Duran Duran on making Rio: ‘We’re still trying to work out what it means’

‘We’ve taken a lot of punishment over the years – some of it deserved – but that track is here to stay. No one will ever be able to take it away from us’

John Taylor, bass

I was obsessed with writing songs to begin a gig with. I’d say: “We’ve got to have an opener!” I’d been working on this groove with Roger Taylor, our drummer. It just wouldn’t go away. We played it at every soundcheck, every rehearsal, trying to make it work. And then we landed on this vibe and I knew we’d cracked it. That was Rio.

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

Wet … Simon Le Bon and John Taylor pose on location for a video shoot.
‘An extraordinary chemistry’ … Simon Le Bon and John Taylor pose on location for a video shoot. Photograph: Express Newspapers/Getty Images

I loved Chic. While I was under no illusion I could play like their Bernard Edwards, I was trying to nod in that direction. But what I played on Rio had power, I think. Brian Eno said in his diaries that it was always exciting to hear a band playing at the edge of their skills, even if those skills are low, and he’s right. The song is basically everything we had learned up to that point. But there was no crowding on it, despite everyone playing something that’s saying: “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 bassline from Rio, with two blokes talking over it, analysing it. They couldn’t believe I played like that for seven minutes. And it made me realise that, yes, that song is a motherfucker and no one will ever be able to take that away from us. You can try. Duran Duran have taken a lot of punishment over the years – some of it deserved – but that track is here to stay.

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

Nick Rhodes, keyboards

I was 19 and very ambitious, as was every other member of the band. We were moving ahead at full speed every day. We barely slept, did every interview we could, every TV appearance we were offered. We stayed up till the middle of the night tweaking songs and recordings and sounds. We gave our lives to Duran Duran.

Rio is a bizarre 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 being into Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Although the video captured a moment in pop culture like nothing else, I still have very mixed feelings about it. I wouldn’t have admitted this back then but at the time, all I was worried about was getting salt water on my Antony Price suit. Simon Le Bon, our Action Man singer, loves all that, but I was not happy. I don’t like boats. Still, being on a yacht in the Caribbean and wearing an expensive suit was not the worst thing in the world. And it was only a couple of days of my life. Did any of us ever believe the video would last, past two weeks on Top of the Pops? Absolutely not.

It did make it look as if we were only about drinking martinis on yachts, though. That was difficult to contend with. It made it difficult to be taken seriously when it looked like we were all “lifestyles of the rich and famous”. But the idea was just to make something funny and bright that worked with the song. And what’s wrong with a bit of aspiration?

There were a lot of bands around at the time who decided to stay in the UK and complain and make a lot of moaning songs. That’s fine. I love a lot of moaning songs. But we fully understood what was happening in the UK – we’d been through the late 70s, which was a pretty dark period, and we wanted to get out. We wanted some light. We grew up in lovely old Birmingham, a place I love dearly, along with the people, but if you looked at the 1978 skyline in Birmingham, 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 little bit of surrealism or abstraction. Lyrics should leave things vague. When things are black and white, they’re rarely as interesting. People are still trying to work Rio out. I think Simon is, too.


Interviews by Andy Welch

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