Ranking Duran Duran Albums
With last week’s release (October 22nd) of Future Past, Duran Duran’s 15th studio album (in addition to their 4 live albums, 4 compilation albums, 2 remix albums, 2 box sets, 7 EPs, 39 singles, 14 video albums, and who-knows-how-many unofficial and bootleg releases), I thought I would take a few minutes in celebration of my all-time favorite band to rank their albums. To clarify, this is my ranking as of this week/month/year as I continue listening to their entire catalog (check out my Spotify list, which is always in heavy rotation), and the order may change over time as new music is released, and I cycle through back catalog content. With that said, let’s get to the list from my least favorite to favorite:
15. Thank You (1995)
For me, the top and bottom of this list were the easiest. I was not a fan of their 8th studio album. Yes, there are songs on the album that I enjoy, such as a fun version of White Lines, and what I think is a brilliantly beautiful version of Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives, which is, actually, one of my top 10 favorite songs by the band. But otherwise just not a fan of the album. An easy choice for me.
14. Pop Trash (2000)
And from here on out, I loved all of the albums — which makes it difficult to rank them. Pop Trash was their 10th studio album and their first after parting ways with EMI (signed in 1981), and was not really promoted, with only Someone Else Not Me released globally as a single. A somewhat downtempo album with just the trio of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Warren Cuccurullo…who would soon leave the band before the big reunion with the original 5 members. For me, standouts include Playing with Uranium which sounds like a holdover from the Medazzaland sessions, the melancholy Starting to Remember, and the sheer epic soundscape of Last Day On Earth. One thing is for sure, DD knows how to close out an album. Their final songs are usually fantastic.
13. Liberty (1990)
For many, their 6th studio album is where DD faltered. Coming at the end of the 1980’s with guitarist Cuccurullo and drummer Sterling Campbell listed officially as members, the album didn’t land with the public. In my opinion, the first single Violence of Summer was the wrong single choice. I’m a big fan of the very catchy Serious, but other amazing songs came out of this album. I like the song Liberty, which critics gushed about at the time, but for me, the standouts were My Antarctica, which feels like a Notorious b-side, the luscious Venice Drowning, and the classic DD sound of Downtown, again crushing it at the end.
12. Red Carpet Massacre (2007)
Red Carpet Massacre was the 12th studio album, and is known for their collaborations with both producer Timbaland and musician Justin Timberlake, and I feel it falls right into place here at number 12. It was also the first time working with guitarist Dominic (Dom) Brown after Andy Taylor’s departure. Dom continues to be DD’s go-to-guitarist for studio and tours. The only single, Falling Down, did not chart well, and I am not so fond of the Timberlake-infused Nite-Runner which just sounds like, well, a Timberlake knockoff. But my feeling is that the overall album is very strong from end to end, with standouts Tempted, Zoom In, and Dirty Great Monster.
11. Big Thing (1988)
For their 5th studio album, DD moved more into the dance music scene with Big Thing. They saw some solid success with the album, with I Don’t Want Your Love reaching #4 and All She Wants Is reaching #22 in the US (#14 and #9 in the UK, respectively). I prefered the third single, Do You Believe In Shame, but was most drawn to the downtempo back half of the album, with songs like Palomino, my favorite on the album, but followed closely by Land, and concluding The Edge of America.
10. Astronaut (2004)
With the original 5 members returning for their 11th studio album Astronaut, the album performed really well on the charts, reaching #17 on the US Billboard 200. Many of you out there list this amongst the top 3 or 4 albums of the band. Yes, I am a fan. But competition is tough within the DD catalog, and 10th place seemed to fit. The first single (Reach Up For The) Sunrise was a great “comeback” single for the band, but the standouts for me were Nice and What Happens Tomorrow, the concluding song Still Breathing, and my absolute favorite from this release, the melodic masterpiece Point of No Return.
