Over the course of the last 20 years, Simple Minds’ story has been a study of the whims of music fans and the winds of musical fate. Employing a sound that has evolved from moody and atmospheric to anthemic, the Scottish rock band has ridden a career rollercoaster that has combined international success and virtual anonymity in America. This was followed by a series of surprise hit singles in the U.S. before a return to relative obscurity there.
Through it all have been singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill. The pair came from working-class families and grew up together in in Glasgow, Scotland. As Burchill recalled in a 1986 interview in Rolling Stone, “Even before we were really close friends, me and Jim, we’d say hello and talk for five minutes, then we’d see each other at school. Gradually, it got to the stage where we’d walk and talk about music.”
Thus, it was probably no surprise to those who knew them when the two childhood pals teamed up in their late teens with drummer Brian McGee to form the punk outfit Johnny and the Self-Abusers around 1977. “Glasgow is so industrial, and there are only two ways of escaping the banality of an upbringing like that: football and music,” Burchill was quoted as saying in a 1991 Guitar Player article. “Jim and I were very fortunate with our upbringing—it was working-class, but not any sort of rags-to-riches crap. When we were about 14, we both hitchhiked around Europe, and that’s when we committed ourselves to doing something together musically. It had something to do with the fact that we realized that we could travel—it all comes back to a desire to escape Glasgow.” Johnny and the Self-Abusers, a precursor to Simple Minds, reportedly disbanded the day their single (reports vary as to whether it was entitled “Souls and Sinners” or “Saints and Sinners”) was released on the Chiswick label.
The band re-formed the following year under the moniker Simple Minds, with a lineup that consisted of Kerr, Burchill, McGee, second guitarist Duncan Barnwell, bass player Derek Forbes, and Michael “Mick” McNeil on keyboards. In short order, the band signed with the Edinburgh-based Zoom record label and in 1979 recorded Life in a Day, an album whose sound a number of critics likened to Roxy Music. A modest hit in the United Kingdom, Simple Minds recorded Life in a Day without Barnwell, who had been booted from the band prior to recording. As observed in The Trouser Press Record Guide, Simple Minds’ debut touched “lightly on several forms, including pop, psychedelia, and an adventurous tense/terse style they explored on subsequent albums.”
Subsequent albums followed in rapid succession, with four records released over a period of three years. Despite the short time span, the band demonstrated a surprisingly marked evolution with the atmospheric Eurodisco of Empires and Dance in 1980. “I Travel,” a single from that album, became a club staple in London. The four records were condensed into a single compilation, Themes for Great Cities, for American release in 1981 on Stiff.
McGee, for whom the rigors of touring proved to be too much, subsequently left the band. Simple Minds enlisted former Skids drummer Kenny Hyslop and session musician Mel Gaynor for their next album New Gold Dream, in 1982. Gaynor soon became McGee’s permanent replacement. New Gold Dream marked the beginning of what Rolling Stone writer Mark Coleman said was “the shimmering, effervescent sound that’s automatically associated with them now.”
Enlisting the aid of producer Steve Lillywhite, who has worked with bands such as U2, the band began making inroads in America with Sparkle in the Rain, which contained the singles “Waterfront” and “Up on the Catwalk.” The band toured the States in support of the album as an opening act for the Pretenders, whose lead singer, Chrissie Hynde, married Kerr in New
For the Record…
Members include Charlie Burchill (born Novem ber 27, 1959, in Glasgow, Scotland), guitar, keyboards; Jim Kerr (born July 9, 1959, in Glasgow, Scotland; married Chrissie Hynde [lead singer for The Pretenders], 1984; marriage ended, 1988; married Patsy Kensit [an actor], 1992; marriage ended, 1996; children: [with Hynde] Yasmin), vocals.
Former members include Duncan Barnwell (band-member, 1978), guitar; Tony Donald, bass; Derek Forbes (born June 22, 1956; left band, 1985), bass; Mel Gaynor (born May 29, 1959; bandmember, 1981), drums; John Giblin (joined band, 1985), bass; Sue Hadjopulos (bandmember, 1985), percussions; Kenny Hyslop (born February 14, 1951, in Strathclyde, Scotland; bandmember, 1981), drums; Michael “Mick” MacNeil (born July 20, 1958; bandmember, 1979-91), synthesizers; Brian McGee (bandmember, 1978-81), drums; Mike Ogletree (bandmember, 1982), drums.
Formed in 1978 in Glasgow; released debut album Life in A Day in 1979 on Edinburgh-based Zoom label; condensed first four albums into compilation Themes for Great Cities for American release in 1981 on Stiff; signed with Virgin for Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call in 1981; scored No. 1 hit in America with “(Don’t You) Forget about Me,” theme from the 1985 John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club; performed at 1988 birthday concert for Nelson Mandela; released greatest hits album, Glittering Prize: Simple Minds ’81-’92, in 1993; dropped from A&M and released Good News from the Next World on Virgin in 1995.
Addresses: Record company —Virgin, 30 West 21st Street, New York, NY 11019.
York’s Central Park in June, 1984. Still, in spite of the tour and the fact that the album generated several hits in the United Kingdom, the band could only achieve cult status in the United States. The disappointed band took a year-long break at this point, during which Kerr and Hynde, back in Scotland, welcomed a baby daughter, Yasmin, with Hynde.
For almost the first decade of its career, Simple Minds enjoyed a hugely successful streak in Europe that was not matched in America, selling out stadiums and seeing their singles and albums rocket up the charts. That is, until the band agreed—reluctantly—to record a Ken Forsey and Steve Schiff-penned song called “Don’t You (Forget about Me)” for the soundtrack to the 1985 John Hughes high school angst-film The Breakfast Club. The movie’s theme song, it would go on to not only become the band’s first bona fide hit in the States, but also its biggest, eventually topping the Billboard pop charts.
It was a song that the band would retain mixed feelings about. As Kerr told Brett Atwood in a 1995 Billboard magazine interview, “We did the song at the time because we thought it would help our relations with the record company. We weren’t getting along too well with them, so we reluctantly did it. We never thought it would be so successful. In fact, we felt a bit of guilt because we didn’t write it.”
The song also marked what many critics and fans perceived to be a shift in the band’s sound. Although Simple Minds did not include “Don’t You (Forget about Me)” on its next album, Once upon a Time in 1985, a number of critics contended that the album’s more bombastic, arena-friendly approach was evidence of the “Americanization” of the band’s music. The selection of Jimmy lovine (Bruce Springsteen) and Bob Clearmountain (Hall and Oates) to produce only reinforced the notion that Simple Minds was consciously vying for a wider American audience. In any case, Once upon a Time was a huge hit in the U.S. and abroad, selling more than 500,000 copies in the United States alone and generating three Top 40 hits, including the top 10 single “Alive and Kicking.” For the first time, Simple Minds had become a stadium band in America, much like U2, to whom they have frequently been compared. That level of commercial success in the U.S. was relatively short-lived, however.
Simple Minds’ music became increasingly politicized in the late-1980s, with the band donating the proceeds of several concerts to the human rights organization Amnesty International. They also played a large role in the 1988 birthday concert for then-imprisoned South African freedom crusader Nelson Mandela. “Whether it’s violence in Northern Ireland or crack dealers in New York, we’re writing for the person who sees nothing in either side but every day has this on his doorstep and has to get on with his life,” Kerr said of the band’s choice of lyrical content in a 1989 interview in Stereo Review.
Though no one denied that the band’s heart was in the right place, the music Simple Minds produced during this period did not fare quite so well. Street Fighting Years, a 1989 release that contained songs such as “Belfast Child,” “Mandela Day,” and a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” (about the slain South African rights leader Stephen Biko), was dubbed “an unfortunate example of politicized rock at its most simple-minded” by Rolling Stone’s Coleman. While the album sold more than three million copies worldwide, it failed to generate much interest in America. The band’s failure to tour in the States in support of the album—the result of exhaustion after near-constant worldwide touring over the last decade—did not help that album’s fortunes.
By 1991, the only original Simple Minds members left were childhood pals Kerr and Burchill, who had traditionally written the band’s songs, with Kerr adding lyrics to Burchill’s music. The return to basics was reflected in the band’s next album.
With the album Real Life, which the band recorded in Amsterdam in 1991, Simple Minds focused once more on more personal themes. “See the Lights,” a single from that album, became a modest Top 40 hit in the United States, but fared even better on alternative and album rock charts. As Kerr told Steve Hochman in a 1991 interview in the Los Angeles Times, “It was, ‘OK, we’ve gotten a lot of stuff off our chests.’ I don’t think we’ve turned our back on [the larger issues] and I think it’s something we’ll go over again in the future.” Real Life failed to return the band to prominence, however, prompting a three-year hiatus after the band returned from the road. During the break, Kerr, whose marriage with Hynde reportedly ended amicably in early 1988, married actress Patsy Kensit (formerly of the band Eighth Wonder) in early 1992. The break also enabled Kerr and Burchill to focus on their songwriting.
