When we last checked in on this topic, we were witness to the horrible changes wrought in the formerly svelte Post-Punk outfit Simple Minds. The sea change can be best summed up by the fact that after “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” sold millions, I didn’t next hear Simple Minds new single when I went to Record City and bought the import 12″ on the day of release. I heard it on the FM Rock station that was on the college photography darkroom’s boom box! “Alive + Kicking” was a flabby piece of junk, not even as good as the preceding single that was written by Keith Forsey!
That the band spent months in the press decrying how they didn’t really like the Magic Hit Single and that their own material was more intriguing… and then they delivered this steaming pile was insult to injury. Tellingly, Derek Forbes was missing from the band by the time that their pedestrian “Once Upon A Time” album came out in 1985. The next decade was a ghastly death march to ever larger stadiums with naught but crumbs for nourishment. Once you get hooked on the selling records by the fistful, it has a deleterious effect on one’s artistic integrity. Ironically, the band’s reunion with Keith Forsey in 1994 resulted in their first good album since 1983 and they’ve been largely of interest to my ears ever since. More or less.
The next favorite act of mine to willingly step into the ravening maw of the John Hughes Machine was OMD; a band I’d loved and collected even longer than Simple Minds! They got the pole position when Hughes decided to make a teen flick inspired by “Pretty In Pink,” the classic Psychedelic Furs song. OMD by this time had already released their 1985 album “Crush,” which has seen them already grasping at the mainstream in the wake of their commercially disastrous 1983 album “Dazzle Ships.”
Their single “So In Love” actually hit the US top 40 the year previously, so their complicit dance with the devil was, in retrospect, not as shocking as was Simple Minds’ decision to cater to the mainstream after tasting gold. The band wrote a decent pop song [“Goddess Of Love”] for the movie, but wouldn’t you know it; a test screening of a rough cut of the flick to a theatre full of teenaged brats determined that the heroine should dump her weird boyfriend for the preppie scumbag at the end – and Hughes fully capitulated to the whim of the market. Like a whore. Even if it meant turning the theme of his movie upside down.
Of course, this meant that the song OMD wrote was out and they were given 24 hours to write and record something that would fit the new ending. That “If You Leave” is listenable at all can be attributed to the retro-kitsch Emulator string section that attains a hint of former dignity amid the blandness of it all. Nevertheless, OMD saw this song spiral into the top 10 in any case. The much better song they wrote ended up on their next album and was paired with their worst single ever [“Shame”] as its B-side. They released one more album of wheel-spinning chart triangulation before doing the sensible thing and splitting up for several years. In retrospect, Simple Minds should have done the same thing after Derek Forbes was ejected from the band.
Naturally, with a movie based on their song, The Psychedelic Furs also came under Hollywood’s knife. In a by now familiar scenario, the previously great Psychedelic Furs consented to re-record their early classic in a flaccid new version produced for maximum airplay by Chris Kimsey, who should have known better. The gritty Steve Lillywhite 1981 production had been airbrushed over with layers Cheeze-Whiz® that strip this tune of its considerable impact. In a now-familiar move, the band’s next album was the eminently missable “Midnight To Midnight” [produced by Keith Forsey – it’s a conspiracy!] that saw the band giving the mainstream their best shot even though their savage pummeling of their classic “Pretty In Pink” came just one place shy of the US top 40 in spite of their attempt to sell out. Unfortunately, the first time I had a chance to see the band was on their “Midnight To Midnight” tour when they managed to finally make their way to Central Florida. It was not quite as disappointing as the much more horrific Simple Minds tour I saw earlier in the year. It remained until last year, when I finally saw Psychedelic Furs a second time, that they gave a really satisfying show.
I could go on with other bands, such as Oingo Boingo, but why flog a dead horse? The fact remains that the lure of Hollywood and it’s commensurately larger pool of surrounding greed, had a devastating effect on lots of my favorite British bands in the mid-80s. In a way, it was all part of the money-or-else ethos of the zeitgeist [thanx Reagan and Thatcher!] that coalesced to make the music of the mid-80s so repulsive and repellent after a good seven year run of relatively adventurous pop, as celebrated by this blog, among others.
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