THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 6)

Last week’s posting took us up to April 1981 and Arista Records very belatedly releasing Celebrate despite the fact Simple Minds were now part of Virgin Records and in the studio recording their next album (part of the deal to enable the band to leave Arista was an agreement that the songs from the era of the first three albums stayed behind with the band losing control).

One month later, the first 45 under the new arrangements hit the shops:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – The American
mp3 : Simple Minds – League of Nations

It wasn’t part of the original plan to release anything on Virgin as early as May 1981, but there was a great deal of anger and resentment about what Arista had done in issuing Celebrate, as well as the fear that a further single could be issued at any point in time. It was about drawing attention to the fact Simple Minds had moved on and were, again, exploring and recording slightly different sounds in the studio. The American was one of the earliest tracks to be completed that was felt had some sort of commercial potential and so it came out on 7” and 12” vinyl. The band, however, were still very busy in the studio with new producer Steve Hillage and there was no time available to shoot any promo video, a situation that hindered getting maximum exposure for the new song.

It’s a single I fell in love with immediately. It fitted in perfectly with the increasing popularity in electronica dance here in the UK, and was a piece of music that sounded equally as good coming out of your radio as it did blasting through the speakers at the under-18s disco I frequented at weekends. It’s one that, nowadays, certainly in its 12″ form sounds just a little bit more dated than others – a mix which at the time seemed almost revolutionary now sounds very gimmicky and of its time – and this is perhaps a reflection of it being rushed a bit so as to be in the shops. One of the things I most loved, and still do about it, is Derek Forbes‘ bass playing bring such a tribute to that of Barry Adamson from his Magazine days.

The b-side was a new, near-instrumental number which showed that the band were still capable of making atmospheric almost experimental music amidst the new more pop-orientated approach.

The American didn’t really trouble the charts, reaching only #59.

JC

14 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 6)

  1. I’ve always loved this song. In a just world this would have been a no.1…but chart success was just around the corner…

  2. This is the first Simple Minds song I heard that made me a believer. And is still my favorite. (BTW, Forbes is a tremendous bassist, although I’m not hearing the Adamson influence.)

  3. JTFL – I don’t hear Adamson there either, for what it’s worth. “The American” was a song of exhilarating impact. Perhaps its relative lack of subtlety related to the title? The song’s reductively simple chorus, heard once, is not an easy thing to forget, and when I saw Simple Minds [finally] performing this tune on their tour of The States in 2013, singing along at the top of my lungs was a perfect moment that I had been waiting for thirty years. The one shining moment of flourish and finesse that this song was gifted with came at its coda, courtesy of Charlie Burchill’s intricate guitar solo that added the filigree that transported this song from brutal simplicity across the threshold of breathtaking accomplishment. At the time, I swear that this song was referencing US cruise missiles being planted in the UK. A very controversial program that got a lot of people angry, but it seemed that I had misread the lyrics for long years. When I saw the actual lyrics to this, and found out that it referenced American artists I was a little deflated. I still say my interpretation made more sense!

  4. PPM – I remember singing ‘The American’ at the top of my lungs when the Minds came to the Ritz in NYC, circa ’82 or ’83 (probably standing next to Echorich). Can’t remember if I had any sense of what the lyrics were, but that was back in the days when UK folks were generally okay with the US, or at least not outright disgusted as they (justifiably) are now.

    Forbes wouldn’t sound like Adamson because he played a Fender Precision (passive bass) with his fingers. In his Magazine days, Adamson’s signature sound was an Ovation Magnum II (active bass) played with a pick, with a huge dose of chorus in the signal chain. The Magnum is a unique instrument that not too many bassists went for. Notable exception is Jah Wobble, who still plays one.

  5. Ok…not knowing the first thing about bass guitars, I’ve learned a lot today!

    I was trying to convey that, for the first time, the instrument was really fundamental to the way a Simple Minds sounds sounded…and to my ears, there are bass moments on The American that remind me of many parts of songs on The Correct Use of Soap. I thought if back in the early 80s and still do!!!

  6. The American broke through the dark clouds that Simple Minds found themselves covered over with by their experience with Arista.
    The American announced more than just a new musical exploration for the band, but also a revitalization and sense of purpose heart throughout Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call.
    To this day it sounds and feels immediate to these ears. It is ALWAYS the opening track to any Simple Minds Playlist I curate.
    The muscle that Derek Forbes adds to Brian McGee’s hammer hard Motorik beat is what gives The American its energy. Charlie Burchill sets himself up as one of the great Post Punk guitarist here IMHO. He finds a way to incorporate an insistent melody with angluar shards of notes, while allowing Mick’s synth lines share in duties of pushing forward the song.
    81 was a time where we had Heaven 17 warning us, with Fascist Groove Thang, of the dangers of the New Conservatism in the US and Simple Minds adding their voice to the dangers of that same far reaching hand.
    Oh and JTFL – yeah 82 or 83, I am not quite sure, but yup I was there, with my contingent of 3 Asian girls jockeying to see around the ever present 6″4″ bloke standing right in front of us. I do remember the band stayed at the Iroquois Hotel that tour.

  7. I’m not a musician and don’t know anything about base playing but my favourite instrument is the base guitar and my favourite base player by a distance is Derek Forbes. Tina Weymouth is second. There are some more examples of Forbes’s brilliance in the next few releases.

    The American? It’s a cracker, isn’t it? Given when the song was composed with the Cold War as an ever present daily backdrop the lyrics are likely to reflect suspicion and paranoia around news reporting and propaganda (maybe). Lyrically it is also a continuation of the travelogue theme begun with Empires and Dance, albeit a different continent. Indeed, I see the whole of the attendant Sons and Fascination/Sister Fellings Call as a continuation / refinement of the themes of Empires and Dance, a trilogy of sorts of snapshots of cities, cultures, conflicts, past times, archaic traditions and modernity, mixed up with emotions of wonder, isolation and fear. As PPM said last week Kerr really has no inclination just how brilliant a lyricist and singer he is at this time, in conveying all of this with such absolute authenticity and conviction, there are no false notes at all on these records.

    Like I Travel, The American literally bursts forth from the speakers in exhilarating fashion brim full of it’s exuberant joy in the playing and it’s ability to intrigue, baffle and enthral in equal proportions, a riveting listen from start to finish.

    The band must have thought they had hit pay dirt at the time of release with this first release on their new label.

  8. This still sounds very decent. This was the stop where I alighted from the Simple Minds bus, as I couldn’t really get into the billowy blouses and mullets phase. Ironically, The American was the last time they sounded really European. Later stuff was a bit too mid-Atlantic for me.

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