This year marks the 40th anniversary of Duran Duran's classic album Rio. My first exposure to this album came through seeing the music video for the title track on VH1's Pop-Up Video in the 90s during the early years of my 80s fandom. I saw the video and, as I often still do to this day, wondered, "Why are people making fun of this now? This is cool". The entire album would make that impression on me as I purchased a used vinyl copy of it for our record player/cassette player/CD player.
With such a momentous occasion happening for Duran Duran, I wanted to do another Track By Track review of a classic album. This will be my first time listening to the entire album in a long time, and I anticipate an exciting journey into classic 80s synth-pop.
We start off with the album's title track.
This song is about going to a dance club and being taken by an exotic beauty on the floor. Her sinuous movements and stunning beauty make an impression on you. You want to connect with her, but all you know is that her name is Rio. I know that it sounds sort of creepy when it's written about that way, but don't many songs have that odd feeling to them? It's an excellent song and a prime example of 80s pop artistry. I especially like the jittery rhythms that open the song, capturing auditorily the feeling of being taken aback.
As I mentioned in my introductory paragraph, VH1's Pop-Up Video was my first exposure to Rio, both the song and the album. The music video sees the members of Duran Duran in a tropical paradise, each one of them flirting with a beautiful model who keeps getting the best of them. I loved the music video, and I still do. It had a great sense of fun and beauty to it that I didn't see in a lot of the pop culture of the 90s. The 90s was a dark time for me personally, and seeing music videos like Rio promised excitement and adventure.
In a lot of 90s music videos, it didn't seem like the singers were having any fun. Even when it came to the rap and pop songs of the 90s, there was a sense of dreariness. Think of the rappers of Bad Boy Records, a label infamous for sampling 80s music (including Duran Duran themselves)without thinking of the words of the songs themselves. Sean Combs and crew might have been wearing big suits and hanging out in fancy clubs, but they all had scowls on their faces. Rio, by contrast, was a video where everyone was smiling. I like that.
Rio's second track is entitled My Own Way.
This song is a rhythmic flip of the bird to a former ally. They may have been a lover, or just a friend, but the message is clear: I'm living my life on my terms, and you're not a part of it anymore. That was a message I wish I could've sent to a lot of people in the 90s and 00s, but I didn't have the means or ability to really go my own way for quite a long time. Still, I would've loved to said this to my mom when she didn't understand how my autism spectrum disorder impacted my behavior, or to co-workers who gave me grief for both what I truly supported and what I supported out of fear.
Oddly, revisiting this song makes me think it could be reinterpreted as an answer song. The song I'm imagining My Own Way as an answer to is Carly Simon's You're So Vain. Carly's song is, of course, about people in her life who treated her poorly while having their own huge egos. I can imagine this song basically saying, "I don't care if you've written a song about me or not. I'm the one in charge here. Nobody screws with me. I do the screwing!". Okay, that took on a Diceman-like turn, but I could see him coming onstage to this song in his early days. Strange the way my mind works.
The third track on Rio is Lonely In Your Nightmare.
Although you may not be able to tell from the title, this is actually a love song, but not romantic love. It's more the love that family has for each other, or friends who become like family. The song is basically one dear friend asking another if they can support them in a battle it feels like the other can't win. TV Tropes would most likely refer to this song under You Are Not Alone, True Companions, or The Power Of Friendship. That's what a good support system can provide.
When I have my own nightmares, I usually wake up screaming. Although I'm lonely in my own nightmares, I'm blessed and lucky to have many sympathetic ears in my waking life. Whether they're family members, childhood friends, or former interview subjects, I have a very large support system. They may not be able to support me in my sleeping life, but when I'm up and about, they're all there with me and for me. It's good to have that kind of support.
Rio's fourth track is another stone classic, Hungry Like The Wolf.
My first exposure to this song actually came on a family vacation I took in the early 90s. For years, our family, and oftentimes another family or two of friends, would spend the first week of Summer after school let out at an upstate New York resort called Glen Falls House. Many families from the tri-state area would be visiting around the same time we were, and we would get to become acquaintances with them.
On one trip when I was nine years old, I was more interested in spending time with a group of friends in their early 20s, led by a girl named Aubrey whom I had a precocious crush on. One time, her friends made reference to the song Hungry Like The Wolf, but I was a little too young to pick up on that reference. I sought to hang around them more, but in the end, it didn't work out. Even as a kid, I preferred hanging out with people who were older than me, but I wouldn't really be able to do that properly until I was in my 20s.
As to Hungry Like The Wolf, as with the title track of Rio, I first heard this song on VH1 in the late 90s. I thought it was a fantastic song with a great, driving rhythm and intriguing lyrics. Was this a song about lust? Was it a song about stalking? Was it a song about a deep relationship? I didn't know back then, and admittedly it still trips me up at times, but it's a fantastic song. If I were a driver, I could easily imagine cruising down the highway to this tune. Of course, with gas costing what it does right now, that cruising would be rather expensive.
Returning to Rio, the album's fifth track is Hold Back The Rain.