In 1993, Simple Minds released Glittering Prize, a greatest hits album—and its last record for A& M. The band switched to Virgin for its American releases, although its international records had already been released by Virgin since 1979.
The band’s next album, recorded in 1995, revealed yet another transformation. Good News from the Next World found Simple Minds largely favoring the guitar instead of the keyboards. In an interesting twist, the album also reunited the band with producer Forsey. As Kerr told Mike Joyce of the Washington Post, when the band recorded “Don’t You (Forget about Me),” “we only worked with Keith for a couple of days and, not to be disrespectful, but we thought he was kind of a pop guy and we wanted to draw from a deeper well…. When he got in touch with us, we asked him to work on one song, and it sparked a great alliance.” The album earned mixed reviews—although Kara Manning of Rolling Stone praised “Simple Minds’ uniquely sonic explosion—brazenly heavy-handed, but always exciting.” Still, Good News demonstrated that, even if Simple Minds could no longer fill stadiums in the United States, the band was determined to soldier on. As Michael Parrish, music director of radio station WDRE in Long Island, New York, told Brett Atwood of Billboard, “They have changed from where they were in the past, and I think that there is a new generation of listeners ready to accept them.”
Life in a Day, Zoom, 1979, (reissue) Virgin, 1987.
Real to Real Cacophony, Zoom, 1980.
Empires and Dance, Zoom, 1980.
Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, Virgin, U.K., 1981.
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), A & M, 1982.
Themes for Great Cities, Stiff, 1982.
Celebration, Virgin, 1982.
Sparkle in the Rain, A & M, 1984.
Once Upon a Time, A & M, 1985.
Simple Minds Live: In the City of Lights, A & M, 1987.
Street Fighting Years, A & M, 1989.
Real Life, A & M, 1991.
Glittering Prize: Simple Minds ’81-’92, A & M, 1993.
Good News from the Next World, Virgin, 1995.
Buckley, Jonathan, and Mark Ellingham, eds., Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 1996.
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DeCurtis, Anthony, James Henke and Holly George-Warren, ed., The Rolling Stone Album Guide, Random House, 1992.
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Stambler, Irwin, ed., Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
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New York Times, March 4, 1995.
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—K. Michelle Moran
"Simple Minds." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/simple-minds
"Simple Minds." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/simple-minds
Members: Charlie Burchill, guitar (born Glasgow, Scotland, 27 November 1959); Jim Kerr, vocals (born Glasgow, Scotland, 9 July 1959). Former members: Derek Forbes, vocals (born Glasgow, Scotland, 22 June 1956); Malcolm Foster, bass (born Gosport, England, 13 January 1956); Mel Gaynor, drums (born London, England, 29 May 1959); Kenny Hyslop, drums (born Helensburgh, Scotland, 14 February 1951); Brian McGee, drums; Mick MacNeil, keyboards (born Glasgow, Scotland, 20 July 1958); Mark Taylor, keyboards, guitar (born Newcastle, England, 1956).
Genre: Rock, Pop
Best-selling album since 1990: Good News from the Next World (1995)
Hit songs since 1990: "She's a River"
Emerging from the art rock scene in the late 1970s, Simple Minds produced slick pop songs saturated with synthesizer textures and electric guitar punctuations. They contributed to the rise of European synthesizer-based pop in the mid-1980s, a movement characterized by such groups as Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, and the Pet Shop Boys. Although their most popular song, "Don't You (Forget about Me)," was penned by unaffiliated songwriters, it introduced the group to an international audience. While undergoing numerous personnel changes, its principal songwriters, Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill, have maintained the group's carefully crafted pop style.
Originally formed from the remnants of a short-lived punk band, Simple Minds revolved around the vocalist Kerr and guitarist Burchill. After several false starts the group began to coalesce with drummer Brian McGee, keyboardist Michael MacNeil, and bassist Derek Forbes. After recording an impressive demo, they were signed to Zoom Records and had a minor hit with the single "Life in a Day." Immediately rescinding this approach as derivative of David Bowie and Roxy Music, Simple Minds produced Real to Real Cacophony (1979), an experimental collection of songs that featured the jaunting and pulsating "I Travel."
