30 Years Ago: Duran Duran Regroups and Finds New Paths Forward on ‘Notorious’
Duran Duran released its fourth studio album, Notorious, in November 1986. Stylistically, the Nile Rodgers-co-produced LP was a departure for the U.K. band, one that paired funk, soul and R&B flourishes—sharp horns, corrugated bass lines and falsetto crooning—with a radio-friendly, contemporary production sheen. Standouts include the sleek "American Science" and the strutting, crisp "So Misled," as well as the seductive, soft glow pop of "Skin Trade" and the Howard Jones-esque "Vertigo (Do The Demolition)."
However, Notorious' highlight was the title track, a tongue-twisting number (sample lyrics: "You own the money, you control the witness / I hear you're lonely, don't monkey with my business") which landed at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains a Duran Duran setlist staple to this day. “We have to thank Nile Rodgers for that [song]," bassist John Taylor told Complex in 2012 "I think we have to thank Prince because Prince was into the minor sevens and Nile was giving us a tutorial on basic funk guitar. Out of that, that song was born. And yeah, that’s been a huge song for us.”
Of course, Duran Duran's move toward a more sophisticated sound was happening well before Notorious, thanks to Rodgers and his Chic bandmate, the late Bernard Edwards. The percussion-heavy, Technicolor new wave of "The Wild Boys"—a Rodgers-produced studio track on the 1984 live record Arena—and then the band's James Bond theme, the Edwards-produced "A View to a Kill," pushed the boundaries of '80s music. But the progression on Notorious is also because two of Duran Duran's core members, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor, were no longer in the band.
"We had just had so much success prior to that, with 'The Reflex' being their biggest single, which I [produced]," Rodgers told this author earlier this year in the Las Vegas Weekly. "And then I did 'The Wild Boys.' After doing 'Wild Boys,' and working with them on such a revolutionary-sounding song…I mean, 'Wild Boys' is totally different than anything they've ever done. I was trying to push the band in a more arty direction. The fact that we got a hit, it was a big hit…And then they break up! I mean… "
Watch Duran Duran Perform "Skin Trade"
Rodgers laughed. "'Two guys leave the band. And Andy Taylor—people don't realize how super-important Andy Taylor is to Duran Duran, cause he was sort of like the main writer. He's really [an] extremely talented composer. Now I have Andy and Roger [Taylor, drummer] missing, and I'm like, 'Where's my man?' I had to figure out a way to make a Duran Duran album without Roger and Andy."
Rodgers himself added guitar—in particular inimitable, funky riffs on "Notorious"—while session musicians such as guitarist Warren Cuccurullo and drummer Steve Ferrone (now with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) picked up the slack. Andy Taylor also was present for early sessions, but ended up not working out for the long haul, Rodgers says.
"I talked [Andy] into playing on a song or two, [but] what wound up happening is, I replaced his guitar parts, because it just didn't quite jibe," he explains. "You can't fake the feelings sometimes. I love Andy, I get along with him so well. And I wanted it to work out so badly, like, every night. I'd be like, 'C'mon Andy, do this, do this.' And the next day he would say to me, 'Nile, you were pushing me so hard, and now I come in, and it sounds perfect.' I was thinking to myself, 'Ah jeez.' Cause I played it and fixed it after—or I fixed whatever was wrong."
Listen to "Hold Me"
At the end of the day, however, Notorious still sounded like Duran Duran. The appropriately chilly ballad "Winter Marches On"—which boasted haunted, ice-sparkled strings—wasn't a far cry from solemn, spooky new romantic gems such as "Sing Blue Silver" and "The Chauffeur," while the high-energy highlight "Hold Me" stands tall next to any earworms circa Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
"It was incredible because after experiencing all those hardships—and it was the most expensive record I've ever made—the album does extremely well," Rodgers said. Indeed, Notorious landed at No. 12 on the U.S. album chart and went platinum in January 1987—a precursor to the band's extensive "Strange Behavior" world tour and dates opening for several dates of David Bowie's "The Glass Spider" tour.
Duran Duran Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness