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Music / Simple Minds

Go To
The lineup in 1981.

Get in, get out of the rain,
I'm goin' to move on up to the Waterfront,
Step in, step out of the rain,
I'm goin' to walk on up to the Waterfront,
Said one million years from today,
I'm goin' to step on up to the Waterfront
Get in, get out of the rain,
Come in, come out of the rain

Simple Minds are a long-running Scottish rock band, centered on singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill. They began as part of the Punk Rock and New Wave movement of the late 1970s, and rose to become one of the iconic bands of The '80s. In Europe, they can still draw a crowd; but in America, they are known almost entirely for a Black Sheep Hit they didn't even write, "Don't You (Forget About Me)", which became famous for its appearance in The Breakfast Club.

Kerr and Burchill were friends since childhood. In 1977, they joined a punk band called Johnny & The Self-Abusers, which released one single and broke up. Kerr and Burchill, along with Self-Abusers bandmates Tony Donald (bass) and Brian McGee (drums) renamed themselves Simple Minds, after a line in the David Bowie song "Jean Genie". The next year and a half saw much touring and a demo tape. Mick MacNeil joined on keyboards, and Donald was replaced by Derek Forbes on bass. They became known for their live act, and were signed to Zoom, a division of Arista Records.

In early '79, they recorded their first album, Life in a Day. Sales were disappointing, and the band quickly dismissed it as sounding too much like their influences (David Bowie, Genesis, Roxy Music, and the Punk and New Wave around them). Their next album, Real to Real Cacophony, was dark, moody, and experimental. It sold even less than Life in a Day. Their third album, 1980's Empires and Dance, was proto-Industrial, sold poorly again; by this time Arista had had enough and the band transferred to Virgin Records.

Simple Minds perfected their sound around this time, a mixture of New Wave, Progressive Rock, and Electronic Music. They recorded enough material for two albums, variously released as Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call or as one double album. This produced their first hit, "Love Song", and caught the attention of Peter Gabriel, who chose them to open for him on a European tour. They were beginning to succeed; but the constant recording and touring was too much for Brian McGee, who left at the end of the recording sessions.

Kenny Hyslop replaced McGee for the Sons and Fascination tour, and played on the next single, "Promised You A Miracle", but didn't fit in with the band and left. Mike Ogletree was next, and wrote the drum parts for their next album. But he left too, and handed his drum parts to Mel Gaynor. Mel turned out to be the perfect drummer for Simple Minds, with a combination of skill and brute force. And so the classic Simple Minds lineup was completed, as was the album that would be considered their greatest artistic achievement, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84).

New Gold Dream went to #3 on the UK albums chart, and since its release in 1982 it has been considered a masterpiece of the New Wave movement in general. But for the band, it was as far as they could go with subtle textures and delicate moods. A new sound was needed, so they cranked the volume and intensity up to eleven for their next album. Sparkle in the Rain was a huge worldwide success (except for America, which continued to ignore them) and produced three hit singles, "Waterfront", "Speed Your Love To Me", and "Up On The Catwalk".

One American who did take notice was filmmaker John Hughes, who convinced them to record a song for his next movie, The Breakfast Club. To Simple Minds, it was a lightweight pop song; but to Americans, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" note  was romantic gold, and it became their biggest U.S. hit. The band found themselves with a Black Sheep Hit, and spent many years dismissing it.

Constant work took its toll on another band member, Derek Forbes, and he was replaced with former Brand X bassist John Giblin. With guest vocals from Chic's Robin Clark, they released Once Upon A Time, which conspicuously did not include "Don't You". What it did have was stadium-friendly rock, which brought in a lot of new fans, and gave them their only 'proper' U.S. hit, "Alive And Kicking". The tour produced a live album, Live in the City of Light.

