THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 14 & 15)

The first nine months of 1984 were a complete whirlwind for Simple Minds.

It began in January with the release of their new single, which went Top 20:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Speed Your Love To Me

Again, there was a harder, rockier edge to the song than previous material, with a backing vocal courtesy of Kirsty MacColl, particularly on the 12″ version which came in at more than seven minutes upon which producer Steve Lillywhite used his entire box of techniques and studio sounds.

The b-side was an instrumental:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Bass Line

It would later transpire that the instrumental had later been fully devoped, with lyrics, and would appear, as White Hot Day, on the new album Sparkle In The Rain which, upon release in February 1984 entered the UK charts at #1, eventually spending more than a year in the Top 75.

Despite the sales and success of the new album, many fans of old, attracted to the band through the post-punk synth-led music, were bitterly disappointed by the new material. I loved the fact the local boys were now doing good finacially and were now plastered all over the media, but the songs left me cold. The four-night residency in February/March at the Barrowlands could have sold out three or four times over, but the band were on a tour that had already visited Australia, New Zealand and Ireland and was due to take in another three weeks of dates across the UK (although the end dates were cancelled from Jim Kerr being flu-ridden and exhausted)

Having said all that, the choice of next single was my favourite song on the album as, aside from the ridiculous 1-2-3-4 count-in (and the 80s pounding drums), it goes back a bit to the older songs with keyboards to the fore and a far from straight-forward lyric.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Up On The Catwalk

It stalled at #27, perhaps down to the fact that most folk would have the song through its inclusion on the album, but then again, it’s not the most straightforward of numbers nor as anthemic as more recent singles.

The b-side was another instrumental which was a fine reminder of the more experimental side of the band:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – A Brass Band In Africa

In April, an extensive European tour was undertaken, before returning to the UK to fulfill the re-arranged gigs postponed earlier – this culminated in a eight-night residency at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, proof if any were needed of the band’s popularity with the public.

The band would admit later to finding it a tedious experience and it was then that thoughts turned to making the transition to arenas and stadiums.

May and June saw them zigzag their way across North America, playing venues way bigger than previous visits, and after a brief interlude to play some European festivals, they went back to the States for an arena tour in August and September as support to The Pretenders – oh and somewhere along the line, Jim Kerr married Chrissie Hynde.

They were clearly a hard-working band, putting on tight and crowd-friendly shows night after night.  All that was needed now, was some sort of real crossover hit single, one that would cement their place in 80s folklore on both sides of the Atlantic….but in all likelihood, alienate the fanse who were becoming disinchanted with the direction the music was taking.

JC

6 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 14 & 15)

  1. Up on the catwalk was the last single I liked . I remember thinking speed your love was an awful non song at the time

  2. I liked Speed Your Love To Me at the time and I still do, although it is the lesser of the run of three singles, a good showcase for the Minds new sound and it’s likeability is enhanced by the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

    Up On the Catwalk is the best of the three imho, and it transpires the track with the most identiably Simple Minds DNA on the attendant album. The anthemic “ I will be there” chorus with mock heroic vocals is pure U2.

    Sparkle in the Rain though is a definite dip in quality from a band whose quality trajectory album by album would from Life in a Day to New Gold Dream would map as a uniformly positive incline, with a couple of notable steep increases along the way.

    On New Gold Dream the instrumental track is easily the weakest track on the album. On Sparkle in the Rain, the closer Shake Off The Ghosts is definitely, after the singles, my favourite track, which speaks volumes.

    Over an album’s length I have to conclude to not being a fan of Steve Lillywhite’s production. The three singles do neatly showcase the band’s new sound, but as a whole the album is hard work, an exhausting listen. One of the main thing’s Simple Minds have picked up from U2 ( or their producer ) seems to be the sheer volume the thing was clearly recorded at, subtlety being at an absolute premium throughout, a crying shame for a band for whom musical fluidity had been a defining trait.

    Don’t look for any signs of the rich golden musical seam mined on the previous album, it is entirely not present here.

    U2 themselves wouldn’t import subtelty and texture into their own music until they ditched Lillywhite for Brian Eno, which they did to great effect on the decidedly Simple Minds sounding single the Unforgettable Fire, the “walk on by, walk on through” refrain recalling the Minds “Someone, Somewhere in Summertime.” The influence worked both ways but the Irish band who had to this point not recorded one track that would grace any of the Scottish bands previous albums , came out of the deal distinctly better.

    You can imagine the singer, guitarist and drummer having a whale of a time rebelling in the volume of the noise they were making in recording the album. You can also imagine the previously integral bassist and keyboard player scratching their heads when it was over, saying what was that all about?

    Jim Kerr, previously my favourite singer, for his approach of vocalising from within the music, taking his cues from the base guitar, and casting a lyrical and melodic spell that had the 15 year old me asserting to friends that he was a visionary genius, here ditches that approach wholesale and comes to the fore, bellowing, all too often gracelessly on track after track over the top of the loudest young drummer in the world.

