Steel Cage Match: Simple Minds VS U2

steel-cage-sm-vs-u2Sure, sure. We all acknowledge that there’s a weird, almost reciprocal relationship between U2 and Simple Minds. I can’t shake the feeling that the each band has somehow used the other for artistic inspiration and that were it a mathematical function it would coil into a spiral too tight for comfort. The significant factor for me is that I have never drank the U2 Kool-Aid® and that Simple Minds have been a core collection band [perhaps the core collection band] for me since 1981. Since U2 cracked the US market first, many tongues wagged that when Kerr + Co. hit the heights two years later, they should be called U2.5 or some such. Well, by 1984 The Minds did appropriate “War” producer Steve Lillywhite for their own “Sparkle In The Rain” opus. The results from the first drop of the needle were not a million miles away from the sound proffered on U2’s breakthrough album that made them Names. Booming drums, piano, and full on Bono-esque bluster accompanied “Up On The Catwalk.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Celtic dividing line, U2 had looked at “New Gold Dream” and pondered how they could get them some of that. When they went to Brian Eno, caps in hand, they pointed to Simple Minds breakthrough album that had made them Names; albeit with shimmering ambiance and delicate panoramas. U2 got the better end of the deal in that they used the Simple Minds sound to get from “huge” to “massive.” Simple Minds were a step behind in spite of being several years their senior. By the time that U2 had made their first 7″ in 1979, The Minds had two albums and a handful of singles under their belts. So when Simple Minds covered Patti Smith’s wonderful “Dancing Barefoot” in 2001, it came seven years after U2 had already covered that song on the “Threesome” OST. Who then had the winning version to smack the other one down in the Monk’s Ring Of Pain?

Epic Soundtrax | US | CD | 1994 | EK 57881

Epic Soundtrax | US | CD | 1994 | EK 57881

Various: Threesome OST US CD [1994]

  1. Tears For Fears – New Star
  2. General Public – I’ll Take You There
  3. U2 – Dancing Barefoot
  4. Teenage Fanclub – Like A Virgin
  5. Apache Indian – Boom Shack-A-Lak
  6. Bryan Ferry – Is Your Love Strong Enough?
  7. New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle
  8. Duran Duran – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)
  9. Jellyfish – He’s My Best Friend
  10. Brad – Buttercup
  11. Human Sexual Response – What Does Sex Mean To Me?
  12. The The – That Was The Day

U2 open the track with the same acoustic guitar that drove the Patti Smith original. U2 keep it simple with this self-produced [probable] demo leaning heavily on the basics. There might be a gentle wash of keys but I’m guessing that I’m hearing tremolo guitar overlaid in a dub by The Edge. The whole affair is disarmingly low-key for this most bombastic of bands. The only fire here comes courtesy of The Edge’s snarling, trebly garage-rock solo at the song’s bridge. It sounds more conservative than the Patti Smith Band version which lacked a guitar solo and had the song’s one synthesizer part there courtesy of Richard Sohl instead. All in all, a surprisingly modest and likable outing from one of my least favorite bands. That Bono was able to dial it down for a change went far with me.

Eagle Records | GER | CD | 2001 | EAGEP198

Eagle Records | GER | CD | 2001 | EAGEP198

Simple Minds: Dancing Barefoot EP German CD [2001]

  1. Dancing Barefoot
  2. Gloria
  3. Being Boiled
  4. Love Will Tear Us Apart

Simple Minds began with the same acoustic guitar common to all three versions but quickly ramped up the synth quotient via their DJ-friendly producer Gordon Goudie who started out producing house tracks for 911, a Glaswegian “boy band.” The resulting track has synths out in front with a pulsing synth bass rhythm track that makes the greatest strides in taking the song furthest from its origins. The female backing vocals also add more gloss than on any other versions.

Where the song trips up for me is, ironically, in Jim Kerr’s vocals, which sound like he’s channeling Bono far more successfully than the original did on his turn at this song in 1994. His backing vocals flatten their vowels just like His Smugness usually does, albeit not on U2’s take on this song. When you hear Kerr perfectly ape Bono’s phrasing on the line “Here I come and I don’t know wh-y-y-y-y” he hits a perfect 10 on the Bon-O-meter®… to his detriment.

