Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 21]

simple minds - dontyouforgetaboutmeUS7A2 Simple Minds | THAT Single

[continued from previous post]

I blundered into the song by accident. I was eating breakfast and was watching MTV before heading to college in February of 1985 when Martha Quinn announced that Simple Minds were coming up. I set the VCR to record for 30 minutes and left. When I got back later that day, I didn’t find [hopefully] an older Simple Minds song whose video had eluded me. What I had was a whole new song that I had no idea of. As one who followed the import bins, tracking the band’s progress, this was a huge surprise. This was early enough in the song’s MTV airplay that the title card on the credits said “Don’t You?” complete with a question mark that was soon excised once the song made its way up the charts.

The drums sounded a bit more humane than the severely gated sound that Steve Lillywhite had brought to the band the last outing. It was immediately apparent that Jim Kerr was emoting in ways that took the intensity of “Sparkle In The Rain” across the threshold of outright bluster that encompassed overcooked “hey-heys” and “woah-woahs.” Surprising for this band. Once the verses began, Kerr toned down his performance to something more intimate and the song became more appealing. That was to his [and the song’s] benefit.

On the negative side, Kerr was dipping his toes into a vibrato singing style that did him no favors to my ears. “as you walk on by-y-y-y-y, will you call my na-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-me.” Ugh. I don’t necessarily dislike vibrato per se; I just hate to see it abused. Only a singer’s singer can get away with this trick, and Kerr was far from that place. Like melisma, it’s a singer’s tool normally used to divert attention away from the artistically threadbare goods that a Whitney Huston or Mariah Carey would be delivering. Give me artistry over technique any day!

The guitar had a sweet tone with long, mournful chords drifting over the landscape of the song. Charlie Burchill’s delicate rhythm guitar nicely complemented the superb keys by Mike MacNeil. The synth patches used by MacNeil here were a big step up from the more traditional ones he had been limited to on “Sparkle In The Rain.” This work was a return to the shimmering textures redolent of “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” albeit coupled with the more direct punch of “Sparkle In The Rain,” Almost a perfect synthesis of the two poles that those albums represented. I did not know at the time that this would pretty much be the last time he dipped into that particular well. I still can’t determine if MacNeil was using choral patches on his synth, or if Forsey brought in a backing chorus. It sounded more like the former to my ears.

On the whole, this represented a synthesis of the classic late period [ca. 1982] Simple Minds sound fused with a straight forward pop song with somewhat banal lyrics that sounded like what should have been a transitional one-off single between “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” and “Sparkle In The Rain.” That it was appearing after the latter was a bit puzzling. I called record stores and the record was not even in release yet, so I ordered at copy from one emporium and bought it on its release. With the record in my hands, I saw that not only was it from a soundtrack, but that it had been co-written between producer Forsey and Steve Schiff. Aha! That certainly accounted for the mundane lyrics.

Viewed in this light, I felt that the band had done a good enough job at arranging the song to at least somewhat reflect their artistic ethos. Having found that it was an outsider’s song also accounted for the most glaring difference that the record dealt this listener. Normally, Simple Minds songs had amazing grooves via the bass of Derek Forbes. By the previous year I certainly had the full Simple Minds album discography and was working on the singles. On this song, Forbes was playing a modest gallop of a bassline that was absolutely not the product of a bass-led jam session. It sounded anonymous to me. Little did I know that this was harbinger of the band’s future.

I watched with amazement as the power of cross-collateral media promotion resulted in the song getting more and more MTV airplay. By the time the song started really gaining commercial traction, the single’s sleeve was amended to show the stars of the movie “The Breakfast Club” on its cover. This left little doubt as to exactly who was being promoted here. The song hit number one on the MTV top 20 countdown and also hit number one on the almighty Billboard Hot 100 the week of May 18, 1985. Looking at the other number one’s of that year shows the song is at least a cut above most of the competition. True, the track was banal compared to the band’s history, but was far from the schmaltz that usually clogged up the airwaves.

Against all odds, one of my favorite bands had scored a massive number one single in my home country, and at least a respectably large hit across many nations. It was like a replay of the meteoric rise in the fortunes of Duran Duran that had happened earlier as a cult group that I had liked had managed to connect with a vast mainstream audience. The difference was that Simple Minds had done it by hitching their wagon to a successful movie. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of teenaged girls plastering their notebooks and wall with pinups of Kerr and company. At least now I could mention the band’s name in conversation and almost anyone of a certain age would know who I meant, which was definitely a new thing.

Furthermore, when the song did hit hard, the press was rife with interviews with this “new Scottish band” and Kerr was quick to downplay the song and carry across the band’s ambivalence to it. Noting, correctly, that their own songs were more intriguing. He seemed to treat the tune with an arm’s length indifference. I felt that it boded well for the band’s future. The acid test would now occur after this single ran its course in the charts. How would the band choose to follow up this game-changing one-off single?

Next: …The unsanctified truth

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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10 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: Simple Minds [part 21]

  1. Jon Chaisson says:

    Gotta admit, though…Mel’s fill near the end of the song is still the dream of most teenage air drummers like myself. :)

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  2. Echorich says:

    Listening to it 30 years on, it’s the coda – at 3:11 that gets me and where I give in to the song.
    I agree Don’ You could have been a bridge single between NDG and SITR in another world. It likely wouldn’t have been a forlorn love song if Kerr had been involved in writing the lyrics and that might have elevated it.
    It begins like a sister song to Book of Brilliant Things, quickly falling into a swaying, “gentle wind” sort of rhythm thanks to MacNeil. Burchill is mixed down too much for my liking and I find myself searching for him during the first two verses and giving up by the third. Forbes is really under utilized as well, but I think Forsey, as a producer had more confidence in the synths and drums. In the end it’s Gaynor that really shines throughout the track. He shows just how accomplished his drumming is, subtle and forceful in all the right places.
    I remember the way Kerr used to try to carry the conversation in interviews away from Don’t You, fairly unsuccessfully because most interviewers new NOTHING about the band before Don’t You.
    In a year, at Live Aid, we would get a taste of the sound that the band shook out from Don’t You and finally before year end the album that changed everything.

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  3. tim says:

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s everybody would have been covering this on easy listening albums. Mantovani, the Living Strings, Ray Conniff, Boots Randolph. Some of the covers wouldn’t have been half-bad, either.

    Fast forward to today and THIS is what we have (insert George Takei-ish “Oh My” as your link opens):

    http://www.amazon.com/JCPenney-Presents-Forget-About-Covers/dp/B001D28Y5C/ref=sr_1_7?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1420076016&sr=1-7&keywords=don%27t+you+forget+about+me

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  4. tim says:

    I sampled ’em; they were (from what I could hear) pretty awful. One had some potential, sounded kinda ambient and :walk of shame/she’s forgotten about me, cool jam or not” vibe to it but was shrill, tinny and the vox sounded buried.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      tim – That cover I’d previously heard [I had to look it up] was from the mid-90s by a group called Life Of Agony and when I bought a CD on ebay, the seller threw their “Ugly” CD in for free. It was pretty hideous, as I can barely recall from a scant play of it. Ironically, I think I had little trouble selling it on ebay [albeit for $0.99].

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  5. Brian says:

    Congratulations, Monk. This was the first potential minefield of the series, and you came away unscathed. Watch out! The big one is about to fall. I have really enjoyed your work on this series.

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