Here we are, back where it all began. “Planet Earth” was Duran Duran’s very first video from their very first single off of their 1981 debut album. It also marked the beginning of their long and successful collaboration with director Russell Mulcahy. While less ambitious than their expensive, expansive later efforts (no cavorting on yachts, no exotic locales), it does a solid job of introducing the band to the world. It’s slick and fun. Somehow, though, the process of analyzing it here—watching it multiple times, searching for fun facts about it, grabbing screenshots—has left me a little cranky.
Frankly, I blame Nick’s hair.
The opening image features Roger, shirtless and smoldering, his upper torso emerging out of some kind of primordial haze with the Earth glowing behind him. This video is an excellent showcase for Roger. He’s so quiet and low-key that it’s sometimes easy to overlook him; shots like this serve to remind everyone that, while he may be less flashy and mouthy than the rest of the boys, he’s still a stone-cold fox.
The boys perform on a platform on an upside-down pyramid made of ice. Or maybe it’s made of diamonds! We’re talking about Duran Duran here (glamorous, frivolous, drawn to sparkly things…), so a diamond pyramid is not out of the question. It looks like they’re performing in a vast, icy chamber, like they’re the house band at the Fortress of Solitude, though I would’ve pegged Superman as more of a Springsteen man.
Even from a distance, Simon’s outfit looks awesomely bizarre. Poet shirt! Enormous jodhpurs! Huge leather belt! Weird knotted rope-thingy dangling around his neck!
John, as always, looks elegant and lovely, albeit a little on the pouty side. And those bangs are crazy. John probably spent much of 1981 walking into walls and tripping on the sidewalk, unable to see anything through that heavy shock of magnificent hair. Great beauty comes with a price.
Oh no! Poor Nick’s being strangled by a frilly white boa constrictor! It climbed up his chest and is throttling the life out of him!
…Yeah. Nice shirt, Nick. I’ll address that hairstyle a little later on. I have to give myself a pep talk first. It’s too demoralizing otherwise.
By the way, check out Nick’s one-handed technique in this video. Nick, of course, is an influential and respected synthpop pioneer/keyboard artiste, but in the early years of the band, learning how to, like, play the blasted thing seemed low on his list of priorities. Here’s a fantastic quote from Nick, extracted from the cover story (“Nick Rhodes: The Dashing Duran”) of the May 1984 issue of some odd teen-geared publication called Tiger Beat STAR (which is not to be confused with plain old vanilla Tiger Beat), explaining why simplicity is the key to successful Duran songs: “I have to be able to play everything with one finger. If it’s two fingers, it’s too complicated.”
Just to drill the point home, here’s an Andy Taylor quote from a gleefully spiteful interview he gave in 1986 after he’d quit the band for the first time, as recounted in Steve Malins’s Duran Duran Notorious: The Unauthorised Biography: “I taught Nick the difference between a major chord and a minor chord. I couldn’t get him all the way to diminished, but I did teach him the difference between major and minor.” Bitchy! But funny, and maybe kind of true! But still, bitchy!
Simon lies on his side, shirtless, his arm tucked beneath his head, giving the general viewing public a provocative glimpse of his armpit. In his autobiography, Andy claims Nick was highly disgruntled about this shot. Nick evidently has strong negative opinions about visible body hair. This comes as no real surprise.
In case anyone was wondering, there’s no plot to be found anywhere around here. It’s just a bunch of performance footage mixed with a series of tableaus, all sort of loosely centered around a general theme of, yep, Planet Earth. Here, Simon cuddles with a terrified blonde, who’s wearing a hat worthy of the Royal Ascot. They’re standing in front of a blue backdrop with flashing lights and moving patterns, and I have no idea what’s going on. I’m just wildly guessing, but it seems to be either the birth of the world, or the end of the world. Or both. Or neither.
Now Simon’s lying on his back, his hands upraised, with water streaming up from his face to his fingers in flagrant defiance of the laws of gravity. Spending too much time puzzling out the images in this video is a sucker’s game.
And then there’s a bunch of shots of the boys striking dramatic poses while a glowing digital display of random numbers and bits of trivia flicker across the screen. Holy hell, Nick, what’s going on with your hair? I can ignore it no longer. Nick’s hair makes unicorns weep. Here are the levels of wrongness: 1) It’s been bleached into straw. 2) There are strange pinkish patches. 3) Some misbegotten soul has taken a crimping iron to it. Wars have been started for less.
Given my giddy delight at All Things Nick, it seems blasphemous to even type this, but Nick looks like hell in this video. I mean, sure, he’s still just a kid here, so it’s understandable. By the time the Rio album came out the following year, by the time he turned twenty, Nick had transformed himself into the sleek and dainty magical pixie we all know and love, but it didn’t happen overnight. His gorgeous, glammed-up public image came about as a process of trial and error. Thanks to this video, some of those errors are preserved for eternity.
On the flip side: This is an amazing shot of Andy, all pale eyes and platinum hair, paired with that wide-eyed, unearthly expression. He looks startling and doll-like and unreal, like he’s the android cousin to Pris, the pleasure-model Replicant played by Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner. And if you’d ever asked me to pick the Duran who could most convincingly look like a sexbot, Andy would have been a distant fifth on my list.
While John and Simon pose in their fancy ruffled blouses, a pair of punk-haired folk dancers cavort in the background. In his memoir, Andy claims one of the dancers is Sigue Sigue Sputnik frontman Martin Degville. Which goes a long way toward explaining the fantastic gravity-defying hair.
While the dancers cavort about, factoids flash across the screen: “1,003.5 MEN ON EARTH FOR EVERY 1,000 WOMEN,” and “THE OLDEST KNOWN SONG IS THE SHADUF CHANT.” I was lost at sea about that last one, so I did some digging: A shaduf is a rod-and-bucket contraption used in ancient Egypt to lift water; the Shaduf Chant was sung by workers along the banks of the Nile.
I learned something from a Duran Duran video. That doesn’t happen every day.
The video ends on a freeze frame of Simon flinging himself off the ice pyramid into the abyss, which seems 100% like something he’d do. Over on Duran Duran’s official website, Simon gives a totally bonkers response to a fan-submitted question about an anecdote involving falling out of a window. His reply manages to encompass two entirely separate incidents, one which took place following a ménage-a-trois with a beautiful French woman and an unidentified rock star, and another which involved fifteen naked girls in Nick’s hotel room and far too much tequila. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best not to regard anything Simon says as gospel truth, but still, this sort of thing is exactly why Duran Duran is the greatest pop group ever.
And that was “Planet Earth.”