Frozen ponds on the Rio, downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico
Over the years dozens of entertainers have toured the continental United States and subsequently fallen in love with the land of the free and the home of the brave. I mean, seriously, what’s not to love? U2 did it (and I wrote about it)
, Simon & Garfunkel did it (and I wrote about it
); '80s pop rock sensation Duran Duran is no exception (and I’m writing about it).
They hailed from Birmingham, England. And like so many others like them, the musicians dreamed of making it big across the ‘pond.’ Thanks to MTV, the 1980s became a decade of visual music and thousands of artists crafted videos to accompany their songs. The rise in popularity of this new art form (which was actually invented by the Beatles decades earlier) led to a second British Invasion with Duran Duran at the helm. Generally considered part of the New Romantic scene in the early ‘80s, the group toured the US, mostly unsuccessfully, yet managed to develop a strong affinity toward the nation.
Inside Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas, c 2004 (thanks Daniel Schwen)I've seen you on the beach and I’ve seen you on TV…
In 1982 they released their second album Rio,
and the title track of the same name was an homage to America. In the song, a girl named Rio, is the personification of the American way of life – a 24-hour party full of flash, glitz, and luxury (needless to say Duran Duran never bothered to tour St. Louis, Detroit, or Newark, New Jersey). The most recognizable part of the tune is the synthesizer ‘hook’ in the intro (played in reverse) and just before the choruses, produced with a device called an arpeggiator. The musician codes specific notes, both pitch and duration, into a computer and the notes are played automatically by said computer. A human doesn’t even need to be present.
Initially, the album flopped, but was rereleased as an EP of dance remixes by David Kershenbaum and the band became branded as a dance act. They first appeared on American Television performing "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Rio," but when the infamous music channel placed their videos into heavy rotation, the album climbed the charts, hitting the Top 20 in early ’83, ultimately peaking at No. 6 and remaining there for 129 weeks. In the years that followed, "Rio" has become one of their most recognizable songs, mostly due to the video associated with it – iconic scenes depicting the excess of the 1980s, in which the band sails around the Caribbean (near Antigua) on a million-dollar yacht sporting Don Johnson’s signature Miami Vice
white blazer with rolled up sleeves, along with matching white pants and loafers.
Why did Duran Duran choose the Rio Grande River to associate their anthem to 1980s America with? It’s important to take a quick detour here due mainly to the surprising fact that Rio is an amalgamation of two of Duran Duran’s earlier songs. The verses were ripped from "See Me Repeat Me," while the chorus came from "Stevie’s Radio Station," changing the lyrical references from "Stevie" to "Rio" in the newer version. However, none of that answers the question.
Cliffs of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, c 2004. The right bank is Mexico, left is US.
(thanks Bob Palin)
The Rio Grande River has long been a symbol of America. It’s predominately the border between the US and Mexico and has been used for trade routes as far back as the mid-19th century. Additionally, the river speaks to the masses of Americans who believe in Manifest Destiny – our God-given right to spread out, move westward from sea to shining sea as we strove to reach the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the Pueblo civilization thrived on the banks of the river as they practiced irrigation of their crops amid the arid desert region.
The Rio Grande begins in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado (formed by the joining of several streams) and runs into the Gulf of Mexico, passing through New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, before dumping in the estuaries. It is responsible for much of the actual border and its watershed area covers almost 200,000 square miles. Historically, the river aided the American effort during the Mexican War in 1846 and again during the Civil War, as its mouth opened to the only legitimate port the Confederacy controlled (the town of Bagdad).
Duran Duran could’ve chosen any number of American symbols to be their icon (the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Rocky Mountains, and even some of the beaches come to mind), but perhaps they needed "Rio" to fit where "Stevie" once had. Why kill one bird with your stone, when you can get two instead?
~ Justin Novelli
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