Minds Music Monday – Why I Love…Soul Crying Out

Lighting the political touchpaper in 1989 with words of angst and hope, Soul Crying Out has to be one of Simple Minds’ most beautiful, heartfelt pieces on the current state of the world (of then…as it is now) as you are ever likely to hear.

Starting with a soft, jangly guitar riff from Charlie Burchill and wonderful whispering vocal from Jim Kerr…the pair immediately pull you in to the quiet plea of the track. The world is in turmoil. People are hurting.

It’s a tome on what became – for the suffering working classes – Thatcher’s “legacy”. Of course, she was still in power when the song was written and released…but thankfully her time was running out.

But the damage had pretty much all been done by 1989. She’d been in power for 10 years, and in those years, mines closed, shipyards closed, unemployment reached record highs. And there was the disgusting “guinea pig” experiment of testing out the Poll Tax in Scotland. A policy, that if put forward by a Labour government might have been seen as fair, just and egalitarian. It certainly sounds Communist in its ideal – a single same rate tax for all. Everyone is equal. That’s the Communist philosophy, right? But let’s be honest, the world really is Animal Farm Orwellian, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Those lines “And the government says you’re gonna pay, pay, pay!”, driven home by Jim with rising tones in his voice, only to soften again…nailing it in with sorrow “and you pay / still you pay”.

“And I say / I don’t know
Maybe I don’t care”

Apathy – a disease. Jim talked about it in an interview with Billy Sloan in 1984, saying he felt that apathy was the biggest disease hitting the UK then. I can see his point…but to try and drag yourself out of that state when you are being oppressed by your government, you can’t find a job, no one in your family has a job, what do you do?

The disease wasn’t so much the apathy…but her. Maggie. That’s definitely how I see it.

Jim, you were lucky not to suffer the apathy. To be strong-willed enough not to let it consume you. Many others were not so lucky. Try not to be too judgemental. Not everyone is blessed with your willpower, resolve and self-belief. That goes beyond optimism.

But it gave him the opportunity to twist the song into hope and aspiration.

“All I know is / I gotta get out of here
And I’m going / going any way
Do you know some place to go?
I’m getting out of here.”

By 1990, Thatcher was gone, but there was still seven years of Conservative power to endure. John Major tried his best to lessen some of the worst effects of the previous 11 years of government. He will most likely be the Conservative government’s last “centre-right” leader for some time to come.

For today, those highest in office within the Conservative Party are all “Maggie’s children”. Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Jeremy Hunt, and Boris Johnson all err on the side of the Fascist side of right-wing politics.

Anyway, enough of the political talk and the potential for apathy.

Let’s listen to what may be Simple Minds’ best political statement they ever produced.

And that is (some way into trying to explain eloquently) why I love Soul Crying Out.

(P.S. I definitely need to do a new piece of art for this! The one above is well old!)

Can You Hear Me, Major Tom? Fifty Years On.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of Space Oddity.

I’m trying to have some recollection of when I first heard it. Obviously not when it was released, is it came out some 15 months before I was born. I don’t have any clear recollection when I did finally hear it but I know I’d have been very young and it would have been on the radio.

I have a clearer memory of hearing Sorrow on the radio quite a bit. And probably at the time of its release as it would have been 1973 and I know I was very young when I first recall hearing it. I remember it being a Bowie song (well, actually a cover) that I really liked.

As for Space Oddity…how can you not be drawn in by the song’s theme and its opening? The countdown sequence. It’s a magical thing. And pretty far removed from anything else on the eponymous 1969 album – alternatively titled “Man Of Words/Man Of Music” when released in the USA.

It was a very timely…and I am sure in fact, deliberately canny, release with Apollo 11 heading off for the Moon less than a week later. It made it to number 5 in the UK charts due largely on the strength that the BBC used it during coverage of the return journey by the Apollo 11 astronauts to Earth.

Happy Anniversary Space Oddity. Fifty years young, and a timeless classic.

Why I Love…Changeling

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The dancefloor. Frigging hell! Did Simple Minds know how to fill it back in the day. I guess they still do to be fair.

But let us rewind back to 1979. Rockfield Studios in the Welsh countryside. Five young men from Glasgow are in the studio making the followup to their debut album. An album that really couldn’t be more different to the first. They are still just babies, with the average age of them being just 20. They are still very much learning their craft. Recording in the studio next door are none other than Iggy Pop and David Bowie. Could life get any sweeter?

