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The Reflex: How Nile Rodgers Helped Duran Duran Score Their Biggest Hit
In Depth

The Reflex: How Nile Rodgers Helped Duran Duran Score Their Biggest Hit

With The Reflex topping the US and UK charts in 1984, Duran Duran began a lasting partnership with Bowie and Madonna hitmaker Nile Rodgers.

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But for the remixing Midas touch of Chic superstar and 80s go-to hitmaker Nile Rodgers, The Reflex may simply have remained a strong album track on Duran Duran’s third album, Seven And The Ragged Tiger. As it happened, the song ended up becoming British five-piece’s biggest-ever hit single, hitting No.1 on both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s the story of how The Reflex confirmed Duran Duran’s place among the best bands of the 80s.

Listen to the best of Duran Duran here.

The backstory: Art-pop statements and leftfield choices

While Duran Duran were recording Seven And The Ragged Tiger, The Reflex wasn’t even in the running to be the record’s first – or second – single. Those honours fell to the grand art-pop statement Union Of The Snake and the leftfield New Moon On Monday. Union Of The Snake had been predictably huge, but New Moon On Monday peaked just inside the UK Top 10. Having only recently broken the US with Hungry Like The Wolf, the group looked to Nile Rodgers, then riding high on production work for David Bowie (Let’s Dance) and Madonna (Like A Virgin), to lend a hand with remixing duties on the album’s third single – one they wanted to ensure would take them back into the upper echelons of the charts.

The challenge: “The madness was always a micron below the surface”

The decision came at a difficult time for the band. Seven And The Ragged Tiger, recorded in three different continents across 1983, was the sound of a group starting to pull in different directions: Andy Taylor’s critical rock guitar sometimes fought for ground amid increasingly experimental production techniques and Duran Duran’s deepening drift towards dance sounds. In search of the perfect sound, the group continued remixing the songs right up until the record presses were about to start.

Duran Duran’s increasingly demanding touring schedule was taking its toll, too. “The madness was always a micron below the surface,” a struggling John Taylor said. Founding member and keyboardist Nick Rhodes would describe the lengthy Sing Blue Silver tour as a “golden cage”. “There were always hundreds and hundreds of people outside… I can say that I am very familiar with the kitchens of the world’s hotels,” he remarked.

The remix: “I sent it to the guys; they thought it was fantastic”

The band approached Rodgers to remix The Reflex after hearing his reworking of INXS’s Original Sin. In Steve Malins’ Duran Duran biography, Notorious, Rodgers recalled, “I got the track and listened to it, and I picked up on this obvious little hook thing – ‘tra-la-la-la, tra-la-la-la’. I went, ‘Wow, that’s the record, I could make a loop out of that.’ And then I came up with the ‘Fle-fle-fle’. I sent it to the guys; they thought it was fantastic.”

Though the group could hear the remix’s immediate hit potential, the positive reception wasn’t universal. Rodgers recalls Nick Rhodes calling him from Duran Duran’s tour bus to say that executives at the band’s US label, Capitol, had concerns. “I still remember the sorrow in Nick Rhodes’ voice,” said Rodgers. “[He said] ‘Nile, we’ve submitted it to the record company, and they hate it – they say you’ve made us sound too Black.’”

The release: “Nile had created something extraordinary, beyond our wildest imaginings”

Wiser heads prevailed and Rodgers’ remix of The Reflex was issued as a single on 16 April 1984. It soared up the UK charts, entering at No.5 and peaking at No.1 at the start of May. In the US, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 during its tenth week on the listings and even broke the Top 20 of the dance charts – the first time Duran Duran had done so, despite having enjoyed major club success across Europe.

John Taylor’s early prediction for the cut – “Nile had created something extraordinary, beyond our wildest imaginings” – had proved accurate, and his insistence that the promo video must be created from the group’s live shows was equally on the money. “I wanted to put aside all the conceptual filmmaking for a moment and show what a great live band we had become. But with style. With Russell Mulcahy directing,” he recalled in his 2012 autobiography, In The Pleasure Groove. The Reflex’s classic clip was filmed across two days at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens and remains in steady rotation to this day.

The legacy: A fresh perspective to draw out the magic

Easily one of the best Duran Duran songs, The Reflex presents the group at a career crossroads, their diverging impulses towards rock and dance-funk more explicitly emerging from this point on. For a time, the group managed to balance both but, within just 18 months, they would splinter into Arcadia and The Power Station, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor would ultimately step back, and the intuitive influence of Rodgers would again come to bear on 1986’s Notorious album.

Rodgers is sometimes referred to as the sixth member of Duran Duran, and if this “audition piece” proves anything, it’s that it can take a fresh perspective to draw out the magic of any band. Duran Duran’s unique recipe of rock, pop and dance influences is a challenging one to maintain. Rodgers’ fresh seasoning undoubtedly enabled them to keep on doing so.

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

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