During the three years of fame and touring that followed Once Upon A Time, the band took an interest in politics. This led to their only UK #1 single, "Mandela Day", and their next album, Street Fighting Years. Street Fighting Years addressed political topics from Apartheid to The Troubles to the Berlin Wall. Musically, it brought back the subtlety of New Gold Dream, though with acoustic rather than electronic instruments, creating a Celtic folk-rock sound. Once again, work took its toll, and Giblin and Gaynor both left during the recording sessions. Street Fighting Years rose to the top of the UK album charts, but America didn't want to hear about the worries of the world.

They hired ex-Pretenders bassist Malcolm Foster and session drummer Andy Duncan, and went on tour, but as the tour was ending, Mick MacNeil announced that he needed a break. This turned out to be a Berserk Button for Kerr and Burchill, and the ensuing argument meant that what could have been a temporary break turned into a permanent leave. For many fans, this was when Simple Minds Jumped the Shark; MacNeil's Heroic Fantasy-evoking keyboards were essential to the band's sound. But the show would go on.

Mel Gaynor returned for Real Life, a sequel to Street Fighting Years. It went to #2 in the UK, but the U.S. shut the door on Simple Minds, this time for good. Gaynor left again in '92 (he would return in '97 and stay until '98 and return in 2002 and remain until 2016), and since then Simple Minds has officially been a duo of Kerr and Burchill. Their last album of the stadium rock era was 1995's Good News from the Next World.

In 1996, they signed with Chrysalis Records. It was time for another New Sound Album, the purely Electronic Music Neapolis. It went back to the sound of Real to Real Cacophony and Empires and Dance, and like those albums, didn't sell well. But Simple Minds would stay with this sound for a while, through the aborted Our Secrets Are The Same (a victim of Chrysalis/EMI merger politics, finally released in 2004 as part of a box set), the Cover Album Neon Lights, and 2002's Cry.

They returned to the sound of Once Upon A Time for 2005's Black & White 050505, 2009's Graffiti Soul which went to #10 on the UK album chart, and 2014's Big Music. After more than forty years, they can still rock and still draw a crowd and their 2018 album Walk Between Worlds was their first top five album since 1995.

Official site

Current lineup:

  • Jim Kerr – lead vocals (1977–present)
  • Charlie Burchill – electric & acoustic guitar, occasional keyboards (1977–present)
  • Ged Grimes – bass guitar (2010–present)
  • Sarah Brown - backing vocals (live since 2009, 2017-present)
  • Gordy Goudie - additional keyboards & guitar (sessions since 2001, 2017-present)
  • Cherisse Osei - drums (2017-present)
  • Berenice Scott - keyboards (live since 2020)

Studio Albums:

  • Life in a Day (1979)
  • Real to Real Cacophony (1979)
  • Empires and Dance (1980)
  • Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (1981)note 
  • New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982)
  • Sparkle in the Rain (1984)
  • Once Upon A Time (1985)
  • Street Fighting Years (1989)
  • Real Life (1991)
  • Good News from the Next World (1995)
  • Neapolis (1998)
  • Neon Lights (2001)
  • Cry (2002)
  • Black & White 050505 (2005)
  • Graffiti Soul (2009)
  • Big Music (2014)
  • Acoustic (2016) (Existing songs re-recorded in an acoustic format)
  • Walk Between Worlds (2018)

Other albums of note:

  • Glittering Prize 81/92 (1992, first album to include "Don't You (Forget About Me)")
  • Silver Box (2004, includes Our Secrets Are The Same)

Simple Minds provides examples of:

