THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 16-20)

I said last week that the first nine months of 1984 were a complete whirlwind for Simple Minds.  It was nothing compared to 1985, although the roots of events dated back initially to June 1984 and then later again in November 1984.  I’ll rely on words lifted from a website associated with the band:-

Whilst writing the score for John Hughes’ latest (and in retrospect best) brat-pack film The Breakfast Club, Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff penned Don’t You (Forget About Me), intended for the film’s opening credits. Recording a rough demo, Forsey wanted it recorded by an established band and started to hawk both the tape, and himself, around the record companies of bands he admired and felt could suitably record it and add gravitas to the soundtrack.

Which is why Simple Minds found him in their dressing room after one of the Tour De Monde gigs in America, clutching a collection of Simple Minds bootlegs, and enthusing about this great song he’d written. (After hearing the song A&M invited him backstage but neglected to tell Simple Minds anything about it.) Bemused, and no doubt amused by the episode, they declined.

Bryan Ferry also declined. As did Billy Idol, who Forsey was successfully producing at the time.

Forsey was not one to give up and flew to the UK to persuade Simple Minds again to record the track. He found them in London, working on the demos for Once Upon A Time. With Forsey on their backs, and A&M on their backs, the band relented, thinking the song was just another incidental track to a forgettable brat-pack movie. They booked a studio in Wembley, and nailed the song in three hours. One of the caveats was they could play with the arrangement, and Jim added the “la la las” on the day.

The band carried on with Once Upon A Time and completely forgot about the song.

The band played three frantic sell-out gigs at Glasgow Barrowlands from 3-5 January. The set-lists provide an indication that these were very much about pleasing the local crowd:-

I Travel / Glittering Prize / Book Of Brilliant Things / Up On The Catwalk / Promised You A Miracle / Speed Your Love To Me / Celebrate / Someone Somewhere (In Summertime) / The American / Waterfront / New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84)/ Take Me To The River – Light My Fire

The next gig that Simple Minds would play was six months later at Live Aid, and as part of the Philadephia bill. Three songs made up the setlist:-

Ghostdancing / Don’t You (Forget About Me) / Promised You A Miracle

The second tune aired at Live Aid was the one that a few months earlier, in March 1985, been released in America where it went to #1. A month later, it was released in the UK, where it reached #7:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)

The fact that the b-side, A Brass Band In Africa, was the same as had been included on previous UK single (Up On The Catwalk) provides a fair indication that there was never any intention to do anything with the song, a situation that only changed with the American success.

The other thing about the Live Aid gig, and as can be seen from the photo at the top of this page which was taken on the day, was that Derek Forbes was no longer part of the band, having been sacked during the sessions for the new album. His replacement was John Giblin, in whose studio they had been writing and recording, and whose previous credits including working with John Lennon, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel.

John Giblin played bass on the new album, Once Upon A Time, that was released in October 1985. It contained four singles:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Alive and Kicking – #7 in October 1985
mp3 : Simple Minds – Sanctify Yourself – #10 in February 1986
mp3 : Simple Minds – All The Things She Said – #9 in April 1986
mp3 : Simple Minds – Ghostdancing – #13 in November 1986

Yup, the fact that a song, more than a year after its first appearance on an album, could sell enough copies to go Top 20 in the UK, tells a lot about just how popular Simple Minds had become.  And listening to it, just how far removed it was from I Travel, from which part of the lyric was lifted…..

I don’t actually own a copy of Once Upon A Time, but almost 1,000,000 folk in the UK have bought it, so my holding back £10 or so wasn’t that big a deal to the band. I also never bought any singles after those on Sparkle In The Rain, so all the mp3s today have been sourced from elsewhere.

The band wouldn’t release its next studio single until 1989 (albeit there was a live album and 45 released in 1987). In fact, the single was an EP entitled Ballad of The Streets which went to #1. But to me, that’s later Simple Minds and well outside of the confines of this series. Indeed, I was in two minds about staying on as far as these five singles but chose to so so after a chat with one of my fellow Simply Thrilled DJs who, being a fair bit younger than me, advised that this was the era of his introduction to the band and he adores the album.