    There is no new wave music on SITR, but then again none of their contemporaries were making recognisably new wave music either. The Minds also sadly ditched the driving propulsive beat of the dance floor completely here, the danceability of their previous tracks being one of their most likeable traits.

    Street Hassle ( Lou Reed cover) is a graceless disaster. I like to imagine that the Real to Real Cacophony era Minds might have covered this song (before they got too European for its inclusion) without ditching the sleaze of the original for the bombast of the SITR version, and changing the lyrics to render the song entirely meaningless. Just what type of Street Hassle is Jim Kerr singing about here?

    I do quite like the Helter Skelter-esque Kick Inside of Me which you can imagine as a brutal stab of aggressiveness amongst the beauty of but it’s effectiveness in that respect is somewhat blunted by the distinct lack of beauty in the preceding tracks. On White Hot Day and C Moon Cry Like a Baby you can possibly just about hear a distant echo of the music of New Gold Dream, but the recordings and production bludgeon any subtlety out of them.

    I did play Sparkle in the Rain a lot at the time, dude one only became the soundtrack to many a game of snooker or darts with my best mate.

    It did disappoint though but I still loved the band and still had massively high hopes that they would recover their musical mojo and bounce back from this slight mid-step.

  3. Alex-I totally forgot that the band covered ‘Street Hassle’. Or maybe I never knew? I was over the band by this point and, if I bought SITR, I can’t have listened to it much.

  4. Alex makes a great deal of good points regarding Simple Minds and Sparkle In The Rain. It is not subtle in its approach or production. McNeil and Forbes are left to watch as the Guitar/Drums fetish of Steve Lillywhite played out – and people wonder why U2’s Adam Clayton seemed to have so much time on his hands to get into trouble…
    To this day, I don’t know why Speed Your Love To Me was chosen over Book Of Brilliant Things as the album release single. It has all the urgency of SYLTM, but it it also finds Kerr sounding fully committed, McNeil and Forbes up front in the mix as well. AND THERE IS NO COWBELL.
    Up On The Catwalk would be the last great Simple Minds single for 20 years and the release of Stay Visible in 2005. Catwalk may not be typicaly anthemic, but it is a great example of how Big Music can be good music. Kerr still has those Pied Piper-isms in his delivery that keep the listener traveling along with the song.
    I have to agree with the assessment of SM’s reading of Street Hassle – it should have been titled Street Hassle (Short). It’s Lou Reed’s epic Rock Poem and needs all 11 minutes to convey the grime, the desperation and the search for pleasure and love in the urban deadzone that, for so many, was NYC…
    …Back to Sparkle…If you were to remove Street Hassle from the album and start Side Two with East At Easter, move into White Hot Day and follow through with ‘C’ Moon Cry Like A Baby, you have a musical tryptic of songs that contain the DNA of not only New Gold Dream, but even earlier Simple Minds output.

    JC – not sure if you plan a final installment, but if not, this has been a pleasurable Sunday Series for sure! There have been some amazing comments and as a reinvigorated Simple Minds Fan, based on the last 15 years of their output, it’s been great to see there has always been a level of love out there for them.

  5. Maybe it was boiling frog syndrome, but when my favorite bands made moves for the mainstream [and by extension, America] in 1984, I felt that OMD and Simple Minds came out smelling like roses. They were each actively aiming for a mainstream new to them, but in that each of their albums were always different, “Junk Culture” and SITR were to me, at the time, another new wrinkle in the bands’ development.

    I would be lying if I did not say that SITR was not my most heavily played album of that year. My ardor for the album was such that each and every song on it spent time as my favorite track, but the last one in that position had the goods to retain that favor until today; “The Kick Inside of Me.”

    The two singles here were more nuanced than the blunt “Waterfront,” but it was in their 12″ remixes where Simple Minds had finally conquered the extended mix concept that they had struggled to really come to grips with for the last few years as the format had become de riguer. I loved the coda added to “Speed Your Love to Me” that hinted at the B-side to come on the next single as “A Brass Band In African Chimes.” “Bass Line” was the last spotlight given to the great Forbes before he got the boot from the band. Perhaps a huge mistake. Perhaps not.

    “Up On The Catwalk” was the last shard of the abstract lyrical stance that Kerr would abandon forevermore following this album. Not only was Kerr bellowing and over emoting, but his lyrics would become relatively leaden and concrete where they once dared to intrigue and pull the listener in to bring their own interpretation to the sound. The three movement 12″ version was my favorite remix of the year with its dubspace alteration. The long chillout B-side was great listening; even better on 12″ single.

    SITR was the line in the sand for the band to me. It marked a decade where the band failed to maintain my interest. I will defend it to this day. Perhaps not as vehemently as I did in 1984, but I still play it with pleasure, even as now it telegraphed their fall from grace with the turgid “Once Upon A Time.”

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