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

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LIKED THE PREVIOUS EXTENDED MIX

I was genuinely surprised that a couple of the very nice comments left behind when I posted Speed Your Love To Me mentioned that it was the first time some folk had ever heard that song in its extended version. But then again I do forget that only if you bought the 12″ release at the time, (or have since gotten a second-hand copy), would you really ever get the chance to hear it given it was never put on the album and may not even ever have a had a subsequent CD release.

Maybe it’s the same for many of you with this single from May 1981, which appeared in edited form when included on Sister Feelings Call:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – The American (12″ version)

Once again, the decision to record a near seven minute version (which isn’t far off being double the length of the album version) really pays off. It’s a song which reminds me a lot of Magazine, albeit there’s huge vocal differences between Jim Kerr and Howard Devoto, as the keyboards, guitar, drums and bass lines wouldn’t have been out-of-place on any of the albums of the Manchester-based group. It was maybe no coincidence that Simple Minds had been lured across to Virgin Records just as Magazine had broken up and left the label.

I really had high hopes that The American would provide the band with their breakthrough hit. It was their first single for Virgin and sounded tailor-made for radio with its sing-a-long chorus coming amidst a tune that somehow simultaneously felt futuristic and contemporary.

It was a 12″ that I had on very heavy rotation as I came towards the end of my schooldays and began to dream of what life might be at university in a few months time. I certainly had ambitions of meeting folk who loved music as much as me and I couldn’t wait to get myself along to the multi-storey student union where at least one of the floors was legendary for offering a disco where they played punk/post-punk/new wave and championed bands like Simple Minds. I wasn’t to be disappointed…..unlike Simple Minds and the good folk at Virgin who watched as The American stalled at #59 and neither of the two superb follow-ups – Love Song and Sweat in Bullet – did much better. But their day would of course come.

The b-side was a largely instrumental track that would subsequently be unaltered when it was included on Sister Feelings Call on its release in September 1981;-

mp3 : Simple Minds – League of Nations

JC

IN WHICH A 12 INCHER IS WAY BETTER THAN THE 7 INCH EFFORT

A short time ago I put together, and subsequently posted, an 80s compilation as a birthday present for my young brother. There were a number of very positive comments about a number of the songs and so I’ll probably turn my attention over the coming weeks to those not previously featured on the blog before.

I was particularly taken by Echorich’s usual astute and sharp observation which on this occasion was to say that ‘Speed Your Love To Me is one of those songs that works SO well opening a set.”

I’ve defended and indeed championed Simple Minds on these page in the past. Love Song was in my 45 45s at 45 rundown and I’ll argue that their body of work from the outset through to New Gold Dream is of the highest quality and among the most innovative of any group of that particular era. My young brother came to the band round the time of New Gold Dream and he has long been a fan of Sparkle In The Rain, released in February 1984 around the time of his 18th birthday, which is why I went to that particular LP on this occasion.

It had been years – at least 10 and probably nearer 15 – since I had listened to any of the songs from that record, one which gave the band their first ever #1 album in the UK. It’s much more a rock record than anything they had done up to that point with much probably down as much to the choice of Steve Lillywhite as producer who had just completed working with U2 and Big Country. There’s a number of tracks on it that I still can’t bring myself to enjoy, not least lead-off single and stadium-rock anthem Waterfront which was a real shock to the system when I first heard it but it was clearly one for the masses as it was very quickly on heavy rotation on our local non-BBC radio station.

Waterfront actually pre-dated the LP by around three months and indeed a second single was released about a month before the LP hit the shops. My first exposure to Speed Your Love To Me was when a  flat mate came in one afternoon with a 12” copy tucked under his arm; he had heard it being played in a city centre record shop while he had been mooching around searching for bargains in the January sales and had been quite taken by it; he had bought it as the shop was selling the 12” version for the same price as the 7” and insisted on the rest of us listening to it.

First impression was that it was nothing like Waterfront; so far so good. Second immediate impression was that Kirsty MacColl had been brought into add her vocal talents to the track; so far even better; Third immediate impression was that the seven minutes plus of the 12” version seemed to enable a fine balancing act of sounding epic in that new rock way the band were pursuing but providing enough breathing space for the keyboards and the more subtle guitar style of Charlie Burchill to be on display. It got a unanimous thumbs up from the four of us.

The single, as was the norm in those days, was flipped over and the b-sides played. The first track was the edited version of the single, a version which sadly didn’t enable any of the subtleties of the 12” version to shine. First impression was that I didn’t like it all that much; it really did feel as if this was one of those instances where a piece of music really did benefit from clever production techniques and being extended beyond that you’d hear on the radio.

I would have loved for the band and the label to have put the 12” mix on the LP but they didn’t, albeit the album version was about 30 seconds longer than the single edit but that’s more down to a longer fade-out than anything else.

