Looking back at the album that broke the band in the UK
Simple Minds were a band whose members were pretty much still under the age of 25 in early 1982. That’s when they went into the studio to record New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84), which turned 40 this fall. They’d already been busy lads by then.
Just two years after starting in Glasgow as the teenage punks Johnny & The Self Abusers, the band, now using more sellable and far less satirical Simple Minds moniker, released the post-punk debut Life in a Day in early 1979.
Sales didn’t follow, but the band kept recording and changing its sound. The experimental and underrated Real to Real Cacophony followed by the end of the year. The more move-inducing Empires And Dance came out in 1980.
Simple Minds at that point were saddled with a £140,000 debt (around 250,000 dollars in today’s money) and sans label, having been dropped by Arista.
The group still had two things going for it– their own self-belief and the fact that they didn’t have too much time to dwell on problems, as Richard Branson, upon hearing new demos, signed them to Virgin Records.
“Virgin were much more musical, cooler people. We made a really experimental double album, Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, and they never flinched,” guitarist Charlie Burchill told Louder in 2016.
Originally intended as separate albums (and indeed released separately initially), it married the artsy with the disco, showing signs of the pop instincts that would soon follow.
Those instincts would flourish on New Gold Dream, an album whose genesis was, unlike some classics, pretty drama-free in its creation.
“I have the most beautiful memories of New Gold Dream,” lead singer Jim Kerr told the Quietus in 2012. “It was made in a time between spring and summer and everything we tried worked. There were no arguments. We were in love with what we were doing, playing it, listening to it. You don’t get many periods in your life when it all goes your way.”
The only instability was at the drum kit. Kenny Hyslop had joined for the first leg of the band’s Sons and Fascination tour, but he was gone by the second. But he’d have an influence despite his brief time in the band, more on that in a bit.
Mike Ogletree replaced Hyslop on the tour and took part in early New Gold Dream sessions, but was replaced by session drummer Mel Gaynor (at the suggestion of producer Peter Walsh). Gaynor would become a full-time member soon enough, remaining so for most of the next 35 years.
Simple Minds hadn’t broken through in the UK, let alone the U.S., when they started on New Gold Dream. Their first break came in Australia, where Sons’ “Love Song” and “Sweat in Bullet” both cracked the Top 20. Shows there, opening for local favorite Icehouse, were a real pick-me-up.
“You don’t expect much reaction as the support band but people were going nuts,” Kerr told the Quietus. “In Australia they had fantastic pirate-style radio and all the British stuff was being played on bootlegs, from the Banshees right through – and these stations had huge ratings and we heard ourselves being played constantly. We left the country holding gold discs! And I remember feeling, this pop star lark, it’s pretty good. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the first song we wrote when we got back was as catchy as ‘Promised You A Miracle’.”
Here’s where Hyslop comes in. He’d been listening to a tape of songs he’d recorded off the radio on tour. One of those tunes contained a horn part that morphed into what became the riff “Promised You a Miracle”, the lone song on the album with Hyslop on drums.
VIDEO: Simple Minds “Promised You A Miracle”
The label liked what it heard, choosing to release the song as a single in April, 1982. It would be the band’s first UK hit, starting a string of 24 straight Top 40 singles there over the next 16 years.
It was every bit a deserved hit, utterly danceable and more muscular than other synth-heavy songs then, with a Derek Forbes bass line and Michael McNeil keyboard riff that stick in the brain. The same belief that was about to carry Simple Minds from the Glasgow tower blocks where they started into stadiums is reflected in Kerr’s lyrics — romantic optimism as sheer force of will.
There’s no denying that the singles are the core of New Gold Dream.
The glitteringly atmospheric “Someone, Somewhere In Summertime” kicks the album off. Burchill’s guitar fleshes it out wonderfully without dominating and Kerr delivers the anthemic chorus hook. If it hadn’t been released towards the end of the album’s cycle, it likely would have been a bigger hit. But as with other songs that weren’t the highest-charting hits from their albums (see “Mr. Blue Sky”), it would go on to be one New Gold Dream’s most loved.
“Glittering Prize” rides along its bass groove with keyboard flourishes, an evocative love song.
VIDEO: Simple Minds “Glittering Prize”
If all New Gold Dream had were its singles, it wouldn’t have taken its place among the classics in a great year for UK pop, 12 months that gave us the likes of Lexicon of Love, Sulk, Rio, Pornography, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Golden Age of Wireless, Forever Now, Too-Rye-Ay, Madness Presents the Rise & Fall, Upstairs at Eric’s, A Flock of Seagulls and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse.
Yeah, it was that kind of year.
One of the reasons it succeeded was how balanced the production was from Walsh, who the lead producer on a whole album for the first time.
The keyboard textures manage to mark it as an album of its time without sounding dated. The bass (electric and Moog) and guitar (and Kerr’s vocals, for that matter) keep things from drifting off into a sea of icy synths.
Kerr’s said he used lyrics because of how they went with the music, imagery over things making literal sense. And yet it all makes perfect sense when it’s all put together, even when the seemingly random (the name, not the music) guest appearance by Herbie Hancock on “Hunter and the Hunted” takes place.
It’s a perfectly-timed keyboard solo, bringing the song to life in the way that Stevie Ray Vaughan would do with a guitar on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” the following year.
Forbes drives “Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel” in a unique way for the time. One can picture the keyboards and chiming guitar switching prominence in the mix with the bass if other bands of the time had their hands on the song.
“Big Sleep” goes heavy on the dream state. Kerr’s croon drawing a nonspecific mood, as the lyrics are in need of subtitles in synth-and-bass reverie.
If his vocals were Simple Minds’ fifth instrument, Kerr opted to forego them entirely on “Somebody Up There Likes You”, an instrumental built from ideas from Burchill and MacNeil. Lyrics were written for it but the band decided not to spoil the ambience.
The title track is aptly named, all propulsively shimmering mood (“And when you dream/Dream in the dream with me”).
“King is White and in the Crowd” closes things out with a nifty slow build, with a groove that Talking Heads would have killed for. It promises a full release of tension, only to allow just enough off to keep the valve from blowing off.
A masterful work, New Gold Dream opened the door for Simple Minds’ stardom in the UK.
That kind of success in America would take a bit longer.
1983’s Sparkle In the Rain offered more hit singles across the Atlantic, led by “Waterfront”. It was 1985’s Once Upon a Time that would break them in America.
Technically, it was the single that Simple Minds refused to put on the album that did the job. Producer Keith Forsey and guitarist Steve Schiff from Nina Hagen’s band were working on the score for a movie when they came up with a song with Simple Minds in mind.
They were turned down, eventually offering the song to both Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol (who Forsey was producing at the time). Both passed. Forsey declined A&M’s idea of Corey Hart, who was big at the time with “Sunglasses at Night”, feeling he wasn’t the right fit.
Simple Minds, reluctant to do the song because they wanted to record their own material, were talked into it by Forsey. Still, it was recorded in a quick session and mostly forgotten about.
The movie the band didn’t think would be much turned out to be about a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, a criminal and a band from Scotland that would have a No. 1 hit in “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”
Even without that song on the album (Simple Minds’ call, to the label’s disappointment), it had plenty of quality material and hits of its own (“Alive and Kicking” leading the way).
The band hit a pothole after that, taking four years to put out their next album and failing to take heed of the lessons its contemporaries U2 had learned on 1988’s Rattle and Hum. As a result, too much of the admittedly very well-intentioned 1989’s Street Fighting Years was, to lift a quote from an old Casey Kasem outtake, “Ponderous, man. Fucking ponderous.”
The band soldiered on with varying results. Most of the other members left over the years. Kerr and Burchill, who’ve been friends since they were eight years old and bandmates since they were 17, picked things up in the last decade. They delivered their best albums since the ’80s with 2014’s Big Music and 2018’s Walk Between Worlds.
And they have a new album- Direction of Hope — arriving next month.
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) remains Simple Minds’ deserved breakout, high on belief without arrogance in their creativity and the audience that was waiting around the corner. It built upon post-punk and danceable strengths they’d already shown, revealing them to also be a pop force to be reckoned with.