The verdict? As much as it pains me to type this in public, I have to hand the championship belt to the Irish rockers whom I have no time for in my Record Cell*!! By the simple fact of Bono sounding less like himself than Jim Kerr managed on the same song, that makes it the winner in my book. In a perfect world, I’d take Simple Minds backing track and put Bono and The Edge on it and Bob’s yer uncle… you’d have the ultimate cover of this, the one classic track on Patti Smith’s patchy “Wave” album.

– 30 –

* Truth in labeling laws compel me to admit that the “Threesome” OST and the “Red Hot + Blue” album contain the only two U2 performances in my home.

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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29 Responses to Steel Cage Match: Simple Minds VS U2

  1. Tim says:

    I can’t not leave this link after reading the referral to Bono as “his smugness.”

    I wannnnt to run – I want to hide.

    http://entertainment.ca.msn.com/celebs/bono-chased-by-angry-anarchists-in-germany-1

    Like

  2. I liked U2’s early sound a great deal, not realising at the time how easily it would all translate to dodgy stadium anthems later. I thought they were a good live band as well, as even the Monk will likely admit to Edge’s guitar prowess. I continued to follow their career with interest through the Brian Eno period, which while leaving behind the youthful urgency that had originally attracted me to them still resulted in some striking pop landscapes. I enjoyed the film that documented “Rattle & Hum” as well.

    The 90s however … whoo! Man, who farted? With the exception of (again) the Eno-driven Passengers and the lovely “Miss Sarajevo” I had no time for that mainstream pop fodder and coke-fueled bombastic excess.

    Their 2000-up work I haven’t delved into too much, but it seems like they are “back on track” in some sense, still not of interest to me but better than the 90s. To be fair, we could say much the same about Simple Minds — who, after a period of terrible pop, spent a considerable time in the wilderness from which they’ve only partly emerged.

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  3. Tim says:

    I always found them to be a triumph of marketing over content. The Joshua Tree to me is the second most overrated album of the 1980’s. By and large I just can’t listen to their music and find myself engaged or excited by most of it. I think there’s maybe 5-6 songs altogether by them in my collection including the subject of today’s post. Anyone know what Lemon is about? I have my own theory on that one.

    I may still have the centerspread from the early 1990’s NME where the disagreement between Bono and one of their writers over the use of Nazi imagery in the Zooropa tour comes to a head. This piece alone cemented my dislike of them and to me really showed the magnitude of Bono’s ego.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I’m curious as to what you consider the first most overrated album of the 80s, then! C’mon! Fess up! I can’t say anything springs immediately to my mind on the subject, as much as I revel in curmudgeondom. But yeah, my antipathy for U2 is the subject of perhaps a post for another day.

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      • Echorich says:

        I like this side step thread! Hmmm overrated albums of the 80’s I think Springsteen’s Born In The USA is probably top of my list.

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        • Tim says:

          The Police’s “Synchronicity. I. Just, Don’t. Get. It.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – Woah!! Excellent choice there! It’s just not uninteresting; it’s actively awful! And yet it sold multi-millions! Good choice!!

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            • Taffy says:

              Leaving out albums by artists I completely loathe (Lionel Richie, Phil Collins, Huey Lewis & The News), I can think of three 80’s mega-selling albums I just can’t stand, despite liking at least some of their earlier stuff. I am in complete agreement with Tim’s picks of The Police’s Synchronicity and U2’s Joshua Tree. To them I’d add Dire Straits Brothers In Arms. All three suffer from overwhelmingly grandiose pomposity, and a healthy dash of meat-headed blindness to their own limitations.

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          • Echorich says:

            Yup Tim, you hit the nail right on the head…Synchronicity…horrid.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Why stop there?! Bruce Springsteen gets my nod for most overrated performer! I never once bought his shtick! I never really could articulate exactly why it didn’t fly with me… Until I read Fred Williams’ provocative book “The Mansion On The Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, & Springsteen And The Head-On Collision Of Rock And Commerce.” Rowr! What a great deconstruction of “The Boss” you’ll find in that tome!

