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

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 4 & 5)

I ended last week’s post by saying things looked bleak for Simple Minds at the end of 1979. It was clear that they had signed to a label that didn’t quite know what to do with them – the music press were still, for the most part, complimentary about the band and the music, but Arista Records remained unable or unwilling to do much in the way of promotion.

Things, rather unbelievably, got even worse in 1980. The summer months had seen the band return to the studio, yet again with John Leckie in the producer’s chair, to record what would be their third studio LP, which they chose to call Empires and Dance. The lead-off single, in September 1980, was an absolute classic, a cross between disco-stomping Giorgio Moroder and early experimental Roxy Music (but played at 100mph!!), coming with an almighty punch in which every member of the band played/sang as if their very future existence depended on it:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel (7″ edit)

It had ‘HIT’ stamped all over it. It came out in 7″ and 12″ format, with the latter offering an extended and remixed version that was ridiculously danceable. The first 7,500 copies of the 7″ came with a free flexi-disc. But it all amounted to nothing as Arista didn’t provide much of a marketing budget and didn’t do any plugging to radio stations. I Travel failed to chart.

Here’s the b-side and the flexi-disc songs:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – New Warm Skin

And here, complete with scratches and bumps, are the flexi-disc songs:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Kaleidescope
mp3 : Simple Minds – Film Theme Dub

The b-side proved to be a rather excellent non-album track and the flexidisc also had two previously unreleased pieces of music. Kaleidescope had been part of the live sets when Real to Real Cacophany had been toured and many expected it to appear on the new album….but Simple Minds had moved into a different sound (again!!) for Empires and Dance and it didn’t fit in.

The record label had no faith in Empires and Dance, pressing up just 15,000 copies and waiting until these had sold out before going for any re-print, which again was limited in mumber. The album, seemingly, wasn’t easy to find in the shops, although I recall many copies in many Glasgow record shops.

There was no headlining tour, but instead the band found themselves criss-crossing Europe as the special guest of Peter Gabriel as he succesfully promoted Peter Gabriel III, and a hit single in Games Without Frontiers.

Simple Minds also supported The Skids at a few UK dates before eventually, in October/November, they headlined their own shows, including a great home performance at City Halls, Glasgow before an adoring and appreciative audience (including a 17-year old JC!!).

A few months later, Arista decided enough was enough and let the band go….and were probably surprised when Virgin Records immediately pounced to sign them and put them straight into the studio for their fourth album. There was a fresh buzz about the band and rather cynically, Arista decided to release a Simple Minds single, going with one of the most popular tracks on Empires and Dance:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Celebrate (7″ edit)

This came out in April 1981, seven full months after I Travel but just a few weeks before what was going to be the debut single on Virgin. It’s b-sides were a rip-off in that two previous 45s were offered up – I Travel and Changeling – and for the most part it was ignored by fans and thus got nowhere near the charts. Worth mentioning that I Travel would be the subject of yet another Arista cash-in the following year, but I’ll return to that in due course.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 3)

History is littered with bands who, by the time they have been able to release the debut album, have disowned many of the songs in favour of those that they have been prepping, either on the road or in the studio, for the follow-up record.

Simple Minds proved to be such a band, although their desire to get away from the songs on their debut was somewhat predicated by the fact it hadn’t brought any meaningful success. In September 1979, just two months after Chelsea Girl had let everyone down, they were back in the studio, again with John Leckie in the producer’s chair, determined to get it right the second time around.

The recording of what became Real to Real Cacophony was, seemingly, a pleasant experience with sessions being completed quickly, so much so that the record label had it delivered in time to make a decision to release it before the end of the calendar year. The only thing was that they delivered a record that the label was not anticipating, lacking any potential hit singles and packed with strange, often experimental-sounding numbers the likes of which were uncommon in 1979.

Some 40 years after the fact, it’s now seen as an album very much of the type that marked the beginning of huge changes in post-punk/new wave music, with moody and atmospheric keyboards taking a greater role at the expense of jarring guitars. Some critics, such as Paul Morley, immediately ‘got it’, suggesting that Simple Minds deserved to be lauded every bit as much as the likes of Joy Division, Gang Of Four, Wire and Public Image Ltd, all of whom could do no wrong in the eyes of the opinion-formers.

Arista Records, however, were spooked and their reaction was to put the album out with little fanfare, content that it would sell to the band’s fan base and with little or no accompanying promotion, the losses could be minimised (and no doubt written off against any previous advances).

The hopes of manager Bruce Findlay for the band to be at the forefront of his own Zoom Records become internationally famous were dashed when Arista insisted it be released as part of its wider stable of artists.

