John Hughes was an inescapable part of mid-80s youth culture via his seemingly endless series of youth-oriented movies that featured wise-guy teens and soundtracks full of some of my favorite acts. Significant here was that Tarquin Gotch, one of his producing partners, also managed some of my favorite British performers [Stephen Duffy, XTC]. Meaning that in addition to his own music tastes, which curiously paralleled mine, elements of his production company had their meat hooks deep into the UK Post-Punk music scene. This led to many acts I had loved for years getting the kind of exposure they couldn’t have gotten from commercial US radio for all of the money in the world. But a what cost? Hmmmm. Look at the picture for a clue. Hughes’ teen film cycle included the following films:
- Sixteen Candles 
- The Breakfast Club 
- Weird Science 
- Pretty In Pink 
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 
- Some Kind Of Wonderful 
- She’s Having A Baby 
His first one passed through popular culture with nary a blip, but the second one had a cataclysmic impact on a somewhat obscure Scot band I’ve been known to natter on about.
I’ll never forget the first time I became aware of “Don’t You [Forget About Me] by Simple Minds. I was eating breakfast with MTV on in the background. Martha Quinn announced that “Simple Minds were coming up next…” and that was my cue to cue up the VCR. Instead of a video for a song I had not seen yet, since Simple Minds clips on US MTV were rare events in the pre-1985 world, I was treated to a new song I had no clue about. Weird. The band were there, including Derek Forbes for the last time [but I didn’t know it – maybe he didn’t either], but the tune was a little different from where the band seemed to be heading on their last opus, “Sparkle In The Rain.” A few weeks later and the record was actually in the stores, so I bought a copy. Aaaah. So it was written by the producer, Keith Forsey, who I recognized from his stellar production of the second Icehouse album. It wasn’t the worst song ever, and Simple Minds gave it a few of their trademark moves. Enough to sort of make it their own. It was an intriguing curio to the long time [by this time, four years] Simple Minds fan that I was. It seemed like a footnote to their career. I wasn’t prepared for what came next, to put it mildly.
What came next was in part a curious blend of Hollywood money and influence in the music industry. By 1983, the influence of Hollywood on the ailing but rebounding music industry was massive. 1978-1981 was a time of an imploding record industry caught in an unexpected slump. The geometric growth the music industry had enjoyed throughout the late sixties and mid seventies had come to a screeching halt by then and there were several reasons posited: disco fallout, competition from video games, or just the post-oil embargo recession. By the time that MTV premiered in 1981, numbers were way down, but MTV was the closest thing to a nationalized radio station [that also showed you the bands] that America ever had and it had a huge impact on music marketing. In the past, a record had to conquer America one market at a time and there was no assurance that what was a hit in Pittsburgh would also fly in Tampa. All of this required a lot of promo. Now with eyeballs across America glued to MTV, the right band got an instant in to teens everywhere.
Also, the cross promotion of music and movies began in earnest on this new medium with soundtracks composed of pop singles selling mega units with videos that were little more than trailers for the film, playing 24/7 on MTV. “Flashdance” in 1983 signaled the re-emergence of the platinum soundtrack that sold discs and movie tickets. “Saturday Night Fever” was a visionary glimpse of the fortunes to be made by combining the mature movie and music markets, but it remained until the advent of MTV that there was a ripe medium for the sustainable, explosive growth of both.
Into this mature, primed market came wandering Simple Minds. They weren’t the first act approached to record the song that would be indelibly linked to the Breakfast Club and the whole “brat pack” scene. Forsey wrote it with Bryan Ferry in mind, but Mr. Ferry looked askance at this teenaged trifle. No doubt to his eternal dismay, since he had been trying to crack the US market for a dozen years. Hint: he’s still trying. Next up was Billy Idol, who Forsey produced. He too passed. At this point, one vividly can vividly imagine Forsey and Hughes tossing darts at a board with photos of Iva Davies, David Sylvian, and Jim Kerr taped to it. Kerr won, even though it came down to their US label, A+M Records putting the screws to the band to “just try it and see what happened.”
Well, we all know what happened. It took off like wildfire and gave Simple Minds a number one smash in America, which is the last thing any of them probably ever foresaw happening. Me? I was happy to see a band I had loved getting some due, even with a watered down song. Now I could say “Simple Minds” in public, and most people wouldn’t look at me funnily. The band played “Live Aid” that summer [surely as a consequence of this song] and debuted their hit song live for an audience of millions. What happened next was perhaps predictable but still was the prelude to a disheartening decade of Simple Minds fandom.
…to be continued