It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but in the early 1980’s Simple Minds were an artistically interesting band, who had made some relevant albums. In 1982 they released their magnum opus: New Gold Dream.
N.B.: The full album title is New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84); in this article I will use New Gold Dream
Johnny & The Self-Abusers
Johnny & The Self-Abusers was a punkband that was founded in Glasgow in 1977. The band was completed with two musicians: singer and textwriter Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill. Kerr and Burchill were childhood friends. Their first gig was April 11th, 1977. Two weeks later they were the support-act for Generation X.
Soon discord within the band popped up: the founders up against the newcomers (Kerr and Burchill). Ultimately, the newcomers won. Their compositions were incorporated into the set. In November of 1977 their (only) single Saints And Sinners was released. The same day they disbanded.
This resulted in two bands: The Cuban Heels and Simple Minds (after the line He’s so simple-minded, he can’t drive his module from David Bowie’s The Jean Genie).
During the course of 1978 the first incarnation of Simple Minds took on a permanent shape: Kerr and Burchill were accompanied by keyboard player Mick MacNeil, bass player Derek Forbes and drummer Brian McGee. They practiced a lot and soon made a name for themselves as an exciting live-act.
They signed a deal with Arista and in 1979 their first album Life In A Day was released. The album, and the first single culled from it, sold reasonably well (considering it was a debut) and they were enlisted as the support-act to Magazine.
Immediately following a tour, the band reconvened in the studio for a sequel: Real To Real Cacophony, which was released the same year, 1979. This was the first album that established Simple Minds as an interesting and innovative band. The album was more experimental and dark than the previous one. In the years to come many new-wave bands flirted with dance music and funky rhythms (like Talking Heads, A Certain Ratio, Gang Of Four and New Order), but Simple Minds was one of the very first. The rhythm section gained importance, musical minimalism was exerted.
In 1980 Empires And Dance was released. The band grew ever more popular among critics. A lot of the songs had minimalist arrangements and sequencing was used a lot. This album also contained the first genius Simple Minds songs. The song I Travel, in particular, is a beautiful example of early 1980’s new-wave with dance influences. It’s an all-time classic. With Celebrate the album even contained two prize songs.
In 1981 Simple Minds signed to Virgin Records. The first release for the label was Sons And Fascination / Sister Feelings Call, two albums. The second album was initially (the first 10,000 copies) part of Sons And Fascination, and was later released separately. Both albums contain top songs, among which In Trance As Mission, Sweat In Bullet, Love Song, Theme For Great Cities and The American. Praise among critics couldn’t reach higher and now a larger audience was reached as well. Peter Gabriel chose Simple Minds as his support-act on his European tour, making Simple Minds known to a wider audience than ever before.
After the tour, drummer Brian McGee left, exhausted from the constant touring.
New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84)
Finding a new drummer proved to be difficult. For five months Kenny Hyslop held the position: he played on the Promised You A Miracle single, but didn’t really fit in (the band). He was replaced by Mike Ogletree, who got to (co-)play on the next album. During sessions for the album the next (steady) drummer was found: Mel Gaynor, who, uncredited, laid down many drumparts for the album.
The following Simple Minds album was released on September 13th, 1982, 35 years ago today. The album New Gold Dream consisted of studio sessions with drummers Ogletree and Gaynor, supplemented with Promised You a Miracle (on which Hyslop played the drums). The album turned out to be the (much deserved) breakthrough for the band and delivered two major hits in Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize. Jazz keyboard-player Herbie Hancock played a synthesizer solo on Hunter And The Hunted.
On New Gold Dream Simple Minds sounds self-assured, cinematic and melodic. But what really stands out is the album’s atmosphere. The songs breathe warmth and life. A classic album.
To this day, this album still grabs me the minute I put it on. Just the opening song Someone, Somewhere In Summertime alone. It immediately sets the tone to the rest of the album. Subtle songs, great lyrics and a mint production. Promised You A Miracle always fell somewhat out of line (soundwise), and I finally, after doing research for this article, understand why. It doesn’t stem from the same recording sequence as the rest of the album. Big Sleep is another great song with beautiful riffs. Somebody Up There Likes You is a moving instrumental, which has regularly been used as background music to documentaries (oftentimes about less cheerful subjects). By now, we have only listened to side A of the album.
The record B-side starts off with one of the best songs ever recorded: New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). The pulsating beat, the swelling synthesizers and the classic motif (which was sampled a lot). A definite precursor to the dance that was going to dominate music years later. An impressive feat. And yet, the album still isn’t finished. Glittering Prize is up immediately after. Another gem, with a beautiful bass-line.
Simple Minds was right where they wanted to be: taken seriously by critics and loved by the audience. Based on New Gold Dream they deserved that position. It’s a stunning album, that still holds up, after all these years and doesn’t sound dated at all (like many of the 1980’s productions). A 1980’s highlight and, as was soon to be evidenced, the last highlight in Simple Minds’ body of work.
The tour following New Gold Dream was terrific. A band at their zenith, hungry with a (recently released) classic on their name. Drummer Gaynor added an extra swing, which expressed itself specifically with their old(er) songs, among them a funky The American. Simple Minds played the Dutch Pinkpop festival on May 23rd, 1983. The festival was recorded for Dutch radio station KRO. Later in the year the shows were broadcast in the radio-show Rock Tempel. Simple Minds at their peak, live and perfect sound-quality. Try and locate the recordings: essential listening!
All songs written by Simple Minds.
- Someone Somewhere In Summertime
- Colours Fly And Catherine Wheel
- Promised You A Miracle
- Big Sleep
- Somebody Up There Likes You
- New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)
- Glittering Prize
- Hunter And The Hunted
- King Is White And In The Crowd
After New Gold Dream
The next album was Sparkle In The Rain, produced by Steve Lillywhite, the man who, more and more, lapsed into grandiloquent boom, as evidenced on this album. The album was a disappointment, but, to be fair, the extended remixes of Waterfront, Speed Your Love To Me and Up On The Catwalk are right up there with the great Simple Minds songs.
In 1984 Jim Kerr married Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). The marriage lasted until 1990 and produced a daughter.
Despite all their success, the band went nowhere in the USA. Until the movie The Breakfast Club was released in 1985. At Virgin Records’ insistence the band recorded the song Don’t You (Forget About Me) for the movie, which was offered to (and consequently turned down by) Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry. The song, which wasn’t written by Simple Minds, became a huge hit. Simple Minds were asked to perform in Philadelphia during Live Aid on July 13th, 1985.
The next album Once Upon A Time proved to be the definite artistic downfall of the, at one time, so original and innovative band. Meanwhile, things were getting messy within the band and changes and additions became regular occurrences. On the other hand, this was their commercial heyday. The hits just kept on coming, even though a lot of them seemed to be copies of Don’t You (Forget About Me).
Many more albums and singles followed, but it all became less and less, eventually leading to diminished sales. It is what it is; after New Gold Dream Simple Minds hasn’t released one real memorable album anymore. Is that serious? No, but is a pity, for a band that is capable of releasing an album like New Gold Dream, should be able to deliver good music over a longer period of time.
What do you think of New Gold Dream? Do you like it just as much? Let me know!
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream Header & Simple Minds – Pinkpop 05/23/1983 images: youtube.com
Simple Minds – First five albums & Simple Minds – New Gold Dream & Simple Minds images: simpleminds.com
Simple Minds – I Travel & Simple Minds – Waterfront images: discogs.com