Don’t You (Forget About Parentheses)

Posted: March 27, 2011 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Simple Minds

Today I want to have a word with you about guilty pleasures, which, for the purpose of this disquisition, we shall define as enjoying things that you might be too embarrassed to enjoy if anyone found out you were enjoying them. I’m thinking here, just to get the ball rolling, of people who go roller skating because they like the way “You Made Me Love You” sounds on the Wurlitzer. Then there are the folks who eat Pop-Tarts without toasting them first. As for me, I listen to Simple Minds.

On page 160 of my copy of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, the dysfunctional wolverines who work at Championship Vinyl have compiled a list of the top five bands they want to put in front of a firing squad. Simple Minds leads their list, ahead of even Genesis, which seems harsh to me. Genesis spawned Phil Collins. Can you name even one simpleton in Simple Minds? How about the chap who was married to Chryssie Hynde? Of course you can’t. And if you can you probably work at Championship Vinyl.

Sanctify Yourself
Simple Minds supposedly took their name from David Bowie’s “Jean Genie.” The relevant line in that song, “He’s so simple-minded he can’t drive his capsule,” is meaningless out of context and is uninspiring even if you know what Bowie was talking about, which I don’t. Simple Minds was part of the 1970s-’80s movement loosely known as New Wave, which tried to mesh art and post-punk. In fact Simple Minds started out in life as a punk outfit called Johnny & The Self-Abusers, which immediately leads me to inquire why they thought they needed a new name.

Like many New Wave bands, most of Simple Minds’ songs are hopelessly airy and artsy. This is probably why I like them. I even like the singer, Jim Kerr (Ms. Hynde’s former husband), who is Scottish but who always sounds vaguely German.

Life in a Day
Objectively, I would have to rank Simple Minds far below expert practitioners of the New Wave form, such as Echo & The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs, but way above Spandau Ballet, Human League, and Haircut 100, three bands that together couldn’t make a snake out of Play-Doh. This leaves Simple Minds with the same artistic command of their material as A Flock of Haircuts, who were best known for their haircuts.

But that’s my objectivity speaking. Every time I play one of my favorite Simple Minds cuts, I melt into a puddle. Like The Tubes, I can’t clean up/but I know I should.

Promised You a Miracle
In 1985, when Simple Minds were making a good living in the UK but were still unknown in the US, the band was hired to perform a song for an upcoming film: The Breakfast Club. The boys were handed the words and music to something called “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” did some rearranging, and recorded a 4-minute and a 6-minute version, both on the same afternoon.

I’ll bet Simple Minds didn’t think about this song again until the movie came out and “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” went to #1 on the US charts and became an anthem. Suddenly, Simple Minds were famous in the world’s biggest music market for a song they didn’t write. They didn’t even include it on an album until 1992.

I understand why it took them seven years to finally claim this song. Have you ever read the lyrics?

Tell me your troubles and doubts
Giving me everything inside and out and
Love’s strange so real in the dark
Think of the tender things that we were working on

That’s quite enough. And if you own the original 45, I suggest you not play the B side, “A Brass Band in Africa.” Simple Minds wrote this one, but listening to it is like eating a Pop-Tart before it’s toasted or even unwrapped.

Up on the Catwalk
Though the words to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” are, well, awful (and the 6-minute version has even more of them), and though the thing is too slow to dance to, the music wields a crowd-pleasing power. Like all immortal songs, it begins with a musical flourish you instantly recognize and lyrics anyone can handle:

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

The song’s helium-filled synthesizer musings are ballasted by a steady beat and a chorus that would break the heart of any teenager or immature adult:

Don’t you, forget about me
Don’t don’t don’t don’t
Don’t you, forget about me

And then comes the moment of genius, when Simple Minds rose above themselves and created matter out of energy with their bare hands. At 3:13 most of the music falls away, leaving only the synth, which is playing somewhere in low Earth orbit, the muted drums, and Jim Kerr muttering on behalf of the lovelorn:

Will you walk away?
Will you walk on by?
Come on – call my name
Will you call my name?

For 30 seconds we’re suspended in time and space, anticipating that delicious moment when the triumphant drum roll crashes in. After that it’s a walk in the park. Anyone can sing along, because from here to the finish line it’s just La. La la la la. La la la la. La la la LA la la la la la etc. Audience participation; that’s the ticket!

I’ve run out of Simple Minds song titles
But I’ll never run out of opinions. I’m declaring “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” as the iconic song of the 1980s, the one song that can represent the entire decade. I think the only serious competition comes from Special D’s pick, Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and I have to admit this would’ve been an even closer race if Ms. Lauper had been backed by a genre-defining movie.

Will we ever see the likes of Simple Minds again? Unfortunately, yes. They’re still recording. They’ve even inspired a band to carry on their work, and that band is called Coldplay. We’ll talk about them the next time we tackle guilty pleasures.

Wouldn’t you love to hear “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on a Wurlizter?

  1. Accused of Lurking says:

    I don’t think I have ever agreed with you more completely, Run-DMSteve.

    Take a single lyric with a strong emotional component as your central memory hook in the chorus, add music that is either haunting or extremely upbeat, mix in a powerful visual, either from a movie or a TV show, especially one that has just delivered a psychological punch, and you have an iconic song.

  2. Terri says:

    I love Simple Minds. I am also a fan of the band ABC and I’m not ashamed to say I saw them live in 2006 at the Aladdin. Rock on, Steve!

  3. Laurel says:

    Tragically, I believe the UW’s American Popular Music course omits all mention of Simple Minds. Actually, I think it omits the ’80s altogether…

  4. Yes please on a Wurlitzer would be good!

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