According to the Duran Duran Wiki and their episode of Behind The Music, this song was written by Simon LeBon in response to John Taylor's substance abuse issues. I find the lyrics to be rather opaque in that regard. To me, this song sounds more like it's about trying to figure out a toxic relationship. Of course, substance abuse can play a large part in a relationship being toxic.
I can speak from experience on that one. As I've mentioned before, my mom was an alcoholic, and that played a large part in the decay of our relationship after my dad died. There was nothing holding her back after his passing. She fell in with a new group of single friends, and they would spend the weekends going out dancing and drinking. That eventually led her to Alcoholics Anonymous, although she never stopped drinking.
If I had understood the lyrics to Hold Back The Rain when I was younger, perhaps I could've played it for her to get her to understand how her substance abuse (and alcohol is a substance) impacted me. On the other hand, she may have just been singing it around the house. She had a way of blocking out my pleas for acceptance and understanding, and that only made things worse between us.
Getting back to Duran Duran, the sixth track on Rio is New Religion.
This is a very intriguing song. The lyrics do mention religion, but to my ears, this song is also about paranoia. In this song, I hear the idea of trying to live life your own way, but dealing with people trying to live your life for you at the same time. You find yourself trying to go along with what others want you to do, yet there's still something inside you that wants to scream out, "My life, my rules, my terms".
I, too, have had experiences where I've tried going with how others want to live my life, but it didn't work out in the end. A good example of that came in the mid-00s. Some people I knew were questioning why I loved the 80s so much, and they tried to persuade me to give the 90s a chance. While still loving the pop culture of the 80s, I did go on a sort of a spree, going on eBay to buy 90s material to give it a try. This was also around the time YouTube was becoming a thing, so I tried looking up 90s material on YouTube as well.
In the end, though, it didn't pan out for me. I just wasn't able to develop a passion for the 90s that would equal my passion for the 80s. With all the crap I went through from September of 1991 to December of 2012, the pop culture of the 80s served as a balm for my pain. I really did try to develop a passion for the 90s, but the hell that I went through in that decade means that the 90s will never be my thing, will never be my "new religion".
Going back to Rio, the album's seventh track is Last Chance On The Stairway.
To my ears, this is a song about having feelings for someone, but with the overall feeling being confusion. It's about trying to find the right words to describe your feelings, and also about feeling like you don't have any more chances to express those emotions. That could go for both romantic feelings and feelings of friendship. I've certainly had my share of last chances with friendships I've made over the years.
The instrumentation on this track deserves some mention. I particularly love the usage of the marimba on this song. It gives the song a bit of an exotic flair, which fits in very well with the overall themes of the album. Rio is very exotic in sound and in lyrics. How can lyrics be exotic? When they have a sense of mystery about them, and there's a lot of mystery in Duran Duran's lyrics. Some may call it word salad, but I agree. Duran Duran's music, not just on Rio, always gets me to thinking.
Staying with Rio, we now come to the album's eighth track, Save A Prayer.
Only Duran Duran could make a song about a one-night stand sound romantic and mystical. The "one night stand" is outright mentioned in the lyrics, so I'm not guessing around here. It's a very interesting song where, basically, the object d'amour is being told to just have some fun, and maybe they can talk in the morning...Maybe. It's a rather chilling song, but when you listen to the lushness of the instrumentation, it has a rather warm sound.
As I've often said, when one listens to the lyrics, one can be surprised at what they're listening to. I've been paying attention to the lyrics of songs for decades now. I can't just sit back and listen to the beat. I hang on every word of a song. Maybe that sounds like I'm not having fun with the music, but the words can be part of an interesting game. With Save A Prayer, for example, you're guessing: Will there still be romance the day after, or is it wham, bam, thank you, ma'am? That could go for any of a dozen songs from any decade.
Staying with Rio, though, we come to the album's ninth and final track, The Chauffeur.
There have been plenty of songs about having sex in a car, but none of them were as sophisticated as this one. The song describes a seduction in a rather oblique manner, but you can definitely figure it out once you've listened to the song several times. Although music has always been sexual, as I've said before, the 80s was one of the most sexual decades for music. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I was drawn to it.
This extends to the music video. As you can see, the video is age-restricted because of its' sexual content, including nudity. I will say this: I first discovered this video on a compilation I purchased on eBay of banned and explicit music videos from both the 80s and 90s. I had to keep it a secret from my hypocritical mother, but the video for The Chauffeur was very erotic and, in my opinion, rather hot despite how the cold the song initially sounds. The music video is definitely NSFW, but when you're at home, check it out. You'll thank me.
With that, I wrap up this look at Duran Duran's Rio. This album stands the test of time. It's just as vital and exciting now as it was back in 1982, and both the audio and the visuals are still amazing to this day. I look forward to seeing what Duran Duran will do to mark this album's 40th anniversary. Will they do a tour, or maybe a special? Perhaps there might be a remix album in the works. All I know is that this album has aged like wine.
What are your favorite memories of Rio? What are your favorite songs from the album? Who was your favorite member of Duran Duran? Finally, apart from Duran Duran, I'll ask this again: Are there any 80s albums celebrating either 35th or 40th anniversaries this year that you would like me to cover in a future Track By Track article? Leave your comments below, and I'll talk to you all again soon.