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          • Echorich says:

            Springsteen arrived in the Lower East Side on NYC at the tail end of the Warhol era and the beginning of the heady, druggy days which formed the City’s New Wave of Music scene. His keepers saw an opportunity to market him as a poet from the streets and he did as he was instructed in the hopes of success. He gained some acceptance… Patti Smith and John Cale both welcomed him into their fold. But this bubbling under scene was never going to be enough for the Springsteen machine.

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            • Tim says:

              Dire Straits is certainly in there for me and I was going to mention it as a dark horse for slot #3. Honestly I’ve only heard the single off of that and loathed it so much that I never attempted anything else from it. Geez, it’s kinda scary/cool that we’re all on the same page here.

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  4. Echorich says:

    Hmmm…yes at some point U2 and Simple Minds began a tangled co-existence which, for me, did little for either band. I am a HUGE fan of Sparkle In The Rain, and aside from the use of Lillywhite to produce, I felt it was a triumphant point in Simple Minds catalogue. It’s what followed for then next decade that made me feel they lost the plot, or at least the opportunity. As for U2, the first two albums are powerful, successful and honestly full of influences from and the aping of their contemporaries from Joy Division to The Comsat Angels and Echo And The Bunnymen. With War, I felt myself beginning to disengage. The hype and success of War’s singles and their arrival as an MTV staple made them just too popular for me. I began preferring the unsucessful singles like A Celebration and Trash Trampolene and the Party Girl. The Unforgettable Fire gave me some hope that they saw the light as I saw it, but I gave up by The Joshua Tree.
    Simple Mind’s Neon Lights is a really special album for me. Dancing Barefoot is really wonderful. As I’ve mentioned before I wish Kerr & Co. had stayed away from Love Will Tear Us Apart on that EP, but we all make mistakes. I’m not convinced by the U2 version of Dancing Barefoot. There’s a bit of pretentiousness in the stripped down delivery (no I’m not sure I can explain that further) and it really isn’t all that memorable.
    Of course both versions pale in comparison to Patti Smith. Wave is a very special album for me. And I understand the belief it is patchy, but it is so very much a love letter to one man an an audience from Rock and Roll’s greatest poet.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I think the fact that I never heard “Boy,” ever, has a lot to do with why I never “got” U2. To this day, the only track I have heard from it was the live video used for “I Will Follow.” Eh. So I never heard that stuff, and at the time of “October” I read an interview with them and Bonehead was flaunting his christianity and that was a supreme turn off for me.

      I finally started hearing them with “War” and it didn’t do too much for me. I found the vocals really unappealing. And then as U2 became rock royalty with albums 4 & 5 I simply found them repulsive. When I first heard “Waterfront” I was not impressed. Like I said, the needle hit “Up On The Catwalk” and it was “War II: Electric Boogaloo” to me. “Sparkle In The Rain” took a few plays to hit, but once Forbes’ bass penetrated my defenses, it was all over. That album was definitely my most-played of 1984!

      And it was the kind of album where every track eventually became my favorite track, with the final one to win me over becoming one of my favorite Simple Minds recordings to this day. Of course, I’m referring to “The Kick Inside Of Me!” It’s still spine tingling 29 years and a thousand plays later. I’ve never heard them play a live version of it, but I can’t imagine it. If it’s that intense on record, they would burst into flames doing it live. Forbes is on record saying that his fingers were bleeding after that one hit tape.

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      • Echorich says:

        Kick Inside Of Me is certainly one of the most powerful songs ever committed to vinyl (or tape, disc or 0’s & 1’s for that matter). It’s primal, sexual, punk, angry and yet filled with elation. No pretense, no message…it’s all emotion. Brilliant!

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Everything about this track is “in the red” and all the better for it. The kaleidoscopic cascade of Jim singing “I” in the intro is flat out as exciting as it gets for me. And Charlie on the cold ending never fails to also raise goose bumps. It may trump even the full-tilt excitement of “I Travel,” when I consider it.

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          • Echorich says:

            I Travel’s exciting success is the strictness of the beat and performance. It strains its borders ready to explode like splitting atoms – there’s a nervous anticipation of what might be coming… Kick Inside Of Me is that Nuclear storm which envelopes everything and lights it on fire – you can’t escape it.