There was, eventually, one single lifted from Real to Real Cacophony, and even then it was all a bit shambolic. Changeling wasn’t issued to help further promote the album, but instead to raise the profile of the band as they undertook a tour. It was also decided to use an edited version of the song, cutting out some 45 seconds from the album version, and to have a live track on the b-side, with a song lifted from a New York gig in October 1979. Even then, mistakes were made as the mix of the live track, done back in Glasgow, had a miscue from the master tape and the recording put down on vinyl starts with the end of the previous song!!

mp3 : Simple Minds – Changeling (edit)

mp3 : Simple Minds – Premonition (live)

The single, unsurprisingly, was a monumental flop. Things looked bleak.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 1-2)

This was a last minute change of mind.

I’d already written postings for the next two Sundays but the fact that Johnny & The Self Abusers came up in the rotation yesterday for the Scottish song led me to go off at a tangent and instead put the spotlight on Simple Minds. But with the caveat that the singles will only cover the period 1979-1984 and that it will be the 7” versions featured as there has been a look previously at the 12” singles from the band.

As mentioned yesterday, J&TSA broke up on the day their only single was released. Four of its members – Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Brian McGee and Tony Donald – decided they would keep things going as Simple Minds. Things were a bit shambolic over the next year with a number of personnel and responsibility changes.

First up, Duncan Barnswell joined as second guitarist and then Jim Kerr decided he would rather just be the singer. This led to Mick MacNeil being brought in to play the keyboards but around the same time, Tony Donald decided he no longer wanted to be involved and so Derek Forbes came in on bass. The six-strong group recorded demos and began playing gigs in the hope of attracting attention from someone in the industry.

Bruce Findlay, the owner of a small chain of record shops in Scotland, decided to take a punt on the band, becoming their manager and suggesting they sign to his own Zoom Records, which at this point in time had issued only four singles. The next change was that Duncan Barnswell left the group after less than a year, seemingly at the request of the others. The quintet of Burchill, Forbes, Kerr, MacNeil and McGee became what is now regarded as the first serious attempt at the big time.

There was enough of a buzz about the group for Arista Records, an American-owned major label, to sign Simple Minds under license while issuing the debut material on Zoom.

The debut album was recorded over a two-month period at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979, with up-and-coming producer John Leckie assigned to production duties. This was something of a coup for Findlay and the band as Leckie was being given great plaudits for his work with Magazine and XTC, bands that were critically acclaimed but, as yet, not quite there with a commercial breakthrough.

It turned out to be a similar story for Simple Minds, with the debut single only reaching #62 in May 1979

mp3 : Simple Minds – Life In A Day
mp3 : Simple Minds – Special View

Some folk at the record label felt that the very minimalist cover art hadn’t helped things, and so a bit of effort went into the sleeve of the follow-up, a song that was probably given the warmest reception by fans at the live shows. The new single was released in June 1979 , to coincide with the band’s first UK headlining tour. The label also arranged to shoot what was, for the time, a hi-tech and expensive promo in the hope of promoting the band as being at the cutting edge of the music scene. There was a further attempt to appeal to fans by making the b-side a brand new song, not available on the album, demonstrating how much the band had progressed over the past six months.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Chelsea Girl
mp3 : Simple Minds – Garden of Hate

To the shock and horror of all concerned, Chelsea Girl was a monumental flop, not getting much airplay and failing to crack the Top 75.

It was back to the drawing board.

JC

HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 10)

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.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Changeling

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.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Glittering Prize

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.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Up On The Catwalk

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.

JC

BONUS POSTING : THE MISSING LINKS

I had a go recently at providing all the 12″ versions of Simple Minds singles in the period before they went all stadium rock on us. I was missing two of the bits of vinyl but regular reader and occasional contributor David Martin dropped them off via e-mail last week. Makes sense to post the missing links:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Promised You A Miracle
mp3 : Simple Minds – Waterfront

Both were chart hits, reaching #13 in May 1982 and December 1983 respectively. Both are marginally longer than the album versions but not on the scale of some of the other 12″ releases from this period.

Big thanks to David. I know my wee brother in Florida will really appreciate hearing these again.

JC

BONUS POSTING – ASK ME, I WON’T SAY NO (HOW COULD I?)

Alex left behind this comment yesterday after I posted the 12″ of The American:-

Used to stare longingly up at the section of the Union St Virgin Megastore wall stocked with Simple Minds 12 inch singles thinking I will get them all one day. I never did but bought all the albums.

Even though they have sucked for so long, listening to one of these vintage tracks like this one (in extended form for first time) it’s like being transported back to a happy time.

They are still in this phase my spirit band.

Thanks for the post, JC. If you want to put up any others you may have……(he asks hopefully)

Happy to oblige.

The first Simple Minds single to get the 12″ extended treatment was I Travel. For the purposes of this posting there were a further ten singles released through to those lifted from Sparkle In The Rain, and all with the exception of Love Song were extended in some way from the album versions.

I don’t have all of them with both Promised You A Miracle and Waterfront missing; but here’s the others as requested (with the exception of The American and Speed Your Love To Me as these were posted very recently).

mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Celebrate (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Sweat In Bullet (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Glittering Prize (club mix)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Someone, Somewhere In Summertime (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Up On The Catwalk (12 inch version)

JC