  • Album Title Drop: Sparkle in the Rain, "Book of Brilliant Things". Good News From The Next World, "Night Music". Real To Real Cacophony, "Real To Real". Empires And Dance, "Today I Died Again".
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Dream Giver Redux complains to no end about most reissues of Real To Real Cacophony. For years, there has been much confusion about the album's proper title. The original was clearly titled Real To Real Cacophony, but most reissues misspell it as Reel To Real Cacophony or even more heinously, Reel To Reel Cacophony. He then goes on to explain how Virgin packaged the album in a glossy sleeve. Which is always the wrong shade of blue.
  • Boléro Effect:
    • "East At Easter" from Sparkle in the Rain.
    • "Careful In Career" from Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call.
  • Boxed Set: Well known for their love of this trope:
    • Themes Volumes (5 CD sets that cover the tracklisting of every 12" single they released under Virgin, from the reissued I Travel up until the Real Life era)
    • Silver Box (a demo / live box set also featuring the unreleased 1999 album "Our Secrets Are The Same"),
    • X5 (A 5CD box of their first 5 albums with all the relevant b-sides & remixes),
    • Celebrate (3CD set of all their single edits and three recently recorded songs).
    • Once Upon A Time, Sparkle In The Rain and New Gold Dream (Super Deluxe Editions, all 5 discs each).
  • Catchphrase: Jim Kerr's shouts of "Let me see your hands!!" during live performances.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The lead track from the Amsterdam EP, a cover of Prince's "Sign of the Times", has never appeared on one of their singles compilations or albums, despite being a hit. The band were embarrassed by it and prefer to use its B-Side "Let It All Come Down" instead. However, the full single appears as part of the Themes box sets, still in print.
  • Charity Motivation Song: "Mandela Day", written for a concert celebrating Nelson Mandela's release.
  • Cover Album: Neon Lights and Searching For The Lost Boys, a bonus album included with Graffiti Soul.
  • Cover Version:
    • Velvet Underground's "White Light White Heat", which the group would constantly use to close shows in their late 70s early days, revisiting live on various tours down the line, and finally studio recording in 2004 for an Italian compilation "Live & Rare" which required an exclusive track.
    • Lou Reed's "Street Hassle" on Sparkle in the Rain.
    • "Sun City - Dance To The Music" on Live In The City Of Lights
    • Peter Gabriel's "Biko" on Street Fighting Years
    • Music/Prince's "Sign Of The Times" on The Amsterdam EP
    • Ewan Mac Coll 's "Dirty Old Town" (recorded in 2003 as a Scottish exclusive single), a duet with one of Jim & Charlie's childhood heroes, Celtic footballer Jimmy Johnstone, in order to raise money for his cancer treatment. They also recorded a solo version on "Live And Rare" and a live version on the special edition of "Walk Between Worlds"
    • In addition to their two cover albums they also released a lot of studio covers as B Sides since the Cry period, in addition to the non-album "Children Of The Revolution" released as a German exclusive single.
  • Concept Album: "Empires And Dance" deals with train journeys around Eastern Europe at the time of the Cold War. It takes this trope into Nightmare Fuel territory on several occasions.
    • "Street Fighting Years" features songs about various injustices around the world. This includes the poverty and crime in the band's native Scotland ("Street Fighting Years", "Soul Crying Out"), the troubles in Northern Ireland ("Belfast Child"), apartheid in South Africa ("This Is Your Land", "Mandela Day", "Biko) and songs giving hope to people in these times ("Wall Of Love", "Let It All Come Down", "When Spirits Rise") as well as songs of rebellion ("Take A Step Back", "Kick It In"). The band dealt with political issues on their early albums, but generally in a vague way— they were much more explicit about it here, and the album still stands out as being their most political.
  • Divided for Publication: Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call were originally recorded as part of the same sessions and intended for release as a double album, but were split apart due to the band seeing the idea as too Progressive Rock-esque. However, the latter album was originally shrink-wrapped with the former (before being given a standalone budget release) and the two were eventually reunited on one CD as Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, now considered the canonical configuration of the album.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In contrast with the band's 80s pop hits, they sounded more like Joy Division and Magazine on their early albums. On their earliest material, they took a lot of influence from The Stranglers.
