When Duran Duran Made ‘Planet Earth’ Their Success Manifesto
When Duran Duran formed in the industrial midlands of England in 1978, they agreed to pursue the ambition of playing Madison Square Garden within two years. They missed their target – it took them four years, and it started with the release of their debut single “Planet Earth” on Feb. 2, 1981.
The group had started out as the house band (and bartenders) at a Birmingham club, before its owners became their managers and mortgaged the property to buy them onto Hazel O’Connor’s 1980 U.K. tour. Spotted on the road by A&R exec Dave Ambrose, who’d previously signed Sex Pistols, they secured a record deal with EMI, which led to the release of “Planet Earth.”
In the first verse, singer Simon Le Bon became the first musician to reference the phrase “New Romantic,” and it was entirely deliberate.
“That was kind of cheeky of us, actually,” bassist John Taylor told the A.V. Club in 2012. “[A] journalist had written an article about a band in London called Spandau Ballet, and the headline of the article was ‘Here Come the New Romantics’ or something along those lines. … I remember reading it and thinking, ‘Wow, it sounds like they’re doing exactly what we’re doing,’ and calling the journalist in London and saying, ‘Hey, if you like them, you’re gonna love us!' And then in the meantime, I thought, ‘Let’s put that “New Romantic” phrase into one of our songs!’”
Watch Duran Duran's ‘Planet Earth’ Video
While Duran Duran would become more electronic-based as they defined their sound, the debut record was their “manifesto, in a way,” Taylor noted. “It was quite simplistic, quite naive, but sort of fresh at the same time. ... Very much of its time. We were very proud, I remember, once we’d first finished recording it.”
At the time, it wasn’t a given that bands would make videos, but when it looked like the single might hit the Top 10 in Australia, Duran Duran decided to film one. “There was no way we were all going to fly down to Australia just to do some promotional work,” Taylor recalled. “That was the primary motivation for doing that video, actually: to support the song in Australia. And it did indeed do that.”
The video did more than that. It offered the world a visual image of a group that intended to be at the center of a musical movement very much concerned with visual image. They’d go on to work with director Russell Mulcahy 11 more times, setting out their manifesto in no uncertain terms, and helping propel their debut album, Duran Duran, to a two-year stay on the U.K. chart.