Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 20]

simple minds - dontyouforgetaboutmeUS7A1Simple Minds | THAT Single

Today we’re taking a sidestep from the regularly scheduled Rock G.P.A. to discuss Simple Minds’ most impactful record, which ironically, is not part of their albums. You know it. You love it. You can’t live without it. Nevertheless, I won’t be rating this in the G.P.A. since it’s not an album, but it does bear scrutiny due to it being the elephant in Simple Minds’ room.

Right now I’m reading Clive Davis’ autobiography, “The Soundtrack Of My Life,” and one thing that has gotten hammered home with much repetition was that label head [Columbia, Arista] Davis never heard a hit song he didn’t want his artists to cover. Brother, did he push for artists he signed to perform songs he felt were right for them [who were ostensibly signed for the strength of their own material]. Few artists were immune to his badgering. I’m half way through the book now and only Lou Reed and Patti Smith have thus far escaped with their integrity intact. Barry Manilow wasn’t so lucky. Not only was this insulting to songwriters on his label, it also hit the artist’s bottom line as they would be forced to yield royalties on their album sales to outside writers; so not cool. But this did illuminate the high-pressure tactics that labels exert on their signees. Yeah we love you, sign here, but first sing this Diane Warren song for me baby… Oooh, I need some sales!

In the mid eighties the record industry was going through a flush period following a dry spell earlier in the decade. Video games had previously siphoned off the ceaselessly growing profits that record labels had been used to as the 70s became the 80s but within a few years, the twin fortunes of MTV and the monster of cross promotional movie soundtracks like “Flashdance” conspired to turn the industry around.

Giorgio Moroder was a soundtrack god in the eighties after his head turning “I Feel Love” raised much interest in Hollywood among directors wanting that energy in their films. His production team were the go-to men for crafting soundtrack albums that hits could be peeled reliably off of. Moroder’s drummer Keith Forsey had even struck out on his own as a producer in the early 80s with successful albums by Billy Idol, The Psychedelic Furs, and Icehouse under his belt. He co-wrote “Flashdance [What A Feeling] with Moroder and singer Irene Cara. He was a made man by the time that he found himself helming the A+M Records OST to the second film by former screenwriter John Hughes, whose debut film, “Sixteen Candles” had been moderately successful the previous year. The 1985 film was called “The Breakfast Club” and Forsey had written the title song with Steve Schiff [ex-1994] and was shopping it to artists he though were ideal to perform it.

The tale is that producer Keith Forsey wrote this song for inclusion in the brat pack film “The Breakfast Club” especially for Bryan Ferry, but Ferry, to his eternal chagrin, turned him down. So did Billy Idol, in spite of the great successes they had achieved by 1985. It’s not that great a leap to imagine Forsey throwing darts at a board featuring photos of Iva Davies, David Sylvian and Jim Kerr at this point. When Simple Minds signed to A+M Records in America in 1982, it marked a huge shift in the band’s fortunes. For a start, their albums were distributed in most places where records were sold. Prior to that they were largely an import bin phenomenon. After their two albums for A+M didn’t exactly set the world on fire, the band found themselves being made an offer by Forsey and A+M they couldn’t refuse. Except they did. And they weren’t the first to do so, either.

Not content to let it drop, A+M put the pressure on Simple Minds again. The band ultimately relented, not wanting to alienate their American label completely and possibly thinking that this might only get a US release. In a quick three hour session, Simple Minds cut their only song not written by the band that wasn’t a cover and they probably would have forgotten about it. Except for that it took off like a shot in America to become their first American hit single – reaching number one and dramatically changing the fortunes of the band.