  • Epic Rocking: "Pleasantly Disturbed", "In Trance As Mission", "A Brass Band In African Chimes", "Street Fighting Years" and "Belfast Child", to name a few.
  • Evolving Music: Their song "I Travel", from 1980, would in 1985, become the song "Ghostdancing". It's fascinating to hear one live performance of the former from 1985, where they used the riff that would become the latter.
    • The instrumentation in the chorus of "Seeing Out The Angel" on Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call would later be reused for the famous "Mandela Day" song.
    • The 1995 instrumental B-side "Celtic Strings" was sampled directly in 2018's "Barrowland Star", 23 years later. The group said they'd always wanted to develop the song further, but it just took that long.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: A female voice speaks lines in French throughout "Twist/Run/Repulsion" from Empires And Dance, adding to its unsettling atmosphere.
    • Jim addresses "Belle" (French for beautiful) in every verse of "Colours Fly And Catherine Wheel".
  • Greatest Hits Album: Several, beginning with Themes For Great Cities and Celebration, though the singles on those weren't as great hits as what followed. First bonafide hits album was Glittering Prize 81/92.
    • Their 2012 compilation "Celebrate" has a 3CD version that compiles all their singles up to that point, as well as more stripped down 2CD and 1CD versions that have selected highlights.
  • Hidden Track: The band included an unreleased excerpt of the long track 'A Brass Band In Africa" on the 12" single of "Speed Your Love To Me", after the Extended Mix fades out. CD issues append this to the end of the Extended Mix. Other parts of "A Brass Band In Africa" can be found on the 7" and 12" singles of "Up On The Catwalk" and on the Sparkle In The Rain album as "Shake Off The Ghosts".
  • Instrumentals: Usually one per album.
  • Let's Duet: With Robin Clark of Chic on Once Upon A Time.
    • With Lou Reed on "This Is Your Land" from Street Fighting Years.
  • Long-Runners: Still going since 1977.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Original pressings their second album, Real To Real Cacophony, were a thermographic and textured blue sleeve, but it was very expensive to produce, and all reissues have since had a solid dark blue sleeve.
    • The original artwork for Real Life was also dark blue, and had a small design in the middle as well as the title. Later pressing reversed the front and back cover so it was a picture of the band on white.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Seems to be what the song "Subway Sex" from their "Johnny And The Self-Abusers" day is about, then again, the lyrics are hard to understand, and don't seem to make that much sense anyway.
    • Briefly mentioned in their more recent song "Stagefright". It was toned down for the recorded version with " get beneath the table..." but it was originally much more blatant. "Get" instead being "Fuck." They still use the latter when playing it live, though.
  • New Sound Album: Every album.
    • The Early Years (Punk)
    • Life in a Day (Art Punk),
    • Real to Real Cacophony (Gothic Post Punk)
    • Empires and Dance (Progressive Post Punk w/ Disco and Krautrock influences),
    • Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, (Combination of all the above w/ better production),
    • New Gold Dream (Similar to Sons And Fascination but shorter and with more viable singles)
    • Sparkle in the Rain (A bridge between the new wave of New Gold Dream and the stadium rock of Once Upon A Time).
    • Once Upon a Time (Stadium Rock with soul backing singers)
    • Street Fighting Years (ballad heavy stadium rock)
    • Real Life (A combination of ''Street Fighting Years' and then current pop music)
    • Good News From The Next World (Alternative Rock)
    • Neapolis (Electronic Music)
    • Our Secrets Are The Same (More rock based than Neapolis)
    • Neon Lights (A Cover Album in the modern electronic style of Cry)
    • Cry (Dance music)
    • Black And White 050505 (Dark post punk with modern pop influences)
    • Graffiti Soul (A fusion of the sound of Sons And Fascination with that of Once Upon A Time and the pop sensibilities of Black And White 050505. Fans usually consider this a return to form.)
