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Northeast Ohio Author Makes the Case For Duran Duran and 'Rio'

Kabir Bhatia
Author Annie Zaleski pitched her idea for a book about Duran Duran's 1982 "Rio" several times over the past decade. Her next project is a book on The B-52s.

A new book by a Cleveland author makes the case that one of the most popular bands of the 1980s was more than just a collection of pretty faces. And there’s hope that it could elevate the group right into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

When Lakewood author Annie Zaleski discovered Duran Duran and their album, “Rio,” it was well after the group's MTV heyday.

“I took ‘Rio’ out of the library and dubbed it onto a cassette tape, which I still have to this day. I found ‘Decade,’ which was their greatest hits record. So I kind of came to ‘80s Duran Duran and ‘90s Duran Duran at the same time.”

The British group released its debut album in 1981, but their popularity skyrocketed the next year with the release of “Rio” and its singles, led by “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

Duran Duran - Hungry like the Wolf (Official Music Video)

From there, the band notched a dozen hit singles through the mid-‘80s before experiencing a comeback with 1993’s “Ordinary World.”

“Having that comeback really proved to people that they were serious songwriters, they could escape the ‘boy band’ tag, and they weren’t just an ‘80s relic. It really showed that they could move forward as musicians and as people.”

And about 15 years later, Zaleski started pitching a book about “Rio” for the Bloomsbury Publishing’s “33 1/3” series of books. Each edition focuses on one specific album and its impact and influence.

"I pitched this book many times. So, I believed in this book for a very long time. In 2018 they had another call for pitches and so I said, 'you know what? I wasn't going to pitch, but I'm gonna regret it if someone else pitches and gets that. I would never live it down. I'd be so mad.' Then I found in early 2019 that it was accepted. So from that point, I had about a year and a half to write the book."

No respect... except in Ohio
What she found was that the band hasn’t always been given the respect they deserve.

“They were considered a boy band. They had a lot of young female fans. They were seen as kind of this prefab pop band who didn't play their own instruments or write their own songs, because they were on MTV and they were so visually oriented. I found archival research where people just called them a 'video band.' People thought they didn't even play live."

But that lack of respect didn’t extend to Northeast Ohio.

“Duran Duran was always very popular in Cleveland -- and Northeast Ohio -- in general. MTV was actually in Akron from day one. When they came to America for the very first time in 1981, they came to Cleveland [at Pirate’s Cove]. And they came back in 1982, before ‘Rio’ was a big hit. WMMS was very supportive of them.

“It's so funny because Duran Duran are so influenced by Roxy Music and David Bowie; it makes sense that the city would really warm to them. That was one of the most interesting things in doing research and looking into old [stories] is how instrumental Cleveland was in supporting them early on.

“Los Angeles and New York really embraced them as well very early on. K-Rock, the radio station in LA, has always been known as this really groundbreaking alternative rock station. So I think just because California is bigger, and they were very much associated with the New Wave, I think that's why.”

John Taylor, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran Induct Roxy Music at the 2019 Hall of Fame Ceremony

Next stop, Cleveland?
Now, decades later, she’s hoping the book might raise Duran Duran's profile a little further and help get the band -- which includes lead singer Simon LeBon and bassist John Taylor -- into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

"They absolutely deserve to be in there. First off, Roxy Music got in a few years ago and Simon and John inducted them. A lot of their peers -- like The Cure and Depeche Mode, who are obviously very different stylistically -- are in the Rock Hall.

“Just in terms of influence, too, I think one of the biggest things for Rock Hall induction is, 'does the band have an influence?' It was astounding to me how many musical movements have bands at the forefront that are Duran Duran or inspired by them. I think everyone knows, in the '90s, Courtney Love of Hole covered 'Hungry Like the Wolf.' But Smashing Pumpkins were fans. Korn, the new metal band, are fans. Blur has mentioned their band members are fans. I mean literally with every musical movement, pretty much there's someone who's a Duran Duran fan.

“New Wave is finally starting to get its due as being influential, but also [with] really great musicians and songwriters. So, hopefully Duran Duran is next.”

Bloomsbury Publishing maintains a list of stores which carry the 33 1/3 series, including Annie Zaleski's profile of "Rio."

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.