Simple Minds were signed to Virgin Records in 1981 and quickly released Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call with its attendant singles, "The American," "Love Song," and "Sweat in Bullet." The upbeat dance single, "Love Song," features a mix of sounds: A synthesizer reiterates a single note acting as an added percussion track, the electric guitar provides a sweeping array of distorted effects, and Kerr announces the taunting chorus, "Love song, love song, love song."
Simple Minds underwent several personnel changes and eventually recruited drummer Mel Gaynor during the recording of New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) in 1982. This album featured a highly polished commercial sound with an emphasis on synthesizer textures, especially evident in the songs "Glittering Prize" and "Someone Somewhere (in Summertime)." Working with U2 producer Steve Lillywhite, Simple Minds scored a minor success with Sparkle in the Rain (1984). During the subsequent tour, Kerr announced his marriage to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.
In 1985 Simple Minds began working on their next album with American producers Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain. At the same time they were asked to perform the song, "Don't You (Forget About Me)," written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff for the upcoming film The Breakfast Club (1985). Simple Minds reluctantly recorded the song and were surprised when it rose to Billboard 's number one slot, becoming the group's first American success. Once Upon a Time (1985) contributed to their momentum and featured the hit singles "Alive and Kicking," "Sanctify Yourself," and the overtly political "Ghost Dancing."
As they gained popularity, Simple Minds reasserted their political awareness with specific songs and performances for Live Aid and Amnesty International. For the celebration of Nelson Mandela's seventieth birthday, the group wrote "Mandela Day," a simple and inviting melody accompanied by piano and guitar. Eventually they released this song along with "Belfast Child," a slow lament based on the traditional folk melody "She Moved through the Fair." This song reflected the political struggles of Northern Ireland and included the hopeful line, "One day we'll return here when the Belfast child sings again."
After the release of Street Fighting Years (1989), personnel changes reduced the group to a duo and Kerr's marriage to Hynde crumbled. Kerr and Burchill retreated to Amsterdam and their subsequent material deals with emotional and personal themes. The song "Let There Be Love" from Real Life (1991) exhibits this new approach with Kerr's stirring vocal performance. With the release of the compilation album Glittering Prizes 81/92 (1992) the group took a short hiatus.
In 1993 Kerr and Burchill began working on Good News from the Next World (1995), shifting their focus to guitar-driven songs. "She's a River" begins with an ecstatic drum exclamation and an adamant electric guitar riff. The first verse is buoyed by a synthesizer bass and various guitar textures as Kerr proclaims, "I just found my new direction." Subtle harmonic changes gradually lead to the chorus, textures are added, and the song builds to an ecstatic end. After changing record labels, Simple Minds released Neapolis (1998), which featured the epic "Glitterball" and the colorfully brooding ballad "War Babies." An album of cover songs, Neon Lights (2001), paid tribute to Patti Smith, David Bowie, and other artists. With Cry (2002) the group reasserted their connection to pop technology by utilizing subtle electronica beats within thoughtful ballads, exemplified in the singles "Cry" and "One Step Closer."
Simple Minds produced well-crafted pop songs driven by synthesizer textures, guitar riffs, and a smooth vocal delivery. While they enjoyed international popularity in the 1980s, their subsequent releases have only appeared in the U.K. charts. Despite creative ventures in the 1990s ranging from guitar-driven pop to light electronica, their popularity has slowly dwindled.
Life in a Day (Zoom, 1979); Real to Real Cacophony (Arista, 1980); Empires and Dance (Arista, 1980); Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (Virgin, 1981); New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) (Virgin, 1982); Celebration (Arista, 1982); Sparkle in the Rain (Virgin, 1984); Once Upon a Time (Virgin, 1985); Simple Minds Live: In the City of Light (Virgin, 1987); Street Fighting Years (Virgin, 1989); Real Life (Virgin, 1991); Glittering Prize (Virgin, 1992); Good News from the Next World (Virgin, 1995); Neapolis (Chrysalis, 1998); Neon Lights (Red Ink, 2001); The Best of Simple Minds (Virgin, 2001); Cry (Eagle, 2002). Soundtrack: The Breakfast Club (A&M, 1985).
"Simple Minds." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/simple-minds
"Simple Minds." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/simple-minds