Simple Minds – Love Song
As I write, BBC4’s archive-plundering re-transmission of vintage Top of the Pops episodes is entering its next phase, discarding the previously upheld ‘exactly 35 years to the week’ broadcasting policy along the way and moving swiftly on with the first batch of shows from 1982.
1981 had seen a pronounced ‘changing of the guard’ defined by a seismic shift away from the squeaky clean teen idols, prog rockers and disco divas of the 1970s into the ‘brave new world’ of electronic instrumentation, post-punk new wave and The Blitz Kids. The BBC’s prime-time music show wholeheartedly embraced the UK record buying publics’ shifting appetites by swiftly introducing the nation’s TV watching teens to the new conquering heroes, transmitting debut TOTP performances from the likes of Duran Duran, Dare-era Human League, Depeche Mode, Kim Wilde, Soft Cell and, er, Modern Romance. In 1982, there would be even more changes. As synth-pop ruled the charts and the UK started to fall under the spell of more out-there, experimental performers and futuristic electronic sounds, TOTP also began to adopt a similarly off-beat approach. Dragging itself out from under the drab, beige BBC Light Entertainment cloud, TOTP began presenting the nation’s favourite tunes amidst a much more vibrant, multi-coloured (and at times downright bizarre) carnival atmosphere.
Out went the ‘naughty-but-nice’ coyness of Dad’s favourites Legs & Co, in came the Hot Gossip-inspired, rather more overtly raunchy, Zoo. We were treated to more frequent appearances from the permanently arched eyebrow of John Peel and the TOTP studio audience was infiltrated by a squadron of model/dancer ‘cheer leaders’, giving the TV viewers something a little more appealing to look at besides a herd of slack-jawed, spotty youths staring blankly into camera and mouthing ‘Hello Mum’.
While a party balloon budget to rival Sydney’s Mardi Gras Parade combined with a menagerie of fire-eaters, jugglers and even the occasional oiled up, speedo-clad body builder might have suited the likes of Tight Fit and Wham!, the atmosphere surrounding the TOTP stages was sometimes in stark contrast with the artists performing on them – just watch The Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell scowling out from under a waterfall of party streamers and you’ll see the very definition of the word ‘murderous’.
As the 80s dawned, the ‘do it yourself’ spirit of punk had started to evolve, drifting further away from the ideology of anarchy and blindly ‘kicking against the system’, embracing instead the idea of subverting from within and using making music (and a place within the record industry) as a means to escape.
In 1981, armed with a range of (newly affordable and now easy to obtain) electronic instruments as their weapons of choice, a new breed of working class, untrained musicians waged war on the pop charts, emerging victorious with both the biggest selling single of the year – Soft Cell’s Tainted Love – and the coveted Christmas no.1 – Don’t You Want Me by the Human League. By the start of 1982, rather unexpectedly, a host of UK based upstarts would soon find themselves not only challenging the ‘old guard’ on their home turf, but also appeared to be on the verge of taking over the world.
For many, 1981 was a time of evolution and extraordinary sonic exploration. It was a period of unprecedented renewal and reinvention which resulted in countless UK artists suddenly veering off into previously uncharted waters, with many reaching hitherto unimagined commercial success. One such act, who made such huge confident strides in 1981, and would eventually ‘go global’ after a UK chart breakthrough in 1982, were Simple Minds.
The simultaneous release of two albums of new material in September 1981 – with Sons and Fascinations and the companion set, Sister Feelings Call – highlighted the irrepressible outpouring of creativity that seemed to be driving the band at that particular moment. These albums brought belated widespread attention for the Scottish five-piece, after years of slowly building cult acceptance and scrapping by on the outer edges of the UK charts. With a core nucleus of Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill, Simple Minds had already gathered a sizable fan base in their native Glasgow and enjoyed a credible reputation within the wider Scottish music scene, but almost five years of shifting line-ups and changes in musical direction prevented them from taking the next step up.
Never quite fitting into the punk scene which spawned them, Simple Minds seemed altogether more sophisticated and futuristic – always pushing forward and apparently scrambling to grasp something that always seemed to be frustratingly just out of reach.
Love Song, the first track lifted from the Sons and Fascination set, best exemplifies this abrupt pulling of focus and ushers in the band’s significant deviation from underground experimentation to mainstream acceptance. Embracing futurism and the new technologies available to them, but avoiding the cold robotics of John Foxx’s Metamatic or the stark simplicity of Kraftwerks’ Computer World, Love Song is both wonderfully exotic and comfortingly familiar. Borrowing liberally from their long-held music heroes, as well as their contemporaries – there are shades of Bowie’s Scary Monsters as well as nods to the Human League’s Travelogue evident here – the band were always quick to explore the latest styles in fashion and music, experimenting in the studio with new instruments and possessing a magpie-like attraction to anything ‘new and shiny’.
The overwhelming desire to maintain the momentum created by ‘Sons’ and ‘Sisters’, and advance to the next level of commercial and critical acceptance, powers a (soon to be commercially released) John Peel session version of Love Song – recorded in February 1982 as the band started to promote material from the soon-to-be-released New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) project. Chaotic and exhilarating, it gives the impression that it’s being performed at breakneck speed – even though it’s only a couple of BPM faster than the studio recorded version – crackling with energy and seemingly enlivened by the band’s determination to race headlong to the next stage of their career. And who could blame them? While some might argue that Sons and Sisters was the real turning point, it was New Gold Dream which undoubtedly ushered in Simple Minds’ imperial phase, a period of seven years which saw the band score four no.1 albums (including a double live album) and sixteen UK top 40 singles and, in May 1985, reaching their international commercial peak by hitting no.1 on the US Hot 100 with Don’t You (Forget About Me).
I for one can’t wait for Simple Minds’ first TOTP 1982 appearance – just a few weeks away if my calculations are correct – as Promised You A Miracle delivers the band’s first UK top 40 hit. I’m sure I’ll be as transfixed now as I was then by the ghostly-white Jim Kerr, with panda-eyed mascara and eyeliner, lunging and swaying cat-like as he prowls the stage with effortless cool. I probably won’t even notice the lion tamer, the troop of acrobats or the guy dressed as a gorilla – wearing a tutu and riding a unicycle – who just happen to be dancing along in the front row.
Entered chart: 15/08/1981
Chart peak: 47
Weeks on chart: 4
Who could sing this today and have a hit? : Wouldn’t this be the perfect jump-off point for Coldplay entering their ‘Berlin Phase’? A bit of icy electronica might bring to an end the prolonged period of Ibiza-lite, Balearic-isms we’ve been enduring for the last couple of albums and get Chris and the gang back on track – cut to Coldplay sobbing into a huge pile of A Head Full of Dreams platinum discs and wiping away the tears with a fistful of brand new £50 notes.
Exquisite writing Stewart, we must be on a similar wavelength as I, at the time of writing, have ZAP-BANG-ABACAB: WHAT PUNK DID FOR PROG AND THE SPIRIT OF THE EARLY EIGHTIES at draft stage. If only I could get round to finishing it.