In the late 70s, Glasgow was a fading industrial hub.
The city’s shipbuilding industry was in sharp decline, and – amid rising unemployment and few opportunities – it wasn’t a place to be young. Alongside this, though, Glasgow birthed an astonishingly fertile punk and new wave scene – the 80s would open with Orange Juice, The Bluebells and Postcard Records, placing the city on the pop map in colourful, extravagant fashion.
Simple Minds, though, always stood out. Channelling Kraftwerk, post-punk, emerging electronics, Modernist art and avant garde poetry, the group’s reach – ambitious, daring in outlook – was matched to material which was rooted in funk, in a strident, disciplined sense of groove.
Later finding enormous stadium success, the group’s path is one almost impossible to replicate. With new album ‘Big Music’ finding renewed acclaim – Manic Street Preachers, among others, are outspoken in their adoration – Clash thought it about time to select some of the band’s finest moments... alongside a little help from some famous friends, of course.
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‘Themes For Great Cities’
At heart, post-punk was a rhythm revolution: whether that’s The Fall’s stout-soaked Krautrock fumble, Joy Division’s clinical Kraftwerk exposition or The Pop Group’s outrageous funk politik. Absorbing the clean lines of Teutonic modernism, ‘Theme For Great Cities’ is sheer proto-techno, with a thudding, menacing bass line and glistening synths worthy of Juan Atkins.
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‘Promised You A Miracle’
Amidst the abstraction of their early explorations, ‘Promised You A Miracle’ is both one of Simple Minds’ most direct moments – and their strangest. Aside from the chorus, little of Jim Kerr’s vocals can be discerned; swimming in sheer sound, the track is anchored on the rhythm section, on that Chic style riff and emerging electronics.
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‘Seeing Out The Angel’
Adrift on a sea of synthesised sound, ‘Seeing Out The Angel’ is the final track on ‘Sons & Fascination’. Little more than electronics and a plucked bass line, the track is a masterpiece in minimalist synth pop with Simple Minds applying an almost dub-like devotion to silence. Jim Kerr’s vocal is almost gothic, with the glistening, chrome-plated production the work of Steve Hillage.
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Released in 1979, second album ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ perhaps lacks the astonishing emotional drive which flew through contemporaneous albums such as ‘Unknown Pleasures’ or ‘Metal Box’. What it does have, though, is a near delirious sense of exploration; fumbling through the studio, ‘Factory’ seems to accidentally innovate with those dub chords, Kraftwerk synths and devoutly rock chorus combining to make something which is still nigh on impossible to categorise. A homage to Tony Wilson’s then-emergent label, or simply coincidence? Clearly, some important cultural conduits were flowing between the fading industrial monoliths of Manchester and Glasgow.
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‘New Gold Dream’
Way back when, inventive bands used the 12 inch format to stretch out their studio ambitions to undreamed of lengths. Simple Minds were pioneers in this, with ‘New Gold Dream’ being a prime example. The standard radio version is an ambitious synth pop epic, languishing in realms of dappled sound. The full 12 inch version, though, features wave after wave of synthesisers, with Jim Kerr’s voice arriving smothered in studio effects. Seeming to stretch out towards infinite realms, it’s a sound built in clubs but capable of filling stadiums.
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‘I Travel’ – as nominated by Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream)
"Hard as rock cold war Euro-disco, no one did it better. The true European sons of BowieEnoMoroder and brothers of Joy Division, all the way from from Prospecthill circus. 'In central Europe men are marching' -ecstatic paranoia. I love it."
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‘Up On The Catwalk’ – as nominated by Billy Corgan
“Rarely does a song so effortlessly capture the ambitions and vagaries of night as this does. Strident, jumpy, and bold, the production is the song and the song is the production. An absolutely brilliant marriage."
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