As ever, I really have appreciated that so many have come in and offered their own views, thoughts, observations and comments these past few weeks. I really must single out Alex, Echorich, Friend of Rachel Worth, JTFL and postpunkmonk for what have been an outstanding series of contributions throughout the entire series, many of them proving to be substantial, stand-alone review pieces bordering on genius.

I’ve said it before, but it does bear repeating, that the quality of responses and critiques left at this little corner of t’internet constantly blows me away. So again, thank you!

And remember, guest postings are very welcome at all times…..so if there’s something you would like to share with a few hundred like-minded folk, then drop me a line anytime.  The address is over to the side of the blog, failing which scroll down and it will be underneath.

Tune in next Sunday to find out who is next for the Sunday spotlight.

JC

11 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 16-20)

  1. Don’t You Forget About Me was the beginning of the end of me buying SM records.
    Hated the song when it was released . still dislike it today.
    I went to see SM a few months ago in Orlando and with a doubt it was the most popular song sung by the the band. It was a massive hit over here.

    SC

  2. Great series – I can’t think of another band who I have such differing views on with such a clear before and after. Some of the later lps always seem to have the “return to the sound of NGD “ as part of the marketing but have never been able to give them a go . Such was the crime of Belfast child

  3. How this period made my heart sink. In retrospect, there were other, steeper falls from grace [I’m talking to you, Ultravox] but none that continue to vex me for so long afterward. In actual fact, that whole decade of Simple Minds from 1985-1994 can be wiped from the slate and I’d be perfectly happy at that. I rate only a single track from that period as being a quality song. “See The Lights,” for what it’s worth. Everting else ran the gamut from compromised to actually foul music that I really find intolerable. I bought all of the singles from “Once Upon A Time” due to inertial forces of the collector’s mentality. I can’t say I got much back from them.

    That I waited a full year after it’s release to buy the hateful, fake “live” album from the tour I had the misfortune to see in 1986, and as a used disc to boot, spoke volumes about this once-favorite band. Where the few songs that I still cared about were turned into bloated, self-important breast-beating “epics” that lost all of the urgency and drama that they had once had. If I thought that was sad, it was nothing on the album that followed. “Street Fighting Years” was no less than an abject betrayal by a band that had already treated my ears with contempt. The bloated whale song that passed for music was an all-time worst by both the band and their once-brilliant producer Trevor Horn.

    I bought the now CD singles from that album too. A big mistake. On the next album, I missed the album and just bought the CD singles. Which had scraped their way back to the standard of the once bitterly disappointing “Once Upon A Time” period that now looked much kinder in the rear-view mirror! I later saw the OZ 2xCD with a live Barrowlands disc of “”Real Life” and apart from the singles it was another terrible album, albeit miles better than “Street Fighting Years!” Even so, the measure of their fall can be made by the inclusion of a version of the brilliant “Theme For Great Cities” as “Let The Children Speak!” Complete with the turgid lyrics that Kerr once had the intelligence not to saddle the song with. By that time, the band was down to drummer Mel Gaynor and Kerr/Burchill. They had lost too much of the band’s DNA by that time.

    Their next album ironically saw them produced by Keith Forsey, the guy who had written “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” and it actually worked for me. It was commercial, sure. But the songs and arrangements were interesting and viable to my ears. It sounded like what “Once Upon A Time” should have been; a commercial, but accomplished album. And from 1995 onward, I’ve gotten more of what I wanted from Simple Minds as they slowly eked their way back onto the path that I’d have preferred them to be on.

    In 2002 I went back and finished out my Simple Minds collection to get the mixes, tracks and versions I had missed in order to make a “boxed set of god” that collected every Simple Minds rarity. Some of this was painful to listen to, but I have the curator’s perspective in putting together such a project; nine CDs and a CD-ROM of interactive liner notes. Since that time I have tried to keep the collection complete, but the 2002-2003 period had so many Italian 12” singles there was no way to keep up. So my collection is still incomplete. In the spirit of that admission, I really should divest myself of the four awful albums released between 1985 and 1995. I have already written an 80-90 post Rock G.P.A. thread for Simple Minds at my blog that was at least 125,000 words back in 2014-2015. It was torture listening carefully to those albums to write cogent critical assessments of them. Listening to them again is a kind of abuse I’ll never be ready for again.

