THE PUNK ROOTS OF SIMPLE MINDS
Simple Minds began in the south side of Glasgow and found worldwide success in the mid-1980s with the song ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ that was used for soundtrack of the film The Breakfast Club. However, the pop tune that made them so famous was in no way a reflection on their own work.
In 1977 Charlie Burchill and Jim Kerr formed a punk band they called Johnny & the Self Abusers. After one unsuccessful single they changed the line-up to include Brian McGee on drums and Tony Donald on bass guitar, however Donald was quickly replaced by Derek Forbes. During this time they also changed their name to Simple Minds, which is rumoured to be after either David Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’ or Iggy Pop’s ‘Play it Safe.’ Their debut album ‘Life in a Day’ was released by Zoom Records. owned by their manager Bruce Findlay, in 1979. The album seemed to reflect the post-punk style. Within the same year the band released second album, ‘Real to Real Cacophony’. The album didn’t chart nor did it’s only single. However, the album did show signs of the New Wave style that would be the band’s trademark over their next two albums.
Their third album ‘Empires and Dance’ (1980) was a far departure from their two previous recordings, showing influences from Kraftwerk and other European artists. The album saw the keyboard and bass taking on the role as main melodic instruments leading to a minimal sound that would be a defining aspect of Simple Minds. However, the band’s current label, Arista, was unwilling to support the experimentation of the band and so they left and signed with Virgin to release Sons and Fascination (1981), with album Sister Feelings Call originally being a bonus disk, but was later re-released as a proper album. Sons found the band perfecting the sound that had begun in Empires. The album showcased the bands
musicianship creating a sound closer to progressive rock giving Simple Minds an edge over other New Wave bands of the time.
Simple Minds sixth album, ‘New Gold Dreams (81-82-83-84)’ (1982), was a turning point for the band as they came out with a more sophisticated and sleek sound that enabled them to gain a few chart topping singles, and critics to categorise them in the New Romantic genre, an outgrowth of the New Wave scene. Some fans of Simple Minds were upset due the pop sound of songs like ‘Glittering Prize,’ however a few songs still reflected the sound found in Sons.
For Simple Minds, their New Wave sound had run its course and for their next album, ‘Sparkle in the Rain’ (1984), the band decided to create an aggressive rock album. The album produced one of Simple Minds signature songs, ‘Waterfront,’ that hit number 1 in a few European countries.
What came next would bring Simple Minds international success. Soundtrack composer Keith Forsey needed to record a song he wrote ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ for an upcoming film ‘The Breakfast Club’, and after initially turning it down the band decided to record it due to encouragement from their label. After the success the song brought them, they used the new found popularity to produce their most commercial album to date, ‘Once Upon a Time’ (1985). The band decided against putting the music song on their album, but due to the stadium rock sound the record topped charts in America.
Simple Minds yet again decided to surprise its fans, in 1989, with the release of politically charged ‘Street Fighting Years’. The album included the six-minute ‘Belfast Child’ based on a traditional Celtic Folk song, as well as ‘Mandela Day.’ While press in the UK was very positive, American press did not treat Simple Minds as well.
Returning to a more pop-rock sound in 1991, the band released ‘Real Life’, however it seemed the public was no longer up for the sound of Simple Minds as the record did poorly in sales and ‘See the Lights’ became the band’s last Top 40 single in the US. The record also saw the departure of most of the band leaving only Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill. The duo brought in Keith Forsey of ‘Don’t You…’ fame and chose to go back to the arena rock sound of Once Upon... The album was well received critically
but did poorly in sales.
Simple Minds took some time off and returned three years later, no longer with Virgin Records. The come back album, ‘Neapolis’ (1998), saw Derek Forbes and Mel Gaynor return to the band. For their come back the band decided to back to their Kraftwerk-inspired days released the album with Chrysalis Records, but due to poor sales and mixed reviews they refused to print the album in America. In 2002, after the album had already been leaked all over the internet Cry was released to poor sales. Two years later the band came out with an album composed mostly of demos and early recordings called, ‘Our Secrets are the Same’.
Two years later Simple Minds’ fifteenth studio album, ‘Black & White 050505’ (2005), although it received some of the best reviews of any Simple Minds album, it failed to do well in sales. In 2008, the band played in Hyde Park for Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday and then did a few shows within the UK.
In 2008, the original members of Simple Minds all entered the studio for the first time in 27 years, however the reunion was sort lived, and the line-up quickly returned to Burchill, Kerr, Gaynor, and Duffy. They recorded and released their sixteenth studio album, ‘Graffiti Soul’ on 25 May 2009. The album entered at number 10 in the UK charts and number 9 in Europe.