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Rio: The Story Behind Duran Duran’s Most Celebrated Party Anthem
Warner Music
In Depth

Rio: The Story Behind Duran Duran’s Most Celebrated Party Anthem

The 1982 hit single guaranteed to pack any dancefloor, Rio has proved to be Duran Duran’s most enduring song.

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Duran Duran’s rise from New Romantic hopefuls to chart-straddling stars had been relatively sudden. A short run on the UK live circuit led EMI to sign the group in late 1980. Within a little more than three months, the Birmingham-based five-piece were in the UK Top 20 with their debut single, Planet Earth. Relentless promotion and a growing international profile followed, and the band remained serious about their craft. John Taylor says Rio, the hit song from the the album of the same name, recorded in London in early 1982, demonstrates the group pushing at the edges of their ambition and their skills.

“The song’s very flash… I loved Chic,” the bassist told The Guardian. “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!’”

This is the story of how Rio went from a “Me, me, me!” song to a universal dancefloor-filler that continues to endure.

Listen to the best of Duran Duran here.

Writing Rio was typical of the group’s creative process

Although Rio was based on a song idea that John Taylor had, the collaborative nature of Duran Duran’s creative process means that any material they put out is often greater than the sum of its parts. “The title [of the song] was something I had thrown in the mix,” says Taylor in his 2012 autobiography, In The Pleasure Groove. “Brazil still had the power to cast a spell, conjuring dreams of exotic calendar pictures from my bedroom wall as a child. Rio, to me, was a shorthand for the truly foreign; the exotic; a cornucopia of earthly delights; a party that would never stop.”

Lead vocalist Simon Le Bon wrote the song’s lyrics but focused on the idea of a glamorous woman. “His genius was infusing this girl named Rio with all the hedonism and romance of the Brazil of my fantasies,” says Taylor. Keyboardist and producer Nick Rhodes adores the song’s ambiguity. “I still don’t know what Simon writes about half the time,” he says. “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.”

Rio has one of the most familiar intros of any 80s song

Ever wondered about the sound effect that gets everyone going on the dancefloor at the start of Rio? In 2022, Nick Rhodes finally revealed how it came about. “I recorded the sound of metal rods landing on the strings of a grand piano,” he told The Guardian. “[It was] the kind of experimentalism I got from being into Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage.” In 2008, Nicole Scherzinger, former lead singer of Pussycat Dolls, released a cover of the song, omitting the intro and reimagining the track as a seductive Latin shuffler. It was a bold interpretation, but the original Rio – a clear contender for victory among the best Duran Duran songs – is hard to beat.

The promo video is almost as famous as the song itself

Everyone is familiar with the Rio video clip, recorded in May 1982 on the Caribbean island of Antigua. One of the best 80s music videos, it featured the band decked out in Antony Price pastel suits, cruising through the seas on a sailing yacht; screaming 80s excess even then, it cemented Duran Duran’s image in the public eye for the remainder of the decade and beyond. Nick Rhodes, however, is still conflicted over the filming.

“Although the video captured a moment in pop culture like nothing else, I still have very mixed feelings about it,” he says. “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.”

Rhodes has reflected on the transient expectation of promo clips at the time, and how no one expected even the best music videos to endure beyond their moment: “Did any of us ever believe the video would last, past two weeks on Top Of The Pops? Absolutely not.” It has been reported that sharks were circling the yacht during filming, which suggests worrying about the suits should have been the last thing on anyone’s mind that day!

Rio paved the way for Duran Duran’s success in North America

In an era when 7” shop sales powered the UK singles charts – and conservative US radio shaped the Billboard Hot 100 – Rio’s success was never guaranteed. Released on 1 November 1982 in the UK, with its parent album still riding high in the charts, the song peaked at No.9 in early December, on its way to going gold. In the US, Rio followed Duran Duran’s Billboard breakthrough, Hungry Like The Wolf, and peaked at No.14 in May 1983. In that vast market, Duran Duran were the darlings of MTV, but US radio was resistant to what was dubbed the “Second British Invasion”, and it would be another few months before UK acts would routinely get major stateside airplay. In the UK, the next Duran Duran single, Is There Something I Should Know?, would top the charts, but it wouldn’t be until 1984 that Duran Duran would score their first coveted US No.1, with The Reflex, securing their place among the best 80s bands in the process.

Rio remains a perennial favourite

Can you imagine a Duran Duran concert without the band playing Rio? Impossible. And Setlist.fm suggests you’d be very unlucky to not hear it at one of the band’s legendary gigs. It is currently the group’s third most-played song in a live setting (after Hungry Like The Wolf, also from the Rio album, and 1986’s Notorious), and it remains a perennial party-starter, receiving regular spins from DJs the world over. John Taylor would get to further his Chic connection in a few years’ time, with the group’s Nile Rodgers-produced Notorious album, but Rio is where Duran Duran set sail into bona fide “legend” status in their own right.

Find out where Duran Duran rank among the best 80s musicians.

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