30 Years Ago: Duran Duran Begins a Second Act With ‘Ordinary World’
The group’s previous album, 1990’s Liberty, didn’t reach the same commercial heights as earlier efforts like 1982’s Rio. Neither did singles such as "Violence of Summer (Love's Taking Over)" or “Serious.”
“We were slightly in denial about what had happened to the band, about the decline of the band,” vocalist Simon Le Bon told Stereogum in 2021. “I think in the back of our minds we all knew it was going on. You don’t really go into the studio thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make something that fits into the music now.’”
So when Duran Duran regrouped to work on a new album — which was rumored to be called Here Comes the Band or 4 on the Floor before it ended up a self-titled affair — they settled in at then-guitarist Warren Cuccurullo’s home studio.
This was a new experience for Duran Duran. "On our previous album, we had a fully working band for the first time in years, so we really had most of the songs written and arranged in advance, but there were a couple of albums before that which we had written in very expensive studios," bassist John Taylor told Recording Musician in 1993. "This time around we used pretty much the same method, but the difference was that it was in our guitarist's living room – and so we didn't have to keep looking at the clock."
Le Bon had a strong vision for the chorus on “Ordinary World.” For example, he knew he wanted the title phrase included. In fact, the song’s demo started with the chorus. "Nick [Rhodes] was playing the chords, Warren picked them up and then kind of altered them a little bit, and within minutes I had the melody. It was very, very quick,” Le Bon told Recording Musician.
Watch Duran Duran's Video for 'Ordinary World'
Lyrically, “Ordinary World” ended up as the second of three songs Le Bon wrote for his friend David Miles, who “died in tragic circumstances,” he once said. (The other songs in the trilogy are Big Thing’s “Do You Believe In Shame?” and Medazzaland’s “Out of my Mind.”)
“I’m not a big believer in the supernatural,” Le Bon told Paste in 2017, “but six years after [my friend’s death], I started to feel a weight inside me. ‘Ordinary World’ was the act of letting that go.”
Le Bon focuses on a protagonist who recognizes that going back to how things used to be isn’t possible (“where is the life that I recognize?/gone away”) and is searching for a way forward: “But I won't cry for yesterday/There's an ordinary world/Somehow I have to find.” The chorus ends with the phrase “I will learn to survive,” as Le Bon's voice soars with hope and optimism.
"'Ordinary World' seemed like such a great title," he told Recording Musician, "because it says that the important thing is the ordinary thing, the reality – and the song's about somebody who feels that he's suddenly woken up in a bit of a crazy world and wants to regain the ordinary world that he once knew, something that he can recognize and feel comfortable with."
As Le Bon told Paste, however, the Gulf War also informed this song's lyrics, particularly one of the later choruses. “It makes you realize that a story about two people is just a tiny part of this huge story which is called humanity,” he said. “This was true in 1992, and I think it’s still true.”
Watch Duran Duran Perform 'Ordinary World' in Concert
Duran Duran’s producer for this project was John “JJ” Jones, who was on board with the band’s home recording approach and was on the same creative wavelength during the recording process.
"We were constantly trying new ideas,” Jones told Recording Musician. “I mean, John [Taylor] might come up with an idea for a sound and he'd play a little keyboard part. Simon would play a little keyboard part. Warren would play some keyboard parts. I can remember an occasion when Warren tried to tell me about a keyboard part and I just couldn't get it, so he ended up playing it. So it was very communal."
This resulted in what was perhaps Duran Duran’s most sophisticated song to date, one with gorgeous fluttery acoustic guitars, majestic keyboards and sweeping strings. Cuccurullo also wrote and arranged a keening, yearning guitar solo that drew on his progressive background and reinforced the song’s bittersweet beauty. To finish “Ordinary World,” work moved to London’s Maison Rouge Studios. Steve Ferrone contributed live drums, while Jones and Nick Rhodes firmed up the keyboards and strings.
Buzz around “Ordinary World” was positive. In mid-August 1992, Radio & Records reported that a station in Tampa received a cease and desist after leaking "Ordinary World” long before release date. “To get around that, Jay Taylor rigged up a "Q105 Duran Duran Listen-Line" which he claims is logging ‘hundreds’ of calls a day.” The intense interest foretold of good things.
“Ordinary World” debuted at No. 23 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart the week of Dec. 26, and ended up peaking at No. 2. The single reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 1 on an adult contemporary chart, and No. 6 on the UK’s Official Singles chart.
Today, “Ordinary World” is one of Duran Duran’s signature songs — a staple of every concert and one of three the band performed for the Rock Hall ceremony. Le Bon sang the song with Luciano Pavarotti in 1996, and it’s been covered by dozens of artists – including Queen vocalist Adam Lambert, who released a gorgeous version of the song in December 2022 as the first taste of a covers album.