  4. It’s easy to forget how legit Simple Minds were in the early years. In fact, they were just as interesting and entertaining as a whole lot of the stellar post-punk acts during that golden ’79-’84 period. They just effectively went on to erase their relevance by being Stadium Gods. And, of course, you don’t ditch a top bassist like Derek Forbes when you’re at the top of the game. (Just compare Elvis Costello LPs before and after the departure of Bruce Thomas.)

    Very fun series, JC, looking forward to seeing who’s next!

  5. Wonderful series, thank you! I really rate their early stuff but I kind of lost touch at this point and never really went back to them. Saw them live a couple of years ago and alas, Jim’s voice is a shadow of the unique and wonderful thing it used to be… 😦

  6. I have absolutely loved this series, JC, even more than I thought I would when in week 1 I said over the forthcoming weeks it would be so nice to read and write nice things about my once favourite band. The reason it has surpassed my expectations has been the fact that all the contributors have proved to be complete kindred spirits in loving the early releases of this great band. The main pieces and comments have been a joy. Alas all good things must come to an end but, less we forget, let’s reflect on just how much great music Simple Minds produced, over 5 albums from Real to Real ( I’m not fond of Life in a Day ) to New Gold Dream, just tailing off a bit with Sparkle in the Rain. Part of me would like to leave it at that. But that would be a cop out so…

    I actually didn’t hate Don’t You Forget About Me at the time. Song wise it is very slight but musically it is very Simple Minds or rather Simple Minds lite as it was written by a fan of the band to sound like the band, one of the reasons the band were reluctant to record it. But, back when it was in the charts, I slightly preferred the production and sound to the unsubtle bombast of Sparkle in the Rain and thought the signs were perhaps encouraging. In saying that, the song’s extended afterlife that stretches from then to this very day as, to some, the one song that is synonymous with the band like the Waterboys and Whole of the Moon, has been extremely hard to stomach. As the last release to feature the brilliant Derek Forbes, it is hardly a fitting curtain call but remains in my record collection for that very reason.

    Fast forward to my first and, as it would transpire, only spin of the new album by my favourite group, Once Upon a Time.

    Track 1 side 1, the title track. I put the needle down. I pull out the lyric sheet to read as I listen. Anticipation. Crackle. Over the same monstrously huge cavernous drum sound that dominated and ultimately marred Sparkle in the Rain, Jim Kerr, whom I have previously only half jokingly referred to as a Visionary Genius, steps up to the mike and intones : “ You, Yeah, you, so you talk to me to-o-night, And you say so, say so, yeah, that once upon a time…” or some such gibberish.

    My heart was broken. The game was over, as the ensuing 40 odd minutes confirmed. By thenI had already absolutely hated the leading single Alive and Kicking with a passion and tbh feared the worst but dutifully bought the album anyway.

    Unlike Sparkle in the Rain that I could reason was not great but had definite standout highlights and some other tracks that were potentially interesting but we’re ultimately thwarted / frustrated by the change of focus in the production away from thise aspects of the band that had previously thrilled, delighted and inspired me, I found no redeeming qualities at all in the whole album.

    Looking back now, like postpunkmonk, yes, I can still freshly recall the pain of bitter disappointment but clearly it wasn’t yesterday and I can put what happened into perspective.

    Thinking again about this period a few things become clear with the benefit of hindsight.

    During the recording of Sparkle in the Rain, Derek Forbes effectively lost interest in the direction the music was taking which must have continued into the demos for Once Upon a Time. This unfortunately coincided with Kerr and Burchill’s realisation that the band’s commercial horizons had just dramatically widened, and the decision was taken to remove the brilliant bassist for not pulling his weight, not matching their ambitions.

