments in the 35 years his band has been releasing music.
STEREOGUM: We just did a list of the 10 best Duran Duran songs. I was wondering if you’d be up for choosing your own top 10, maybe talking about some favorites that would surprise fans. To get started, I can read you the list Stereogum ran —
RHODES: No, no don’t tell me those; [let’s go] off the top of my head. “The Chauffeur,” which I figure you might’ve had. Because I think it was an important stepping block in our sound during the making of the Rio album. It was the first really completely electronic thing that we’d done, and it’s turned into this sort of strange cult [hit]. I don’t like all strange cults, but in this case, I do like this one. So, that one. What else? What about “Late Bar?” It was the B-side of our first single [“Planet Earth,” 1981]. The reason for that one, I think, would be because it was all about the Rum Runner [a now-defunct club in Duran Duran’s hometown Birmingham], which is where we started off when we were writing, rehearsing. Never even made it onto the album, because we came from a generation where obscure B-sides were sort of important on 7″ vinyl, so we were determined to have them, and for the first five years or so — well, probably longer actually, the first 10 years — we really kept up that. That was the first one. What about something much more modern. How about the track “Medazzaland”? I say “much more modern” — my God, that was 1997.
STEREOGUM: You’re going on 20 years now with that one, yeah.
RHODES: It’s a bit ridiculous, but, hey. That one, it is the only Duran Duran track where I perform the lead vocal. For whatever it’s worth.
STEREOGUM: [laughs] Is that why it’s one of your favorites?
RHODES: Well, I’m saying “favorites” here, they’re just things that come into my head, because I’m sure I could probably pick much more refined songs than “Medazzaland,” but I love “Medazzaland” because it’s a very unusual piece of music. It’s much more experimental than a lot of the things we do. It was fun, actually, doing the vocal. I’m glad I didn’t have to sing. It is very much spoken. But it was fun doing it live, actually. We used to open the show with it.
STEREOGUM: Back on that tour?
RHODES: Yeah, exactly. I could never remember all the words, so I put them inside of a newspaper and read them. But, yeah, I wrote a lot of the lyrics on that album, because Simon [Le Bon, Duran Duran’s frontman], was encountering some real serious writer’s block. Whatever was going on in his life at the time, he just wasn’t as focused on it. So I ended up writing them. I actually wrote that one about writer’s block — Midazolam being a dental drug that sort of knocks you out. Anyway, that’s the story of that one, so what was that? That was about three. What else should we have? How about Duran Duran’s version of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma!”
STEREOGUM: I actually didn’t know you guys did that.
RHODES: That’s quite an obscure one. We did it for Amnesty International for a record they made of Lennon stuff. It’s very tricky with covers. We made a covers album [Thank You in 1995], which I stand by to this day. I’m really happy we did it. Of course, it’s easier to view from a distance and say, “Eh, that one could’ve been a bit better,” but there were a few things on there, like “White Lines” —
STEREOGUM: You play that one these days, right?
RHODES: Yeah, I think it really holds up as an interesting take on that song. [Lou Reed’s] “Perfect Day” I think was good on the album, too, and several other tracks. Anyway, we didn’t do a cover for a long time after that as we’d done a whole album. But then we got asked to do this. And “Instant Karma!” has always been one of my personal favorite Lennon songs, and it turned out that everyone else in the band felt the same. We also tried “#9 Dream,” but we never quite finished it because we knew “Instant Karma!” was better. We recorded it in New York in a day, and I played a mellotron on it, which was a lot of fun. So there’s another one, how many is that? About four? So, five…let’s have something from the new album. How about the title track, “Paper Gods?”
STEREOGUM: The Stereogum list had a new one on there actually, not that one though.
RHODES: Did they? I’m gonna have “Paper Gods.” I think it’s groovy, unusual. It’s a very, very different arrangement, and it’s one of the strongest lyrics that Simon’s written in a while. Often we like to write uplifting lyrics because life’s miserable enough when you turn on the news. A little levity sometimes, I think, is positive in music. Other times, you have to balance that with a bit of darkness, and we’ve always liked that light and dark thing. Definitely “Paper Gods” is on the slightly darker side.
STEREOGUM: The band has been opening with that a bit on this tour.
RHODES: Yeah, yeah, we’re going to open with it tonight. In a way, it reminds me of one of our early songs that was on the Rio album, “New Religion,” which had a slightly rappy sort of verse in it. “Paper Gods” reminds me of that, but it’s also … it’s got such an anthemic chorus. I love those words together. When Simon first said them, I’d not personally heard them together before. So there you go, and it’s become a set opener. That’s five. Six … what about something from the Notorious album? “Skin Trade.” “Skin Trade,” we all thought was going to be the biggest hit on the Notorious album. I still think it’s the strongest song on the album. We put out “Notorious” first, which ended up being a monster hit around the world, and we thought: “Great! We’ve saved ‘Skin Trade!’ So that’s going to go out next!” And “Skin Trade” did come out next, and it was a very minor, minor hit. But it certainly wasn’t as successful commercially as “Notorious.” But, for me, it remains the best song on the Notorious album. Great title. We borrowed it from Dylan Thomas, his book Adventures In The Skin Trade. It’s very us, really. We are all working for the skin trade. Was that five or six?
STEREOGUM: I think it was six?
