On 28th December 1984, teenage girls all over the United Kingdom sat in front of their television sets, turned over to BBC1 and withheld the remotes from their families. Three days after Christmas, bored of playing Monopoly and Scrabble with their extended families, they instead tuned in to watch famous musicians take on a quiz, battling one another for glory. They watched wide-eyed as Mike Read introduced the competitors for the clash of the New Romantics, the war of the New Wave. Who would win the battle of Duran Duran vs Spandau Ballet? Who would claim the hearts of young girls all over the nation for years to come?
Okay, it obviously was not that dramatic. What it did do, though, was solidify the friendly rivalry between Duran Duran and Spandau ballet, both in music and image. It could almost be thought of as the ‘battle of Britpop’ of the 1980s, but with more mullets and two bands who could bear to be in the same room as one another. Although Duran Duran won the quiz with fifty-two points to Spandau Ballet’s forty, does this mean that they won the battle of the New Romantics? It is interesting to look back on the origins and successes of the two bands, particularly their similarities and differences. Although the two were separate bands with different identities, their New Romantic origins gave rise to comparison from the very beginning.
Formed around the same time, Duran Duran in 1978 in Birmingham, and Spandau Ballet in 1979 in Islington, London, both bands began to rise to prominence as part of the early eighties ‘New Wave’ music scene. Both bands had five members, with Spandau Ballet containing the now well-known Kemp brothers, Gary and Martin. Although Duran Duran’s members had no family ties, coincidentally, they did have three members who shared the surname Taylor: Andy, John, and Roger, who were often assumed to be related. Both bands became regular performers at nightclubs, with Spandau Ballet frequenting Blitz in Covent Garden, and Duran Duran The Rum Runner in Birmingham.
Despite operating, initially, from different cities, comparisons were drawn immediately between the two, not only due to the above similarities but due to their participation in the New Romantic scene. Early photos of both bands show them decked out in frilly, puffy shirts, ruffled collars, scarves and, of course, makeup. Where both groups performed in nightclubs heavily associated with this subculture, it was inevitable that, as they steadily rose to fame, the two would be pitted against one another.
Both bands released their debut albums in 1981, only furthering comparisons between the two as they explored the New Wave, synthesizer-based sounds they had been associated with. Although Spandau Ballet’s Journeys to Glory reached a very commendable number five on the UK Albums Chart, it was Duran Duran’s self-titled debut that won this particular battle, peaking at number three. However, Spandau Ballet’s debut single, To Cut a Long Story Short reached number five on the singles chart, whereas Duran Duran’s debut single, Planet Earth reached only number twelve. With both bands having similar chart success, and neither performing drastically better than the other, a musical rivalry was established.
Both bands captured the attention of press and public alike, with their members’ photographs adorning teenage girls’ walls throughout the decade. Though the two bands eventually shed their New Romantic origins, comparisons endured. By 1983, Spandau Ballet’s True had gone to number one in the album charts, as had Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. US chart success also followed for both, with Spandau’s ‘True’ reaching number four, and Duran’s The Reflex topping the charts. Both bands participated in Bob Geldof’s Christmas charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas? as part of Band Aid, and performed at 1985’s Live Aid (we do not talk about Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon’s infamous bum note). While Duran Duran performed the theme song for the 1985 fourteenth James Bond film A View to a Kill, once again topping the US charts, Spandau Ballet’s Gold has an enduring legacy as a classic, motivational tune that is easy for anybody to sing along to, no matter how young or old they are.
It would be easy to continue on for thousands more words about the rivalry and history of these two bands, but by tracing them just from their New Romantic origins to the height of their success in the mid-eighties, it is easy to see that both had a significant impact on the music industry, in their own different ways. As a diehard Duran Duran fan, it would also be easy for me to declare Duran Duran the winners of ‘The Clash of the New Romantics’. However, my verdict is that both bands had similar chart successes, levels of fame, and participated in many of the same iconic eighties collaborations. Although Spandau Ballet have disbanded and Duran Duran are still going strong, this does not mean to say that Duran Duran were the stronger group. While Duran Duran may have won the Pop Quiz special, you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who would not sing along to Spandau Ballet’s Gold if it came on on the radio. Both bands have an enduring eighties legacy, which can be looked back on fondly as a friendly rivalry between two groups unafraid to express themselves in fashion and through music.