Next: …About THAT record

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18 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 20]

  1. Actually, it’s not a terrible song and the band does enough with the arrangement to make it their own. I just wish it hadn’t led to “Once Upon A Time”…

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  2. Echorich says:

    Yup the elephant that sat on the band… As much as it’s been surmised that Ferry would have done a good job with Don’t You, it lacks the mystery that infected much of Ferry’s music at that time and came right on the heels of recording Boys & Girls. I don’t think I would ever want to hear him do it. His song from Legend, Is Your Love Strong Enough, is much more in keeping with the Ferry mystique.
    Don’t You is a good song, it lacks SM’s DNA but they make it their own. Hearing Billy Idol’s version of it you can see how it can be butchered. But it’s that lack of DNA, any continuity to their past, an ingredient of everything they had done to that point that makes it ultimately disappointing.
    The harm it did was to wash away or at least white wash over that continuum of the SM past on their future releases beginning with Once Upon A Time.

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  3. tim says:

    I’ve been sitting this out as I missed pretty much the whole Simple Minds things.
    However, this one I want a covers record of. My usual suspects, Tom Waits, Pet Shop Boys (can you say HINRG disco stomper? I knew you could), EBTG, Richard Hawley, and on and on. I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      tim – I’ve heard this one so many times, not even a stompin’ PSB hi-NRG cover could do too much for me at this point. Unless they’re willing to prove me wrong! They worked wonders with “Always On My Mind.”

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      • Tim says:

        Not even if they have Bananarama doing the backing vox? The could have it open with a medley of Coldplay’s “Yellow” but they already covered them (and a awful song at that, one that is also bereft of the PSB DNA). (The narns singing) “It was all yellow-ow-ow-ow-ow” and then some synthed up chords ala “Can You Forgive Her” that usher in DYFAM…..

        Molly Ringwald has covered this one already, btw.

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    • Echorich says:

      I think Don’t You is too much of a Forsey track to do much with. It’s DNA is more rooted in slow burners like Billy Idol’s Eyes Without A Face – and for that reason, he really should have been the one to sing it in the first place. I can see Forsey approaching Iva Davies as well, but as with Ferry, it’s really not special enough for their interest. Icehouse had also moved on from when Davies and Forsey created Primitive Man and it’s mega tune Hey Little Girl. After working with Icehouse, I think Forsey’s Moroder roots began to wither and he moved to a more Rock/Pop production sound.

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  4. zoo says:

    I can remember when this song became big. My only other experience w/ SM was seeing videos for “NGD” and “Promised You a Miracle.” I remember thinking, “Are these the same guys?” The answer was yes, but also no. They were no longer the same guys.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – Yes, there was a large gulf, even then.

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    • tim says:

      I think it was Uncut years ago was writing about U2 and Simple Minds and said that around the mid-80’s both had been aspiring to be “biggest rawk band” in the world. One was more successful (in some eyes *cough cough*) than the other. I think that this album is where they tried but….for some reason the other guys made it further.

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      • Echorich says:

        I agree Tim, it was the “glittering prize.” It was the thing that blindered the music press by the mid 80’s. Who would take the mantle of Great Rock Band. Thing was, it was all a smoke screen, because decade after decade NME, Melody Maker and the others would “find” the new great rock hope and build them up and piece by written piece and then proceed to tear them down. Did U2, Simple Minds or any of their contemporaries buy into the brass ring on offer, probably, but the blame should be spread across the industry – corporate and media.

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        • tim says:

          I think Bono helped tear down U2 pretty well circa Zooropa. I may have some NME’s yet where they just savage him for his behavior and quite honestly he brought a lot of it on himself (disclaimer – I have pretty much always found U2 to be the Emperor’s New Clothes of RAWK.). The KLF stuff from the same time is much more interesting reading for a band that was actually trying to “f*** with the mainstream” (as Bono said upon accepting a Grammy, he misread the cue card that said “Defining the mainstream.”).

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  5. I got mighty tired of this song, to the point where I lost interest in SM for a very long time, but I could certainly see why they approached Billy Idol with it — he doesn’t have any “dna” to preserve! I suppose Iva could have arranged his way through it and made it into something. To this day, though, I still say that despite being hopeless overplayed, Jim Kerr turns in a strong vocal performance and the band handles its arrangement of it well enough that it hasn’t become an overplayed song I absolutely hate hearing, like say “Freebird” or “There’s Got to be a Morning After,” etc.

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