    • Big Music (Electronic post punk with some new wave thrown in)
  • The Not-Remix: New Gold Dream and Once Upon A Time were rereleased in 2005 on DVD-Audio in 5.1-channel surround sound.
    • The 12" mixes of "Promised You A Miracle", "Glittering Prize" and "Someone Somewhere In Summertime" are actually uncut tracks that were edited for time reasons on the album. They have always performed them live as per the 12"s, and the versions on the DVD-A are like this too. In an inversion, the earlier "Love Song" is marked as an extended mix on its 12", though it ended up becoming the "Sons And Fascination" album version due to the fact that the group made the decision to make the record a Distinct Double Album (along with Sister Feelings Call) and thus had the space for it.
  • Precision F-Strike: Their cover of Neil Young's "Rockin' In the Free World" actually adds one.
    We got a thousand points of light,
    For the homeless man.
    We got a kinder, gentler,
    Much more pleasant machine gun hand.
    Toilet paper, styrofoam too,
    The ozone layer is fucked up too.
  • Protest Song: Several on Street Fighting Years and Real Life.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • "Let The Children Speak" from Real Life is a vocal rearrangement of the instrumental "Theme For Great Cities" from Sister Feelings Call. "Theme For Great Cities" '91 is a completely new recording of the track that is somewhat like an instrumental "Let The Children Speak" would be but with more rave influences.
    • "When Two Worlds Collide" has a similar tune to Real Life, creating Book Ends for the album. The B Side "Women And Ghosts" is a sort of instrumental remix of Real Life, as well.
    • "Moscow Underground" is based around a riff in the band's 2004 cover of Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat". As this cover was only released in Italy as part of a rare Vodafone compilation, not many fans noticed.
  • The Remake: The live album and tour "5X5 Live" showcased the then-current lineup of Simple Minds reworking tracks from their first five albums, many of which they had not played in decades at the time. Jim Kerr's much-improved voice & Mel Gaynor's harder drumming give the tracks quite an improved feel, especially on tracks from "Life In A Day" and "Real To Real Cacophony" where Jim had a distinctive yelping vocal style as opposed to his more familiar croon.
  • Revolving Door Band: Numerous bassists, drummers and keyboardists.
  • Synth-Pop: Real To Real Cacophony through to New Gold Dream.
    • "Neapolis" and "Walk Between Worlds" bring the synths back in a big way
  • The Bus Came Back: Sense Of Discovery was radio sessioned and performed at live shows in 2010 as a preview of the upcoming second Lostboy AKA album. That record was cancelled, and the track did not appear on "Big Music" either, finally emerging on 2018's "Walk Between Worlds". The same is true of "Summer", except that it was never performed outside of soundchecks so most fans had not heard it.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "All For You", "Today I Died Again", "New Warm Skin", "Love Song", "Let There Be Love", "And The Band Played On", "War Babies", "Home", as well as being taken to its logical extreme in "League Of Nations", where the only lyrics throughout the entire song are "League of nations, relief" (live versions, however, added a few verse lyrics).
  • Title Track: "Life in a Day", "Sons and Fascination", "New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)", "Once Upon a Time", "Street Fighting Years", "Real Life", "Graffiti Soul", "Big Music", "Walk Between Worlds".
  • To the Tune of...: "Belfast Child" from Street Fighting Years, set to the tune of the Irish folk ballad "She Moved Through the Fair".
  • Uncommon Time: Most of their songs are in good old 4/4, but exceptions include "Naked Eye," "Citizen (Dance Of Youth)," "White Hot Day/Bass Line," "East At Easter," and "Kick It In."
  • Word Salad Lyrics / Word Salad Title: Most of the lyrics and song titles on Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call. "In Trance As Mission," "Seeing Out The Angel," "Wonderful In Young Life" and "70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall" are good examples, but even songs with easier to understand titles like "Careful In Career," "League Of Nations," and "Love Song" have gratuitous When Is Purple content. John Peel is quoted as saying that the titles sounded like Crossword Puzzle clues.
    • 'Factory', from their second album is nearly indecipherable, with Kerr babbling his lyrics.