Synopsis: This Classic Albums film tells the story behind the writing, recording and subsequent success of ‘Rio’ through interviews, musical demonstrations, and archive footage. Original band members Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor are all interviewed along with director Russell Mulcahy, former manager Paul Berrow, journalist Beverley Glick, designer Anthony Price and Bob Geldof amongst others. ‘Rio’ captures Duran Duran at the height of their powers, with wall-to-wall hits and great videos: a Classic Album of its time.
eyelights: the interviews. the overview of the making of the band and album. the wealth of supplemental material.
eyesores: its relative brevity.
“I think that’s a combination of a band at the top of its game, who’s having so much fun playing every day, that is playing more than it thought it would play, and an engineer-producer who knows exactly what to do, knows exactly how to channel what he’s hearing.” – John Taylor
Was ‘Rio’ the very first Duran Duran album I got my hands on? Or was it ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’. I don’t know. But I do remember getting this one in a Columbia House deal that netted me a bunch of tapes for a penny – and later left me with a couple of bills for tapes I never wanted.
You remember Columbia House, right?
In any event, the unwanted bills (one of which came with an Air Supply cassette, of all things!) were worth it for that first set of tapes, which included ‘Rio’, and a few other albums (ex: Rick Springfield’s ‘Beautiful Feelings’ and Honeymoon Suite’s debut) that I ended up playing incessantly.
But, of all those tapes, only ‘Rio’ remains an all-time favourite, permanently lodged as it is in my top 5 favourites with Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s ‘Akira’, Colin James and The Little Big Band’s debut album, The Cure’s ‘Disintegration’ and Depeche Mode’ ‘Violator’.
Naturally I would be intrigued by an entry in the Classic Albums series that explores the band’s iconic and biggest-selling album. So, when I stumbled upon it, I just had to buy it. By that point, I had already watched a few other entries in the series and knew it’d be worth it.
The 51-minute programme, which ran on various channels (including the BBC, ITV, VH1 and others) in 2008, is an exploration of the album by the band members, critics, music video directors, their manager at the time, various producers, EMI/Capitol Records staff, Bob Geldof, …etc.
While it doesn’t cover each individual track, a few keys numbers (ex: “Hungry like the Wolf”, “New Religion”, “Rio”, “Save a Prayer”), are dissected by the individual members, sitting at a large mixing console and commenting on the various layers on the song they’re analyzing.
One of my favourite moments is when Nick and Simon talk about transforming “The Chauffeur” into a textured electronic piece from its original guitar construction. There’s also when Nick talks about the opening of “Rio”, how he came up with it with the help of their engineer.
It was interesting to hear all of them lavish praise on their producer, Colin Thurston, giving him much credit for capturing the band’s energy on this album, and then in another breath hearing the manager talk about selling out the band in the U.S. by remixing the album afterwards.
The programme was terrific because it explores not just the making of the album, but its roots, by going back into the band’s early days, their first album. They then go past the making of the album and discuss MTV and their videos (which includes behind-the-scenes footage from Sri Lanka).
There’s tons of archival material throughout, including video clips and period interview, the best of which is a hilarious Beatles-esque press junket when they’re each asked in turn when they first started playing their instruments. You can imagine the tongue-in-cheek replies that got.
There’s also some footage of the band (complemented by Dom Brown on guitar instead of Andy Taylor) playing many of their ‘Rio’-era tunes in the studio, in an exclusive presentation made especially for this programme; they’re just bits, but the full performance are in the extras section.
Speaking of which,the DVD edition is packed with a wealth of extra material, pretty much doubling the content in interviews alone!
Videos: This series of interviews, lasting over fifteen and a half minutes in length, covers how they needed a video because they were popular in Japan and Australia but couldn’t tour there yet, so they needed an alternative. Enter Mulcahy and “Planet Earth”, which was an instant success. This was followed by unfathomable failure of “Careless Memories”, which worried them that they were one-hit wonders – until “Girls on Film” put a stop to that. Mulcahy comments that DD videos became events you didn’t want to miss. Bob Geldof points out that Brit bands wouldn’t have made it in the US back then if not for videos. This segment shows shots of the music videos throughout and there are a few personal anecdotes as well. 8.0
Save a Prayer: Nick provides insight into the song’s genesis, how he found new gear he wanted to fiddle with and then Andy came in. The others then pitched in and the song was pretty much done by the time Simon arrived. I was quite impressed to hear Geldof enthuse over the lyrics. 8.0
How to make it in the USA: In this segment, the participants discuss how difficult it was to get any respect and breaking through in the US, how they were always offering exclusive mixes to stations, …etc., to generate interest. They also talk about remixing the album in the end, and about the difference in marketing singles and albums then and now. What’s interesting about this segment is that it includes outtakes of the “Hungry Like the Wolf” video. Cool! 8.0
The Chauffeur and Simon’s lyrics: This one is a long analysis of what Simon’s inspiration for the song (which is apparently his baby) was and the development of the lyrics/story. The others talk about how under-rated his lyrics are. Frankly, I thought that it was brilliant to go as deep as they did on the song; I wish more of the songs had been treated this way. 8.0
Early Days: This is an eleven-minute overview of how the band got together, got signed, …etc. It’s actually quite good, detailed, but it would have been redundant to most fans and pointless in the context of celebrating the album (as opposed to the band). But, in the extras, it makes perfect sense; why lose such good material? 8.0
The Rio album sleeve: This is a short discussion of how the cover painting was found and how they approached the design of the album and its related singles from there. A bit brief, but good. 7.5
Live from Boston
On top of all these extended discussions the extras section also features full-length, unedited studio performances of a few album classics (Rio, Save A Prayer, New Religion, Hungry Like The Wolf, The Chauffeur) that were recorded in 2008 in Boston specifically for this programme.
Being in a studio is no grand spectacle, but the whole band dressed up for the occasion, all of them wearing black (aside for Simon who slipped a white dress shirt under his black jacket. The band were accompanied by Dom Brown on guitar, plus a background vocalist and a saxophonist.
The whole band was in top form throughout and these performance should please fans; the only issues were that Simon couldn’t hit the notes quite right on “Save a Prayer” (and less so on “The Chauffeur”) and Dom’s guitar was off on “New Religion”. This is nit-picking, though, because they’re still quite good. 8.0
Honestly, all personal bias aside, I was quite impressed with this episode of ‘Classic Albums’; it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. In particular, I loved that it wasn’t chronological and didn’t follow the album in sequence either – and yet it remained coherent (as much as it could given its length).
My only criticism is that the programme doesn’t place the album or events in time, leaving it ambiguous – something that other entries in the series did as well. Is it to create a false sense of timelessness? Well, I don’t like it. But, otherwise, this is a keeper for any fan of Duran Duran and/or this album.
Date of viewing: May 17, 2015