Yes it could. These five young men band together and make one of the best dance tracks of the late 1970’s as you are ever likely to hear.

OKAY! I’ll be the first to admit that…given all the changes in lyrics that Jim Kerr has made in SM songs over the years…esp. early on (he would rewrite songs entirely from demo to album recording), it’s quite a thing that there wasn’t a change made to the opening line to Changeling. I suppose that was the curse of there being no demos for Real To Real Cacophony. They went straight into recording.

The sticking point, lyrically, is that horrible propensity for snidey shits to take the mickey out of the opening line and continue to sing along to Wombling Free, which I’ve got to say…I don’t know what it does to Jim…but to me, it fucking pisses me off no end!

Perhaps we should concentrate on the musical structure of the song for now? Synths and bass opening with an instant dance hook. Drum grooves quickly follow and then a simplistic yet fab guitar riff. Industrial dance grooves. Fuck these boys were good at them! There’s nothing quite like this on Life In A Day. They hadn’t made a sound quite like this, yet…but boy does it signal the start of a very identifiable early “Simple Minds” signature sound. An aural “watermark”, if you will.

I really don’t know anyone who could listen to this track and not tap their feet or their hands and just get hooked in by the groove.

In spite of what the Arista execs hear at the UK HQ with Real To Real Cacophony in which they appear utterly dumbfounded, they do seem to make the right choice in having Changeling as the lead (but unfortunately subsequently ONLY) single off the album. How they didn’t then follow it up with Factory and Premonition is anyone’s guess. One can only assume they were already becoming concerned that SM was going to leak money hand over fist.

Changeling has no chart success, so one assumes that is why there are no other singles released from the Real To Real Cacophony album.

The failure of the single to chart can’t be down to it being deemed “not good enough” by the music consumer of the time? Just listen to it! Was it just overlooked from a then pretty flooded market? Singles at this point sold in their THOUSANDS every week. Albums had their importance then too, but the single was still king at this point. To the point where single picture sleeves were at their height. A single was packaged with as much of a visual selling point as an album was at this point in time. Every Simple Minds single released so far had been in a picture sleeve…Changeling being no exception. Did the picture sleeve “sell” the single? Hmmm…I’m unsure it did much. Life In A Day was certainly simplistic in its design, but it made an impact nonetheless. As for Chelsea Girl? She was on the mark. Jim was on the mark for wanting that Jean Shrimpton painting as the cover.

But for Changeling…I don’t know what a greyscale image of some hosepipe really tells you about the song. There’s a kind of industrial look to the cover, yes…but where I think the texture and simplicity of the Real To Real Cacophony album cover works to sell it (luring you in wondering what the hell this album is about as the cover actually gives NOTHING away by design) – that same simplistic approach falls flat for the Changeling single.

Back to the song itself. Let’s get back to those lyrics. Young Mr Kerr, what you on about, boy? Lol. For me, I gotta say that Changeling is a very rare beast in that it is all about the tune, the groove and not much about The Boy’s songwriting…for a change. I still love the words…but they mean fuck all. Lol. But hey….some of my absolute favourite Bowie songs are pure gobbledegook. The Burroughs technique has a lot to answer for, sometimes. I couldn’t write a song that means SOMETHING…let alone one that doesn’t really mean anything at all but sounds like it does anyway. And to me…that’s master craftsmanship.

In summary? In the simplest terms, it’s a dancefloor filler. Possibly Simple Minds’ first. At least one of the first, blazing a trail for more killers that follow…I Travel, Celebrate, This Fear Of Gods, Love Song, The American…the list goes on (and on and on 😜).

And that is why I love Changeling.

(PS: Jim can’t mime to save his life….but I bloody love him anyway!)

Why I Love…New Warm Skin

I cannot reiterate how great a lot of Simple Minds B sides are. Most of them became an “also ran” at the expense of a song that makes it onto an album. I would easily swap Special View for Sad Affair, for example. Others would swap Veldt for Kaleidoscope (as although the song wasn’t released until the I Travel single – as a special flexi disc bonus – it had been formed during the Life In A day tour, so could have easily been recorded during the Real To Real Cacophony sessions).