Two amazing singles from the Astronaut sessions that did not make it onto the album or a rumored follow-up with the 5 original members, but are well-worth a listen, are Beautiful Colours and Salt in the Rainbow. Check out the entire list of demo’s and alternates from those sessions here.
9. Duran Duran (Wedding Album) (1993)
After dominating the 1980’s and then releasing the unsuccessful Liberty, some called 1993’s seventh studio album a “come back,” but for me it was really just the band getting in sync with new guitarist Cuccurullo. The first single from the album, Ordinary World, was a massive hit worldwide (#3 US, #6 UK), followed by Come Undone (#7 US, #13 UK). Beyond the two major singles, standouts for me were Love Voodoo, the 3rd single Too Much Information, and one of my all-time favorite DD songs, the masterpiece Sin Of The City. Specifically, I absolutely love the synth/drum/guitar crescendo beginning at 2:15 leading into the chorus. So epic. Also be sure to check out the B-side Falling Angel.
8. Medazzaland (1997)
With their 9th studio album, we address what is the most underrated Duran Duran album. John Taylor was working on other projects and had half a foot in the band, and Simon Le Bon was feeling uninspired, so Nick Rhodes and Warren picked up the slack with one of their best outings IMO. Singles included Le Bon’s Out of My Mind (from the movie soundtrack from The Saint) and the very fun Electric Barbarella, both of which had moderate success in the UK and elsewhere, but not so much in the US. This really is an album for the fans, with standouts including the two singles plus Big Bang Generation, So Long Suicide, Be My Icon, and my personal favorite, Midnight Sun. And if you like that song, check out an earlier alternate mix.
7. Paper Gods (2015)
This is where my ranking became difficult. I would say that 6 through 8 are a 3-way tie, but I had to draw a line. Paper Gods is an amazing album from beginning to end. As their 14th studio album, it has a maturity of DD’s sound, but includes the classic Le Bon vocal performance and harmonies. I am a HUGE fan of the first single Pressure Off with vocalist Janelle Monáe and a really fun video, and the band once again working with Nile Rodgers. It may not have charted well, nor did the follow up dance single Last Night in the City, but standouts for me include Face for Today, What Are the Chances, Paper Gods, Only in Dreams, and The Universe Alone, which includes Rio/Ragged Tiger-esque synths with modern flair. Also notable are two extra tracks from these sessions, which are not to be missed, including Valentine Stones, Northern Lights, and my personal favorite, Cinderella Ride, with the most DD-sounding chorus of any DD song in the last 2 decades IMO.
6. All You Need Is Now (2010)
DD’s 13th studio album is a solid record that perfectly blends the classic sound with the band’s modern sensibility, and songs like Being Followed and The Man Who Stole A Leopard remind me a lot of Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Singles Girl Panic! amd Leave a Light On did not chart well, because mainstream music consumers are insane. Standouts for me are the aforementioned Being Followed, Girl Panic!, plus Runaway Runaway, and possibly the best song that DD have penned in the past 2 decades, Too Bad You’re So Beautiful. I simply can’t get enough of that song. Check out this fan remix. I think the strength of that one song alone may have moved this album up 2 or 3 positions in my ranking.
5. Future Past (2021)
Here we are with DD’s 15th studio album…solid as number 5. Again, there is tough competition. I love the album and continue to play it over and over again, and it falls behind only the first 4 studio albums. It’s that good, people. With the shift toward digital and how quickly we chase squirrels in our musical infatuation, the band released 5 singles (so far), with Invisible (and its AI-created video), More Joy!, and Give It All Up capturing a solid blend of classic DD and new, while the singles Anniversary and Tonight United more in realm of B-sides IMO. There were some fantastic standouts that are just brilliant and belong on my all-time DD favorites list, including the dreamy Wing, the you’ve-nailed-the-80’s-retro-sound of Nothing Less, the earworm that is Hammerhead, and the hauntingly beautiful piano paired with 1981-esque synths and flange of Falling, which, once again, perfectly closes out the album. If you only purchased the vinyl or listen via Spotify, there are some extended album tracks available only on the cd, with the best being Laughing Boy.
