Simple Minds | Once Upon A Time – 1.5
What a difference a hit single makes! By the spring of 1985 Simple Minds’ world had been turned upside down. Not only did the band ride a Keith Forsey song to the top of the US charts, but in a move that would dramatically affect the band moving forward, they fired their bass player, Derek Forbes almost concurrent with the single’s release. As of late 1984, they were rehearsing for their followup album to “Sparkle In The Rain” and were working in John Giblin’s studio, so Giblin got the nod to replace Forbes [as if!]. Since he had played with proggish/jazzish combo Brand X in the 70s, and had also played on the second and third Peter Gabriel albums, they obviously felt that his pedigree was sound. I might have even agreed up front at the time as well, but this was kept under wraps until Forbes was officially ousted in March of 1985.
Forbes last live performance with the band was at their infamous Barrowlands, Glasgow gig in January of 1985. It was the show where Bono of U2 joined Simple Minds onstage for their encore of “New Gold Dream [81, 82 83, 84]” that was turned into a marathon jam incorporating “Take Me To The River” and various rock chestnuts into an overblown 12:32 jam that was eventually released in 2004. It was ironic in that U2 and Simple Minds were enmeshed in a mutual admiration/plunder society that saw each band coveting what the other band had. It’s common knowledge now that U2 told Brian Eno that they wanted their next  album to sound like “New Gold Dream,” and Simple Minds weren’t shy about pillaging the U2 playbook on their 1984 opus “Sparkle In The Rain,” either. That was apparent from the opening piano chords of Up On The Catwalk.” Having Steve Lily-white produce that all but insured it.
The difference here was that “An Unforgettable Fire” was U2’s entry ticket into the classic rock sweepstakes. 1983’s “War” had made them stars, and now their trajectory was aiming higher. The Eno machine had delivered. The pressure was on Simple Minds to match their achievements. They now had the world-changing number one that even U2 hadn’t achieved by that time, but the crucial difference was that it was an outside song. How Simple Minds reacted to the popularity that had been handed to them would make all the difference in the world, but it was firmly up to them. No outside writer or hot teen movie would be there to lend them any buzz.
In April, the band caved in to Virgin’s pressure to release “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” outside of the US and they saw the single rise to the top ten in most major world markets. The single had already done brisk trade in the UK as an import, and it would intimately go on to a 24 week chart run in the UK. The band, however, drew a line in the sand and kept “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” off of their upcoming album. There reasons for this were many. Their new producer was not Keith Forsey, and the sonic differences between the single and their new album might be too vast a gulf for it to sit on the same platter. Additionally, the band’s collective egos were obviously rattled by the huge success that an outside song had brought them. Jim Kerr had been defensive about it in the press and to include the song would have been a show of weakness. Of course, the best reason not to include the song of all was probably financial. The band would have lost publishing revenue for one song on the album had they included it, and that might not wash with Scotsmen.
Finally, the band were ushered that July into the elite leagues of pop/rock with their invitation to play at Live Aid. The band debuted Giblin on bass and played a three song set that, surprisingly, started with “Ghostdancing,” a song from the forthcoming album. I learned years later that the song had been written just two days prior, and in retrospect, it took some crust for the band to open what was a historic set with it. The new song featured Charlie Burchill playing a rhythm guitar style he had lifted from U2’s “Pride [In The Name of Love]” albeit at a much faster tempo. The first thing I noted about the song was the opening lyric couplet quoted/referred to the opening lines in “I Travel” but this new song was much more pedestrian. The reference only played up how much excitement the band had lost for my ears in the five year period.
The second song of their set was probably the only one most American’s recognized that day. They played an extended “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” that was half the length of their 15 minute set. This was more than the shape of things to come with the song padded out with audience singalongs. After it was done, an obviously flustered Kerr said goodbye and began exiting the stage, oblivious to the fact that his band had one more song in their planned set! Kerr ran back as they performed a truncated version of “Promised You A Miracle” in the scant time left so as not to raise the ire of the legendary promoter and master of Live Aid Philadeplhia Bill Graham.
I had bailed out of Live Aid fairly quickly after about 2 hours showed me where this thing was going. MTV was more interested in having their VJs talk over the bands and that had zero appeal for me. I had better things to do with my time, though I remember seeing Simple Minds, so I might have tuned in hours later to see what was up. I definitely remember seeing the first two songs of their set, but MTV probably cut the third song to run promos or something else that fit their “anything but music” ethos of the time. I was not convinced by the new song and wondered what would await me on the next Simple Minds album, which was just a few months away by that point.
Next: …The chickens came home to roost