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