Rock Hall Special: ’80s New Wave Legends Duran Duran Still Thrill

Duran Duran onstage at Wembley Stadium in London, May, 19, 1987. Photo by Pete Still/Redferns /Getty Images

When Duran Duran crossed the Atlantic to the United States for the first time in 1981, there was one tiny problem.

“There were rock clubs and dance clubs and nothing in between,” Joel Peresman tells Pollstar.

Now the president and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, Peresman was at the start of his career in 1981, working for ITG. The agency’s roster included a host of “these bands out of the UK” playing New Wave.

New Wave’s appeal as more danceable rock music (or more rocking dance music) presented challenges for agents. Rock clubs rarely featured the well-coiffed, well-dressed synth-driven New Wavers (no matter how many guitars they had or how good the songs were). Discos and dance clubs were still dominated by DJs.

Peresman booked a show for the English newcomers at a Long Island club called Spit (“I think they were going for a punk thing”). Spit was only Spit one night a week. The rest of the time it was a traditional rock club called Uncle Sam’s, but on its New Wave and punk nights, the audience could come in the back entrance and hear the new sound coming out of England.

Duran Duran’s rise in the U.S. was no guarantee. Though popular in their home country, there just weren’t many clubs featuring New Wave or radio stations that played the music with any consistency.

But then, there was MTV. The all-music station made massive stars of Duran Duran and Duran Duran made MTV must-watch. Peresman said the band understood early on the power music videos could have.

“They saw the writing on the wall before a lot of people did. They put money into these incredible videos that still look great. They created these videos and they were sexy with really amazing locations and beautifully shot,” he said.Duran Duran opened for Blondie on that band’s final tour in 1982 and “they were blowing them away and getting great reviews.” 

Soon, they were a full-fledged phenomenon. Peresman said the screaming was so loud that they had to double their PA when they started playing arenas. There are myriad stories of the band having to escape through back doors (or, in one case, through the basement of a neighboring adult theater in Times Square) after in-store appearances.

In a genre that produced a surfeit of one-hit wonders, Duran Duran endures, in part because the core of the band is the same as it was 40 years ago. That’s created a live show as dynamic and captivating as it was then, another rarity for New Wave, which didn’t always lend itself to strong live performances. Indeed, Duran Duran, with support from Nile Rodgers & Chic, sold out Madison Square Garden in September, grossing nearly $1.8 million, adding to the band’s $86 million Pollstar-era gross. Duran Duran also had a significant impact on fashion and showed how “the look” of a band — in addition to their videos and their clothing, the band was very thoughtful about album artwork — could draw in new fans.

But really, as with every other Rock Hall inductee, Duran Duran’s legacy is built around the simplest thing, Peresman says.

“It’s great music and they are great songs,” he said. “They are terrific performers. They knew how to work an audience and they still do.”