    When you hear Kerr nowadays talk about the band it is all from the vantage point that the story of the band is the story of the friendship of the pair, and their musical partnership, as if they are Jagger/Richards or (more fittingly) Bono/Edge, with all the ex band members as effectively bit part players who merely contributed their talents at one stop or another along the way. I think this point of view is legitimate but only from the point of Once Upon a Time onwards. Prior to that, the band’s sound was a collective, with so
    much to enjoy from all component parts but genuinely never, ever dominated by the guitarist and singer. Forbes and his interplay with both Burchill and with keyboardist MacNeil and the fact that Kerr took his vocal queues from the bassist was so integral to my enjoyment of all those tracks that we have all raved about in this series.

    It wasn’t just the loss of the bassist though that so disenchanted me. Without Forbes, MacNeil was list, led instead by the newly appointed two frontmen , and not the same guy. The big booming piano chords at the start of Aive and Kicking are a million miles away from the sea if swirling synths that engulf the best of the early tracks. I quickly abandoned giving OUAT a fresh listen prior to writing this ( it is as bad as I remember) and stuck on Boys from Brazil instead and luxuriated in the brilliance of MacNeil’s synth soundscapes on that track.

    In short the DNA of the band had irrevocably altered, permanently.

    I do like Jim Kerr, always enjoy his interviews, and Charlie Burchill seems an amiable bloke as well. I also still find the tone of Kerr’s voice appealing on the radio but, to be honest, from this point onwards this is a different band, and one I am not invested in at all. I gave away OUAT and never even considered buying another Simple Minds record.

  7. Steve Sutherland in the Melody Maker described ‘Once upon a time’ as a ‘squat fart straining to be released on mankind’ – memorable and ’nuff said.

  8. Its funny that once you have ‘broken’ into the American market, you are as good as gone credibility-wise. Wasn’t that the real and main objective in the first place for all hopeful bands from the UK?
    These are probably the same people who are just glad The Jam, The Specials, Orange Juice, Stone Roses et al didn’t make a dent to the American market no matter what their labels did.
    I bought Sparkle in The Rain in Kansas City in 1984 and never had to buy another Simple Minds record because they were everywhere; from MTV, radio and eventually, online.

    I always tell myself, at the very least, SM were not Bon Jovi…

  9. Thank you again JC – This series has been a joy to read and contribute to. Simple Minds are a band that I will always hold dear, but one that, like a relationship, suffered a serious period of mistrust and disappointment, but was built on strong enough stuff to see it mended.

    Like a Seven Year Itch, SM went somewhere musically that left me behind. Alive & Kicking should have been the first inkling that things weren’t the same. Starting with a synth drown and minimal percussion, I was lulled into thinking that this was going to be something. Once Kerr’s over-wrought vocals came in, I began to feel that sinking feeling. Suddenly it opens up into this Springsteen-esque anthem and Mick MacNeil is bashing on piano keys instead of subtly fingering a synth. A if that wasn’t bad enough, the La, La’s of Don’t You morphed into Ba Da Ba Da Da’s to end the song. By the time Once Upon A Time was released, the writing was on the wall, bold and clear. SM was leaving me behind for something as fleeting as fame.
    When I heard the “steal” from I Travel on Ghostdancing, it was the final betrayal.

    Alex makes a great point about SM sort of rewriting history to feature the partnership between Kerr & Burchill. While I always believe it’s been there and been strong, SM was a band that played as a unit and who musically relied on all the parts to make the whole. The loss of Forbes and ultimately MacNeil broke down what was special about the Simple Minds sound as it transitioned from album to album.

    It would take SM more than 15 years to win me back. It was a rocky start, but they have proved themselves to me and while things have been forgiven (not all things – Street Fighting Years) they have not been forgotten.

  10. Best Sunday singles series yet for me, being an education. I missed SM entirely in the early 80s and was only aware of them from DYFAM onward- I actually quite like DYFAM as a piece of 80s pop and always loved the Breakfast Club. I loathed the billowing sleeves and U2 lite years. I only started to dig into their pre-fame albums and singles relatively recently so this has been a brilliant read (by JC and the comments contributors). I’ve picked up quite a lot of the vinyl from the period of this series in the last couple of years and none have yet been filed away, all are in the current play pile. Well done to all involved.

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