40 years ago: Duran Duran release the lively ‘Rio’

The Nov. 1, 1982, Duran Duran released “Rio” as a single in the UK. The title number of the band’s 1982 LP quickly became one of the Birmingham band’s signature songs, a confident mission statement driven by upbeat lyrics and musical twists.

Keyboardist Nick Rhodes’ frenetic, pulsating sequences set a busy tone, matched by drummer Roger Taylor’s firm rhythms. But “Rio” can have a jazzy feel at times, a testament to the song’s malleable nature. “Rio” also features one of John Taylor’s most nimble basslines. In a 2020 video tutorials, he outlined all the influences he poured into the parts before showing viewers how to play it, noting that Duran Duran didn’t perform the song live before recording it. The song was written in the studio.

Aspects of “Rio” had been kicking around Duran Duran’s repertoire for several years before the song finally became Rios title number. John Taylor noted that part of the song’s source material came from a cut called “See Me Repeat Me” that Duran Duran originally demoed in 1979 with early singer Andy Wickett. “See Me Repeat Me” eventually evolved into “Ami A Go Go” (sometimes written as “Amy A Go Go”), which later Duran Duran lineups performed.

“It had gone through several iterations before it became ‘Rio,'” John Taylor told this writer. “And it was like just a funky concept song that we stuck with and kept developing.”

It actually took singer Simon Le Bon and his poetry to start hammering the song into shape. Le Bon famously wrote “Rio” after Duran Duran’s first US tour in 1981 because he was deeply inspired by the US and how exciting and awe-inspiring the country could be. These references appear in abstract images (“It means as much to me as a birthday or a beautiful view,” “I’ve seen you on the beach / And I’ve seen you on TV”), suggesting geography.

But some of his lyrical inspiration arose from an encounter he had with a beautiful waitress—perhaps the person who possesses the aforementioned famous “cherry ice cream smile.”

“I was in love with her and I came up with that line,”Moving on a dance floor, baby, you’re a bird of paradise,” Le Bon said in 2011. “I took it home and put it together with all my wonderful feelings about being on tour in America. The song started with a girl from Birmingham, but it was about the whole of America, from the mountains of the north down to the Rio Grande.”

When Duran Duran recorded Rio at AIR Studios in early 1982, the band also added formative details to “Rio”. Saxophonist Andy Hamilton — who played sax on the extended “Night Version” of “The earth” and also performed the inimitable parts on 1983’s “Union of the Snake” — came to the studio to track what would become the song’s inimitable solos.

Watch Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’ Video

Rhodes had also listened to the experimental composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. He decided to find out what it would sound like to drop metal rods on the strings of AIR Studio’s grand piano. “They were jumping all over the place, over the strings and making a great sound,” he told this writer.

For good measure, the recording was then reversed, creating the disorienting, whirring sound heard at the beginning of the song.

“Rio” received some American airplay in the summer of 1982, but appeared as a single in the fall, around the same time MTV began airing the song’s Antigua music video. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, the clip was as striking as the song itself, due to the beautiful location and footage of the band sailing confidently on a yacht.

But outside of MTV, “Rio” had virtually no impact — in no small part because “Hungry as the Wolf” took off on the radio instead and became Duran Duran’s first major American hit.

In the spring of 1983, after “Hungry Like the Wolf” had run its course and started to slide down the Billboard singles chart, “Rio” was re-released. Second time was the charm: This time, “Rio” became a hit, reaching No. 14 on the Hot 100.

“Rio” has remained an integral part of Duran Duran’s set lists ever since. The band has typically closed its concerts with the song. The position is poignant: a song about dreaming of success and being in awe of the world at large instead comes to represent wish fulfillment—a lively exclamation point that signals a triumphant job well done.

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