4. Rio (1982)
And now we drop into familiar territory for most folks with their 2nd studio album, and where most people (in the US at least) became aware of the band, with top 10 singles Hungry Like the Wolf (which I am sick to death of hearing), Rio (with its iconic video), and the staple of teen dances worldwide, Save a Prayer. But the album also had success with import singles and B-sides, the darker, guitar-driven New Religion, plus classics Hold Back the Rain, Last Chance on the Stairway, and B-side Like an Angel, and the dramatic NSFW The Chauffeur with its racy video. This album very much shaped the sound of the 1980’s. I know it sits at the top of most casual fans’ lists as their best, but I place it as a solid fourth place.
3. Notorious (1986)
After a side-project hiatus with Power Station and Arcadia, and the departures of Andy and Roger, the three remaining members produced a successful 4th studio album with a major hit with their lead single, Notorious, and minor hits with the follow up singles Skin Trade and Meet El Presidente. It was a departure from the sound that had made them famous, but the album felt like a maturing of its remaining members — and with the latter 2 singles, paved the transition toward their next album and more danceable material. Standouts from this album also include American Science, Vertigo, the beautiful Winter Marches On, and the guitar-driven Hold Me. I’m also a huge fan of the Beatles-esque B-side We Need You, and the extended remix Notoriousaurus Rex.
2. Duran Duran (1981)
For their debut album, the band hit the scene with Planet Earth, hitting #12 in the UK and #8 in Australia, followed by one of my favorites, Careless Memories, the ultra-hit Girls On Film, and the disco-inspired My Own Way. Of course, I don’t need to tell anyone about the pairing of Duran Duran with the launch of MTV, and how the two helped each other grow within the US and then worldwide. Honestly, would there have been an MTV without Duran Duran? I wonder. I remember hearing DD on Live 105 (or its predecessor? out of San Francisco) in late 1981, and soon found a cassette sampler from Capitol Records that included Girls On Film, and I was hooked. I bought Rio when it was released the following year, and was a Duranie from then on. While the entire album is fantastic, other standouts for me are Anyone Out There, Night Boat, and Is There Something I Should Know, which was added to the re-packaged album for the US and became a massive hit.
1. Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983)
Finally, we’ve reached my all-time favorite Duran Duran record, and their 3rd studio album. While their debut and Rio set the stage for their success, this album delivered in every way. All three singles hit the top 10 — Union of the Snake (#3 in both US and UK), New Moon on Monday (#9 UK, #10 US), and The Reflex (#1 in UK and US). For me, every song on this album is a standout. This is one of those albums that you must play end-to-end. But if I must point out a few, besides the singles, I would say check out Shadows On Your Side, Of Crime and Passion, The Seventh Stranger, as well as B-sides Faith in This Colour (instrumental) and Secret October.
I’d also technically add Wild Boys to the mix, since it was recorded during these same sessions but released as part of the Arena live album as the sole studio track. And for that matter, A View To A Kill also belongs here, as it also comes from that era with the 5 original members. Not only is it the most popular/successful Bond theme of all time, it’s in my top 5 favorite DD songs.
I’ve enjoyed going back through my catalog these past couple weeks, although I’m sure my wife is sick of hearing Duran Duran. She was always more of a Cure / Depeche Mode girl. However, I would like to point out that my first date with her when we were teenagers was Duran Duran – Strange Behaviour tour (Notorious) with Erasure opening for them at Cal Expo in Sacramento, California. That was my first time seeing them live AND my first date with the girl I would later marry, so it’s a special memory.
And on a separate note — I considered adding side projects into the mix, specifically Power Station and Arcadia. I’m not sure where I’d fit Power Station into the mix since it’s more of a Robert Palmer vehicle than DD. However, Arcadia is my favorite album of all-time. It is absolutely perfect, and would be at the top. #imjustsaying