But when it comes to NWS, it’s difficult to shelf something from Empires And Dance to make way for it. This time, they did make the right choice leaving it for the B side to I Travel.

The drummer girl here loves that intro. It hasn’t got the usual synth sound we get from Mick. And there really isn’t much of Charlie’s guitar over it. Just brief little riffs and licks.

It is a different beast to what else is on Empires And Dance. Musically the tone is much lighter. And there is…for its time, a very traditional “verse/chorus/verse/chorus” structure to Jim’s songwriting on this. Most unusual compared to most everything else of the period.

There is a demo version. Recorded during early EAD sessions. I’m sure after the R2RC fiasco, Arista INSISTED upon demos. I bet they still didn’t know what to do with them. I mean…seriously!? How can you have acts like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith on your label, yet Simple Minds leave you dumbfounded? HOW?! It makes no sense!

Lines from the demo alter to the studio version. Instead the skin being “expensive to touch” for being “novocaine skin” – it’s “expensive to touch” for being “American skin”. And what was once “ugly as sin” is now “transparent and thin”. The third verse in the demo is pretty much a repetition of the first, whereas in the studio version it has been refined and expanded. “…Contorted dreams of the beauticians that pray / crawling out of this heat and drifting this way…”.

I have always been most intrigued by those lines that end each verse, “Is this a war? Is this a god?” A war on what exactly? The natural beauty of the human face? A god? A new god…one that has refined and “perfected” how the human face should be?

Of course, many years later, Lostboy! AKA Jim Kerr revisits those lines and reuses them in the track Nail Through My Heart, with a musicality to the track not a million miles away from New Warm Skin. Defeated in “war” by the superficial, perhaps? “You put a nail through my heart / nail through my heart / then you discarded me. Corrupt from the start / you pushed it too far / then you discarded me. You put a mark on my skin / let yourself in / no escape for me.”

Musically, NWS has more of a “new wave” tone to it than what else is on Empires And Dance. The album is a Euro-centric dance, trance, travelogue…definitely still rooted in post punk and not quite yet new wave – well not as I differentiate new wave to be.

I mean those three/four albums from 1979 to 1981 – Real To Real Cacophony/Empires And Dance/Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call – progress yet bridge together so amazingly well. Each a stepping stone to the next and the next. Then…the big leap! The huge curve ball. The stand-alone. The “nothing before it or after”. The freak. The beast that is New Gold Dream.

I hear similarities in the synths of New Warn Skin to what’s on Are Friend’s Electric? and Cars. Simple Minds were very much getting away from wearing their influences on their sleeve by that point, so NWS is a slight hark back in that respect. But I am sure that by this point in the game any similarities in sound were purely subliminal or coincidental.

How deeply we should dissect the track I am unsure. I mean, what is it after all? A parable on the the pursuit for human “perfection”? Superficiality – the ultimate cost of vanity? Is that such a heavy subject? I suppose even still in 1980, plastic surgery was in its infancy – in terms of it deemed as a “standard” procedure. Nobody bats an eyelid over facelifts now – mostly because nobody CAN…if you get my gist?

In musical tone there’s a cool and a heat to it. I like the pace of the chorus…the layers of the backing vocals.

There’s more electronica to come with the sound of Simple Minds. New Warm Skin leads on to Love Song, This Earth That You Walk Upon, Seeing Out The Angel and Theme For Great Cities…and most other tracks on the Sons and Sister albums.

I’d hazard a guess we weren’t meant to take New Warm Skin TOO seriously. I’m pretty sure the younger Jim would not have relished his lyrics being dissected like this. I’m not much sure the older Jim sees much point in it, either.

But it’s what I like to do. It deepens meaning, emphasis, musical enjoyment. I just like to exercise a curious mind. See if I can derive a meaning from the songs, musically and lyrically. “What did Jim mean by that? Does it mean anything? Is my interpretation of things what others’ hear too? Am I the only one that hears this, this and this?”, and so forth. It keeps me happy and occupied (“Not bloody occupied ENOUGH!” shouts Mr Kerr from his Glasgow panic room. Lol).

It’s just a little electronic gem with catchy lyrics.

And that is why I love New Warm Skin. (Demo and studio versions follow.)

The Master Of The Art

I’m always flicking through the pages of the music mags. Not much really has me stopping for too long. (Perhaps to my detriment? A slow reader’s curse that to be drawn in to read something, you REALLY have to grab their attention – going by my own experience anyway.)

I suppose I am finding myself studying Lou Reed quite a bit of late. Not in an involving and methodical way like I have done with others who end up deeply piquing my musical interest. Bowie very much became a study piece as much as a musical exploration. If I’d have taken an OU degree in English Lit. say, Bowie in some way or other could have ended up the subject of my thesis.

I can feel it possibly going that way now with Lou Reed. Exploring his work deeper. I am certainly starting to feel that sense of the story itself being as important as the music. But I think that is what usually pulls me in to those musical artists I admire and covet most. They are great storytellers, either by encapsulating the narrative verbally, or creating a visual palette of what is being told with an inner visual artist flair. (John Foxx’s description of Jim Kerr being the “the best internal movie director” always springs to mind. It is my favourite description of Jim as a songwriter and it is just so…”on point”, as the whippersnappers say these days).

I really am starting to get that there is much more to Lou than meets the eye.

Why I Love … Today I Died Again

It’s that … cold war Europe sensibility and style it has. Actually, it’s more post-war (The Great War), 1930’s, really. It’s Christopher Isherwood Berlin. Not flappers and sharp-suited men…later…early 1930s….now more the time of “austerity” (and how relevant does it make this song now?!), mass unemployment – post Wall Street Crash and the Hoover Dam project and, In America, Roosevelt’s New Deal.

There’s an “austerity” to the song. The musicality of it. It starts slow and sparse. A very slow dum beat – echoey, long bending bass notes. And a very dreary, dour synth. There’s a bleakness to it. Lyrically, Jim sets up the scene, “the human drum beats a rhythm of life / the clothes he wears date back to the war”. Which war? In my mind, the Great War (WWI) – but most likely he means WWII – they are some mighty old clothes to be had for 1980, either way!

Moving on from those opening lines…the lyrics printed in the album’s sleeve have the next line as being “he talks a lot / often to himself” but it isn’t what Jim sings on the album. The line alters slightly…and brings you in more as a listener “you talk a lot / often to yourself”. Talking to oneself always deemed a sign of mental illness. “What’s the first sign of madness? You talk to yourself. What’s the second sign? You answer back!” So…who’s mad? The protagonist in the song? Or you, the listener?

With the imagery I get from early Simple Minds songs, in particular, it’s very prescient that Jim should use the line “paint me a picture” because it is exactly what his lyrics do for me. They paint me a picture. They create a whole scene, in fact. A whole little play. It varies from still images as a slideshow, an actual painting on its own, or a short movie.

He goes on “America can fall”. The love of Capitalism its fall? The Wall Street Crash? Was he prophesying the second crash that is to come in 1987?

The title itself…and the lines expressing it are the most curious. There’s really a strong expression of nihilism and even oppression in it…with little recourse of showing a way out – as the most optimistic of Simple Minds songs will convey. And as much as I draw strength from the upbeat and optimistic SM tracks…I can draw, if not out and out positivity from the more “dour” of SM tracks, I can gain a strength and a resolve from them all the same.

There’s a nostalgic look back to “better days” within the lyrics too. “Back to a year / back to a youth. Of men in church and drug cabarets” hence my feeling of the setting of the song, time wise, as being the 1930s. Namecheck for the album “is this the age of empires and dance? Oh, what a world…”

There is so much of this album that is “film noir”. I don’t think I will ever fall out of love with it.

The last 90 seconds of the song is just the culmination of all of its components. Jim’s title of the song hauntingly just bending and weaving and echoing. The instruments building on a crescendo…and that final 30 seconds in which Brian increases the pace of the beat with added lovely cymbal splashes. Just … mwah! Perfection.

And then we fade away and on into Celebrate (which I have previously tried to put into words as to why I love without using just the single word “PHWOAR!” to suffice. Lol)

If Today I Died Again was represented by a painting, it would be this (for me)…
It is titled “Self-Portrait with Model” (1916) painted by Erich Heckel. The very same artist whose work inspired cover art for the albums “Heroes” by David Bowie and The Idiot by Iggy Pop.

And that is why I love Today I Died Again.