Yesterday, I wrote about a band, The Waterboys, who, during the Eighties, was simply a passing curiosity here in the States. Yet, I felt like they were unfairly overlooked at the time. I guess I must be the only one who feels this way since that entry may be my least-read entry of all time. Awesome! I sure know how to pick ’em! Hahaha!!! I guess I will continue to push the attention of my readers with my album for today, Simple Minds’ 1985 biggest American hit album Once Upon a Time.
When this album was released in the Fall of 1985, Simple Minds was still celebrating its only Number One hit in the USA, the theme song from the 80s Brat Pack classic The Breakfast Club, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. The song, which was only released on the movie soundtrack, was originally intended for Billy Idol, who turned it down for reasons unknown, since he recorded a version of the song for his mid-2000s greatest hits package. Once you hear his version, you can actually hear no discernible difference, so I will give the edge to Simple Minds for having the audacity to record the song in the first place. And, to Billy Idol, I will give hand over some sour grapes since he missed out on a big hit, no matter if he wrote it or not (he did not).
Anyway, when Simple Minds released Once Upon a Time, they showed balls by leaving the biggest hit of their career off this new album. And, in doing so, they were able to maintain their artistic integrity at least for this album, because this album, in retrospect, was their artistic and financial peak. By 1985, Simple Minds had taken their version of the sweeping, majestic guitar feedback sound as far as they could, though they tended to supplement the sound with icy synthesizers taken from the famous synth pop bands of the early 80s, creating a newer, unique take on the U2 sound, which was similar to another band having a huge year in 1985, Tears for Fears.
The residual popularity of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” made the public hungry for a new Simple Minds album. And, Simple Minds were ready for the American public by turning to American producer Jimmy Iovine to help the band “Americanize” their sound. And, the choice of producer allowed the band to hone its sound so that it was palatable to the general American audience. For the first and only time, Simple Minds had an album peak at number 10 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart. And, the audience responded so well to the band’s clean sound and focused songwriting that the band scored three Top 40 singles from Once Upon a Time.
Initially, Simple Minds released “Alive and Kicking,” which peaked at number three, becoming the band’s second and last Top 10 hit here in the States. Subsequent singles all garnered heavy rotation on MTV, though the radio was less friendly with each passing single. “Sanctify Yourself,” the second single from Once Upon a Time, peaked at number 14, while the third single, “All the Things She Said” stalled at number 28. Maybe, if the band had included their big, unexpected number one song from the previous spring on Once Upon a Time, Simple Minds may have found themselves battling with Tears for Fears, a reconstituted Heart, a clearly confident Madonna and Wham! for airplay that year. But, by leaving that song off their album, Simple Minds were able to show off singer/songwriter’s strong skills and that he should not have to live in the shadow of his wife at the time, Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, one of the strongest feminine voices in rock at the time. Plus, the album worked better as a concept without that aforementioned song on it. So, artistically, it was the right call. But, financially, I believe it may have been the wrong call. If the band had added it to the album, would they just throw it in at the end, like some post-script left in a note from a lusty teen boy to that cute girl across his math classroom? Or, adjust their writing to better accommodate that big hit written by someone outside the band? Naw, they went for it and did the correct thing for their art, record sales be damned. And, as it were, they were.
Still, Simple Minds made a great album that could be used in a time capsule that could be used by future music historians to play to the youth of the future as a shining example of how atonal guitar slashes and icy synthesizer waves could collide into beautiful, nearly stereotypical mid-Eighties music. Once Upon a Time is a very good album that should be replayed from time to time, if nothing else to remind us how good the music of the mid-Eighties really could be, if we ignored Miami Sound Machine and Level 42 for this one.