RHODES: Let’s go to a different album. How about the Liberty album, acknowledged as all of Duran Duran’s least favorite record we’ve made? One of them has to be. But I think there’s still a few gems in there, and the one I will pick is “My Antarctica,” which is a beautiful ballad. I think we could have perhaps mixed it a bit better. Sonically, it’s not what I really would love it to be, but as a song it’s exquisite. It really, really is. Warren [Cuccurullo], our guitarist at the time and for many, many, many years, played some incredibly beautiful ambient reversed guitars on it. He’s really like a magician, as well as a musician, Warren. A little more obscure for you, there. Let’s go to the Big Thing album. “Land.” Another ballad, and one of our songs we’ve always threatened to play live, but we’ve never ever played it. I’d love to play it. It’s just that…it’s quite long, and it’s a lower tempo. It’s much harder at live shows when you want to keep things exciting, to slot in another ballad when you’re already playing a couple like “Ordinary World” or “Save A Prayer.” We’ve never got around to it, but it’s a gem. A hidden gem, “Land.” That’s about seven? Eight?
STEREOGUM: I’m losing track now.
RHODES: We’re around there, so, eight: let’s have something from Astronaut. What can we have from that? I like “Still Breathing,” but let’s not have that one. Let’s have “Point Of No Return.” That’s the one track on the album that Nile Rodgers wound up doing all the production on. He worked with us on a few, that’s one that survived, because it was very early days that he came onboard. It’s about the Twin Towers. Obviously, that had a profound effect on all of us at the time when it happened. It was very difficult to actually approach the subject with a song, but we felt the need to do it. I said one day, “Well, we’ve reached the point of no return, haven’t we?” It stuck as a song title. It was a groove that John and Roger and Andy had worked on when they were just jamming earlier, to get together before Simon and I even came in. We pieced the two together, and I think Simon wrote a very beautiful and truly heartfelt lyric. That one stands out to me on that album. So, I reckon we’re at about number nine…and we should have something from the All You Need Is Now album. I’m going to have “Being Followed,” one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s fun to play live. It’s like an Eastern European spy song, but it was actually all about surveillance, really. In London, we live in the most surveilled city in the world. We’ve got more CCTV than anybody else. It was at that time when a lot of people were talking about it, we thought, “My God, this is so ridiculous.” But, actually, in a way…I sort of don’t mind. I think there’s so many bad things going on in the world, you can’t have everything. You can’t live in a world where everything is free and you can do what you like, and nobody’s watching you do anything, and you’re safe. That was our take on surveillance, “Being Followed.” And at number 10 … let’s pick an album, that’s the easy way to find them.
STEREOGUM: So we’ve got one from the first record, one from Rio —
RHODES: Do we have anything from the first record?
STEREOGUM: Oh, no, we don’t do we?
RHODES: Let’s have something from the first record. Let’s have “(Waiting For The) Night Boat,” which is quite a strange piece of music. I don’t know what we were smoking at the time. Again, a very unusual arrangement. We used to open our set with that in 1980, before the album came out. We’d come onstage to all these scanners moving over the audience. Actually, it was quite effective. We had no budget, so we went down to our local hardware store and bought six of these things. I think it’s held up. We did it on the reunion tour, we haven’t played it for a long time since. It’s got a rather odd video, a zombie video. Again, back to cult classics. We always like to do a zombie video. That was filmed in Antigua. Yeah, I could have that for number ten. And the bonus track, just because we don’t know whether we’ve got nine or 10 really … we’ll have one more. So let’s pick another album.
STEREOGUM: You haven’t done The Wedding Album have you?
RHODES: No, let’s do something from The Wedding Album. “Love Voodoo.” Which, again, is another song we’ve threatened to play live for a long, long time. I love that one. Warren’s guitar parts are impeccable. It’s a twisted love story. I guess it’s got a bit of the Kiss Of The Spider Woman in it. The word “voodoo” has been used in quite a lot of songs, but I’m not sure there’s another “Love Voodoo.” I’m saying this, [but] I’ll go and Google it now there’s probably a thousand. At the time we wrote it, we certainly thought we were onto something. It’s a killer chorus.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting you included “The Chauffeur” first. That one wasn’t on the Stereogum list and, between commenters on the site or friends of staffers, that seemed to be the one where everyone was asking “How could you not have that one on there!?” What do you think it is about that song that’s had it live on with this cult status?
RHODES: [laughs] It really has developed that cult status. I don’t really know how it happened. I think possibly the video, which was very Helmut Newton-esque. For that time, when it came out, it was pretty out there. No one would play it obviously, but the amount of kids who come up to me, male and female, who say — you know, young kids now — and say “I love that video, and I love that song.” It’s just sort of grown. You don’t know when you make these things what anything’s ever going to turn out to be. I mean, I should’ve picked a song off of Red Carpet Massacre, too, because I actually love that album. Again, not particularly commercial, didn’t do that well. I think there were higher expectations from the label on that one. There’s so many cool, interesting songs on there, and it was the stepping stone to this album. If you look at the natural path that Red Carpet Massacre took and then look at All You Need Is Now, and you glue them together, you sort of almost end up with this album. But, “The Chauffeur,” I don’t know. I’m very proud of it. It’s sort of darkly beautiful, which are often my favorite songs.