I do feel as if this latest instalment has been covered somewhat in previous postings; I also feel it’s like shooting into an open goal as there is near unanimity that Simple Minds were a band who really lost it (although I do accept that some folk out there – and I’m looking directly at you Jacques the Kipper – feel they never had it in the first place).
For those who don’t know the back story, Simple Minds began life as a straightforward punk band called Johnny & The Self-Abusers, hailing from Toryglen which, despite its name, is a solidly working-class community on the south side of Glasgow. This particular band played the pub circuit in Glasgow throughout 1977, a unique outfit amidst what was predominantly a hard-rocking, long-haired and blues orientated set of bands. They were thought of enough by London-based Chiswick Records to cut a single, Saints and Sinners, in November 1977 but in keeping with the spirit of the times the band split immediately, some going on to form a power-pop outfit called Cuban Heels and others establishing Simple Minds who were more focussed on the glam side of things with an increasing focus on electronica.
It took a few personnel changes and a number of stop-start efforts at finding a defining sound, but by early 1979 the band were on Arista Records and in the studio recording their debut single and album, Life In a Day. It received something of a mixed reaction but the album did make the Top 30 and the single spent two weeks in the chart, peaking at #62. There was some concern, however, that the much-anticipated follow-up 45, Chelsea Girl, was a monumental flop. Jim Kerr has subsequently acknowledged that there was too much of a reliance on mimicking the pop elements of Roxy Music and that the band were ignorant of much of what has happening elsewhere at the time, not least the emergence of Joy Division.
Determined to take a stride forward, the band were back in the studio within a matter of months and able to release a second album before 1979 was out. Real to Real Cacophony was very different from the debut being more dark and experimental sounding in nature with barely a hint of a catchy pop song. It’s an album that had a lot in common with the afore-mentioned Joy Division as well as Magazine, PiL and Gang of Four as groups looked to create something that combined the best elements of post-punk and the often derided prog-rock. It was music you had to sort of work hard at to fully enjoy and appreciate with very little in the way of instant gratification.
This was proof that Simple Minds definitely ‘had it’ albeit they were regarded at this point in time as an albums band who were worth catching when they played live. Their music wasn’t considered radio-friendly not helped by the fact that 1979/80 was a time when most DJs and stations were suspicious of electronic music thinking it was a fad that would soon fade. Nobody at Arista was therefore ready for what the band presented to them in late 1980:-
mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel
A booming, catchy, commercial and incredibly danceable piece of music that was surely tailor-made for the charts was a monumental flop as the label weren’t geared at all to promote Simple Minds to the pop market. The crime was made worse when an equally wonderful follow-up, Celebrate, was an even bigger flop and the label failing to print enough copies of the parent album Empires and Dance to meet the demand that was being created from favourable reviews across much of the UK music press.
The band took their leave of Arista and headed into the welcoming bosom of Virgin Records for whom they soon hit payola. It was a bit of a slow burner with two albums, Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, released at the same time in 1981. Both were produced by Steve Hillage whose fame and career had been built entirely on prog rock but any worries or concerns that Simple Minds would become unfashionable and unlistenable were soon allayed. These were confident sounding records being a blend of synth-pop , rock and dance that seemed bold, innovative and which were more than capable of grabbing and holding the attention of even the most causal of listeners. There were 15 tracks across the two albums including what should have been three smash hit singles but the band still suffered from the perception that they were one solely for album buyers.
Everything changed with the next album exactly one year later. The band had been helped by radio stations belatedly picking up on the flop singles and giving them occasional air time, while Arista Records had cashed in on their higher profile by issuing a decent compilation of the early material as well as making a push with a re-released I Travel. Virgin Records geared up for an assault on the pop market, encouraged no doubt by the fact that ever-increasing numbers of synth-based bands were becoming successes. There was an early indication that 1982 was going to be the breakthrough year with new single Promised You A Miracle crashing into the Top 20 that April, triggering off a run of what turned out to be 21 hit singles in a row over the next sixteen years.
New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) turned out to be a shimmering and very listenable forty-five minutes of music across nine slabs of pop-orientated pieces of music that were of huge appeal to the masses. It was an album very much of its time, sitting comfortable alongside critically acclaimed and best-selling efforts from the likes of ABC, Yazoo, Associates, Soft Cell and Heaven 17 among others.
Nobody embraced Simple Minds quite like the city of Glasgow. There was a huge pride that the local boys had come real good and in response the band would write and record an anthem that was clearly about a city that was on the cusp of a cultural renaissance as part of its efforts to recover from the collapse of its traditional industries and way of life. Waterfront was big, booming, powerful and a portent of what was coming down the road.
The promo video also incorporated a live performance that had been filmed at the Barrowlands Ballroom in the rundown east end of the city, a move that took many by surprise as the venue was not associated with rock/pop music with everyone preferring to appear at the Apollo in the city centre.
The thing was, the Apollo had recently closed its doors for the last time and it seemed that the only place open to touring bands was the newly opened and wholly soulless Scottish Exhibition Centre, which ironically was part of a redeveloped waterfront. Simple Minds had, almost single-handedly, shown what the Barrowlands was capable of delivering in terms of sound and atmosphere and it wasn’t too long before it became an established and popular venue that remains in use to this very day almost unchanged nearly 35 years on. If nothing else, I’ll always have Simple Minds close to my heart for being such pioneers.
Waterfront had heralded a new heavier sound for the band, one that was built on substantially with the release of Sparkle In The Rain in early 1984.
Although it has undergone something of a critical evaluation since, it musn’t be forgotten that just about all the music papers and magazines embraced the record, welcoming Simple Minds to the roster of popular anthemic bands such as Big Country and U2 whose appeal was based on a Celtic sound rock music that could, at its worst, veer into stadium rock.
The album also made the band very popular in countries well beyond the UK, including Canada, Australia and the USA. It put them on the radar of many high-ranking folk in the music industry and it was no real surprise that an approach came to record songs that were perfect for film soundtracks. Which takes us to the atrocity of Don’t You Forget About Me – written specifically by two composers who specialised in such material for the closing credits of the John Hughes directed teen-flick The Breakfast Club – and turned down by Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry before being accepted by Simple Minds. A #1 hit the world-over in 1985 but miles removed from the sounds that had made the band an essential listen less than five years previous.
But maybe this was just a temporary loss of form and the band’s next album of original material would salvage things…..
I’ll end it there as you know the rest.