I listened again to the album version when thinking about tracks to use on my brother’s mixtape but found myself still disappointed by it 33 years on. However, the extended version still makes me smile at the memory of that first listen and the subsequent dances to it at the student union over the following few weeks:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Speed Your Love To Me (extended mix)

Here’s the b-sides:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Speed Your Love To Me (single edit)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Bass Line

What we didn’t know at the time was that the latter of the b-sides (which was and remains rather underwhelming in comparison to earlier instrumental tunes) was in fact an word-less version of a track that would appear on the parent album:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – White Hot Day

Enjoy

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #72 – SIMPLE MINDS

SimpleMinds-500x428

Resurrecting the piece for the 45 45s re-run just two days ago provided the inspiration. Suffice to say that this ICA is restricted to the selections from the following albums:-

Life In A Day – released March 1979
Real To Real Cacophony – released November 1979
Empires and Dance – released September 1980
Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call – September 1981
New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) – September 1982

I won’t include Love Song in the listing as it was featured just 48 hours ago. So without further delay…..but I will warn you that there’s a few singles featured today. They weren’t really for keeping their best material preserved for b-sides or just album tracks.

SIDE A

1. Theme For Great Cities (from Sister Feelings Call)

A curve-ball to start with, opening the ICA with an instrumental. I still recall hearing this for the first time and thinking it was as far removed as possible from the music anyone would ever associate with Glasgow. It’s an astonishing rich, textured, brilliantly structured piece of music which set me on the path to a better understanding and appreciation of electronic music.

2. Changeling (from Real to Real Cacophony)

Fans of PiL, Gang of Four, Wire and Magazine will surely appreciate this album version of a flop single from late 79. Jagged and edgy, it’s a fine fusion of the new wave guitars and the synth stuff that was beginning to take a grip of many an imagination and would lead to some of the best UK pop of the following decade.

3. Someone Somewhere In Summertime (from New Gold Dream)

This was the album that really broke the band. Its ten tracks contain three hit singles (two of which had charted before the LP hit the shops) and thus turned the band into a hot ticket almost overnight. This was the third of the 45s and the opening track of the album. Unlike the previous two tracks on the ICA, this one is very much of its time – it sounds like 1982 and has nothing to link it back to the band’s punk/new wave roots. It’s dreamy build up to the anthemic chorus was the first sign that the small and medium-sized halls would no longer be where you’d find the band ply its trade in future years.

4. Chelsea Girl (single version – originally from Life In A Day)

The band had, from the earliest of days, displayed a real ability to churn out a catchy pop tune, as evidenced by what was their second ever single. Every bit as anthemic as the later hits, it was let down by a bit of a stale and unimaginative production. But then again, everyone at the time was wondering how best to capture these new fangled sounds.

5. This Fear Of Gods (from Empires and Dance)

It was the band’s misfortune to be on Arista Records for this album as the label was unable to promote properly an album that was described on its release by Paul Morley as ‘authentic new torch music….an LP of terror-songs, vigilance and vanity‘. It was as dark and deep and wonderful as anything Joy Division were producing, but with a disco-beat….

SIDE B

1. I Travel (from Empires and Dance)

Also as wonderful as anything Joy Division were producing, but with Simple Minds around you had to take off your overcoat and get yourself on to that dance floor. It’s a song that has been re-produced and remixed on countless occasions, sometimes to great effect and often to its detriment. This is the original single version that really should have been a huge hit.

2. The American (from Sister Feelings Call)

As much as I love this song, I can’t help but wonder how it might have sounded if someone other than prog legend Steve Hillage had been in the producer’s chair. Someone with more new wave tendencies would have had altered the guitar and bass sounds to something more akin to John McGeough and Barry Adamson‘s work with Magazine and it would have come belting out of the speakers with a sense of menace rather than being perhaps a bit too polished.

3. Big Sleep (from New Gold Dream)

As mentioned earlier, this was the album that really broke the band. They had always been a cracking live act, but the commercial success seemed to bring out the best in them – I saw them three times in 1982 and Big Sleep was the track that got the hairs on the neck standing up, thanks to the combination of wonderfully understated guitar playing from Charlie Burchill, bass slapping with style from Derek Forbes and the catchy, repetitive keyboard contribution from Mick McNeill…..and to be fair to the much derided singing style of Jim Kerr, his delivery in this instance is first-rate.

4. Sweat In Bullet (12″ version – originally from Sons and Fascination)

Time to get yourself back on that dance floor again. Like every other act from the 80s, the singles were subjected to different mixes and extended versions for use on 12″ vinyl. This was one of the most effective but still failed to provide the breakthrough and crossover hit.