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  5. Tim says:

    Really to me the strength of The Joshua Tree is that the three hit singles from it are just really well done pop songs. They aren’t, if you ask me, U2 songs, but they are solid bland MOR pop songs. And quite honestly I wouldn’t mind a covers album of the three. The Pet Shop Boys did an awesome take on Where the Streets Have No Name (I would like more of the I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You medley). How about pre-drum and bass Everything But The Girl doing “With or Without You” or Tom Waits doing (I’m thinking Small Change era Waits here) “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” I seriously think that the three hits are ripe for covers. The Police album for me has one track that I sincerely like and, as I said above, I haven’t exposed myself enough to the Dire Straits album. There’s enough awful in that one song to make any one in their right mind stay far away from the rest.

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    • Echorich says:

      The Tom Wait’s version of I Still Haven’t Found… would be genius! I agree the Shoppies did pop justice to …Streets… and they managed to find the pop in Coldplay in their mashup of Viva La Vida with their own Domino Dancing – pure genius. I wonder though if With Or Without You would be for EBTG…I wouldn’t mind seeing what the boys in Massive Attack could do with that. I know Tracy and Ben Could spruce up Trip Through Your Wires or completely reimagine Red Hill Mining Town.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – Don’t tell me you haven’t heard H17’s cover of “With Or Without You” either?! Take care of that, okay? iTunes. $0.99. Like, pronto. Thank me later!

        As for “Where The Streets Have No Name,” I was there in Miami in 1991 at their first American concert [dalayed, as it was] – and chasinvictoria was there as well, with our “posse.” And brother, you could have knocked me over with a feather when they pulled that song out of their bag of tricks. This was a few weeks prior to the single release and none of had a clue. And when it morphed into the Four Seasons song that is my first memory of pop music; well that sort of brilliance really makes an impact.

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        • Echorich says:

          Well Monk I actually have the cd it’s included on. There is some left over Bigger Than America period electronics on the song. Not sure Glen was all that convinced by the lyrics. At timees he sounds a bit embarrassed singing them. Think I like H17’s take on Holiday better. It is certainly in your face dance floor filler. The band’s hook up with Eagle Entertainment gave them some interesting outlets at the end of the 1990’s.

          Wayne Hussey has performed WOWY on tour for years and gives it that somber almost quiet goth touch the lyrics deserve. By the way, ever hear The Mission’s version of Dancing Barefoot? Acoustic with lots of echo on the vocals. I guess Patti had a great impact on young men of a certain artistic bent and age.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Echorich – Yow! We differ greatly on the H17 “Cleopatra/Eagle years” left over bits. I thought Glenn nailed it on the U2 but I actually bought the “Virgin Voices” comp expressly to get the Madonna cover for my H17 box and simply hated the results! Paradoxically, I liked a LOT of the other Madonna covers [even though I dislike Madonna]! So much so, that I reached the point where I turned the corner on the nettlesome Information Society issue! Sort of.

            I always found INSOC to be also-ran, lame US synth pop on their time. But their cover of “Express Yourself” caught my ear even though they were still INSOC as I remember hearing them on that track. It just seemed to work for me 20 + years later. I have now bought their first and third albums. They are now marginally worth the effort. I will buy “Hack” when I see it used.

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            • Echorich says:

              Monk – My issue wasn’t so much with Glenn’s ability to sing WOWY – he could sing the names in a Chinese phone book and I would want to hear it – but I feel a lack of sincerity in there somehow. I swear there’s a part in there where he wants to just crack up.

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      • Tim says:

        I am always excited when the Pet Shop Boys let a new cover off of the leash and out of the kennel but the Coldplay one didn’t work for me. Lyrically the song has a level of self-confidence that doesn’t fit for me in the tone of the PSB catalog.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – It may be down to the fact that Coldplay are pretty damned lame!!! I only finally heard this band while watching a BBC Eno documentary and was completely underwhelmed by their sound…two excerpts though it was. Much as I anticipated from my instincts. I can read between the lines, culturally, and get a sense if whether music will be my friend or not.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – “With Or Without You” is in fact, so ripe for covering, that Heaven 17 already did a -spectacular- version of it in 1999 on this album…

      http://www.discogs.com/Various-We-Will-Follow-A-Tribute-To-U2/master/341294

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