5. Premonition (Peel Session – original version on Real to Real Cacophony)

Designed to make you want to turn this imaginary piece of vinyl back over to Side A. Recorded in December 1979 and broadcast twice in January 1980. It was unimaginable back then that within five years they would be arena rock gods…..

mp3 : Simple Minds – Theme For Great Cities
mp3 : Simple Minds – Changeling
mp3 : Simple Minds – Someone Somewhere In Summertime
mp3 : Simple Minds – Chelsea Girl
mp3 : Simple Minds – This Fear Of Gods

mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel
mp3 : Simple Minds – The American
mp3 : Simple Minds – Big Sleep
mp3 : Simple Minds – Sweat In Bullet
mp3 : Simple Minds – Premonition

Enjoy.

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (14)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON TUESDAY 6 MAY 2008

index

If he gets round to reading this, I can hear Jacques the Kipper scream at his PC screen (sorry, make that Mac screen – he’s posh), WWWWHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAATT? Given what I’ve chosen at #14, I don’t think his will be an isolated scream.

Your humble scribe and his long-term musical buddy have very diverse opinions on Simple Minds. Our solution is just to agree to disagree. Maybe it’s something to do with where I was born and bred.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of great venues dotted around the city centre of Glasgow and beyond for bands to pitch up and play. But 30 years ago, it was either the Apollo or a mere handful of pubs – all of whom had a strict door policy. The local evening paper would carry adverts every week for 5 or 6 venues (The Dial Inn and The Burns Howff are two that I seem to recall), but every week it would be the same 5 or 6 acts that appeared – and all of them had long hair and wore either cheese-cloth shirts and flares or tight-fitting t-shirts and leather strides. In short, it was a scene dominated by really awful pub-rock and acts who wanted to be the new Led Zeppelin.

In the pre-Postcard era, it was Simple Minds who stood out from that crowd, for they didn’t rely on loud guitars, screaming vocals and pounding drums – they had a keyboard player!! Someone at school said that they weren’t a new band at all, but instead just the latest line-up of a Glasgow punk act called Johnny And The Self Abusers (astonishing as it may seem, this turned out to be true!!)

The band started to get some local media attention and songs were being played on the local commercial radio station. Then they were signed by a major record label and you could buy their single and LPs in all the local shops. Many of us rushed out and bought these records, and many of us found ourselves bemused.

The first three albums by the band saw a mixture of a few easily accessible pop tunes, but they were buried among a lot of stuff that seemed to verge on the dreaded and awful prog-rock. Nowadays, its easy to look back and see the influences were in fact more European-orientated acts like Kraftwerk and Can, but here in Glasgow very little was known about such bands. The band had a few early stand out tracks – in particular the singles Life In A Day and Chelsea Girl, as well as one particularly infectious track in I Travel that made you want to get on the dance floor and shake your hips. Were discos the real future for Simple Minds??

In 1981, the band moved to Virgin Records who had something of a decent track record making a success of slightly off-kilter new wave bands such as Magazine, XTC, PiL and The Skids. The first release was an LP called Sons and Fascination, the initial copies of which came with a bonus LP called Sister Feelings’ Call (the latter would eventually be released as a stand-alone record).

It was still very much a mix of the pop and the prog, but the pop was pretty sensational. And the prog was somehow different (we would later come to recognise much of it as trance….). The pop meanwhile was aimed very much at the dance floor, but not with a disco beat. It was very similar to records that were coming out of Sheffield by a band called The Human League, and looking back we can see it was the start of a new era and new style of synth-pop that brought us bands such as New Order and Depeche Mode.

The first time I heard the single that I’ve picked at #14 was at a Glasgow city centre disco where ‘alternative’ nights of sorts were held on Sunday evenings. Something came on with a long and attention-grabbing pulsating intro. Then came a vocal that sounded awfully familiar….that can’t be Jim Kerr…surely not….

It was only after it had finished, when I went over to the DJ’s booth to ask, did I find out that it was the forthcoming record by Simple Minds. The DJ had been given an advance copy to try out at the ‘alt’ evening. I’m sure it was played on at least two more occasions that night and filled the (admittedly small) floor each time.

Love Song turned out to be the biggest success for the band up to that point. Before long, the band were aiming for pop success at the expense of everything else, and by the mid 80s they had succeeded, thanks to a world-wide hit with Don’t You Forget About Me. They were now, without any shadow of a doubt, stadium rockers of the corporate kind – hugely popular with the masses. They had even started writing songs such as Waterfront which became the unofficial sing-a-long anthem for Glasgow for a short while. All this might have made the boys rich and popular, but it also made them mundane, mediocre and meaningless.

It was now embarrassing to actually admit you were once a fan. And in some folks eyes, that is still the case.

But I’ll always stand by the majesty of the turn of the decadeand early 80s Simple Minds……

mp3 : Simple Minds – Love Song (extended)
mp3 : Simple Minds – This Earth That You Walk Upon

Bonus song from the punk era:-

mp3 : Johnny And The Self Abusers – Saints and Sinners*

* also the name of a legendary Glasgow venue. It would later change ownership and name and become King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut.