The song was written at the beginning of 1981 in Edinburgh after a conversation between Jim and John Leckie in which Leckie thought Jim should try his hand at writing a more “traditional” love song. Kerr’s is anything but traditional. In fact, I am firmly of the belief that it is anything BUT a love song. More on that to come.
It started life out as a rough demo. In fact it started life not destined to be a Simple Minds song at all. For Jim was going to gift the song to Jaine Henderson to record. Jaine’s brother, David, former sound engineer of the band (and behind-the-scenes extra member) was running the Hellfire Club, a social rehearsal space and recording studio, located down a small lane just off Derby Street right by where the old CaVa Studio was (with access also via Bentick Street).
Jim and Charlie arrived at the Hellfire Club one night in the winter of 1981. Charlie recorded the basic musical parts, using a drum machine, bass and guitar and Jim recorded a guide vocal for Jaine to record along to. EDIT: For clarity – the original recording that Jaine was involved in took place at the original Hellfire Club location on Carnarvon St. They relocated to the Derby Street site some months later.
With some reluctance, and nervous to try a recording of the vocal in front of Kerr and Burchill, they left the club, leaving Jaine to record her vocal with David at the mixing desk. Not convinced by the outcome (though sounding musically very good – sparse and electronic), and with no ambition to be a singer, for Jaine the idea fell flat. Jim then asked Jaine if Simple Minds could go ahead and record the song themselves. Of course! Jaine had no qualms with that at all.
When discussing it with Jaine back in 2019 when I interviewed her, she said the version she was working on was quite minimalist and stripped back, compared to how it ended up sounding on the single and album. The idea was for it to have a Grace Jones vibe to the sound and vocal. Now THAT is something I’d love to hear! Grace Jones doing a Simple Minds song! Imagine that?! That would be amazing!
There is a demo tape listed on record on the Dream Giver site (see image above). Five songs were recorded at CaVa in February – Valentine’s Day, in fact! The American, Life In Oils, “Twenty One” (working title for Sweat In Bullet), “Checkout” (working title for Careful In Career), and Love Song. These demos eventually get released officially on the Virgin Records produced Silver Box in 2004. CLICK TO HEAR ‘LOVE SONG’ DEMO
Just two weeks later, Love Song is performed for the first time at their gig at Tiffany’s in Glasgow, on March 1st, 1981. CLICK TO LISTEN
And so, more than anything, Love Song is a song about ambition, and a desire for “greatness” – as Jim puts it. Very much not a traditional love song in the “boy meets girl, boy gets girl” sense of it – or even of the unrequited sort “boy meets girl, but boy will never get girl”. It’s neither of those. It’s Jim’s love of success and winners – and of that desire for greatness. The love of ambition. “Ambition in motion!”
Some of the music journalists at the time couldn’t seem to help but give rather disparaging or back-handed praise to SAF/SFC – accusing the promotions department at Virgin Records of “over-hyping” the marketing of Simple Minds. Ouch! (See excerpt of article from The Face further below)
And this idea that the clubs played them to death but they got the cold shoulder from radio – well, perhaps commercial radio and “prime time” radio snubbed them for a time, but the right radio DJs gave them exposure. The likes of John Peel and David Jensen really championed them here in the UK. And I am sure other radio stations around the world would have been playing them! Certainly stations in Canada and Australia did. The right DJ’s who realised there is much depth to “rhythm” as there is to “melody”. One should not be exclusive to or cancel out the other. Why can’t rhythm BE melodic? And vice versa? Is it me that still has no grasp on what exactly melody is? Do I grapple with the basic concept of it?
Speaking of the record company and their hand in things…can we discuss the video made for Love Song?
It is ssooo deliciously bad – it’s good. It’s great! And it has such a hedonistic air to it. The Minds boys act like a right bunch of neds (Scottish term – look it up!) in the video. Well, perhaps Jim is the only one that actually “behaves” himself in the video, though he’s a bit of a shit to the woman in the lift, like “Here, WENCH! Take ma claes and look after ‘em. I’ll be back for ‘em later.” Lol
Let’s pretend we’re storyboarding it here:
- You guys rock up to the nightclub (not before you arrive later by yourself, Jim. Always running late, Kerr, fuck sake!)
- Jim, you get on the decks and do some DJing.
- Kenny, you hit the dancefloor with a couple of dolls
- Charlie, you try muscling in on a game of backgammon(!) and get into a punch-up
- Derek, you try and chat up some guy’s burd
- Mick, you sit at this businessman’s table and as his dinner is served, slap him across the face with his fish supper
- Now, Jim, you come and take a seat (on your haunches!) and sing the song to camera for a bit
- Mick – punch the businessman’s lights out
- Derek, spike the guy’s drink and get into a punch-up with his friend – another bloke piles in and, Kenny, you come help out Derek
- You guys have been acting like right jerks so now people are wanting to leave the nightclub to get away from you – but…hello!
- What’s going on at the entrance to the nightclub? Is there some kind of forcefield in place at the door?
- Derek, Kenny – have a sit down, guys. Just wait for Jim to finish singing
- Mick, “Aye, ‘mon Jim, we want outta here”
- Where the fuck has Charlie gone?!
- Nightclub patrons “Aw, man! We’re gonna be trapped here forever! Who are these dudes? What have they done to us?!”
- Jim – “Time to go, boys! Follow me. Play it COOL AS FUCK! Straight through, lads. Straight through. Watch the burds!”
- The two burds at the back “Aye, those guys were well fit. Why didnae not take us wit ‘em? We want ‘em.”
Me too, ladies. Me too. Well…the guy at the front, anyway. As far as I am concerned he’s the coolest of the cool. But…I get why you dolls were dancing with Kenny. I’d have probably not said no myself! Good old “Consolation Kenny” – sorry, Mr Hyslop. You get bonus points for being a drummer.
Sometimes I think it was lucky I was only 11 years old at the time! And living on the other side of the world! Or perhaps it was THEY who were lucky? Lol
It’s a preposterous concept for a video and yet, it is probably my favourite of all the Simple Minds videos due to its absurdity.
As discussed in a previous post – the video was recorded in a nightclub that was located at the Kensington Roof Garden that was then being leased by Virgin Records.
The talk of the musical approach to Love Song being a subtler one – opposed to how the sound is with I Travel and Empires And Dance is a curious one. I honestly don’t hear any kind of “softening” myself – not with the direct comparison to Love Song To I Travel. And yes, there are softer, calmer pieces like This Earth That You Walk Upon and Seeing Out The Angel – but then there is the ball-breaker that is Boys From Brazil – and how is that “subtler” to anything that is on Empires And Dance?
Listen to that jarring synth coda at the beginning of the song. It almost sits outside of the rest of the song’s structure and plays off kilter to the rest of the song’s rhythm. But there is so much more propulsion to it and funk to it compared to how it sounded as a demo. And Jim has refined and played around with the lyrics a bit. The whole thing became much more streamline. And its placement on the album’s tracklisting is perfect. I am referring to the UK release when I say this, as it is the track that opens Side Two, or the B-Side to the album. Curiously, the albums’ tracklistings are completely reset for the Canadian releases of the albums and Love Song is the opening track for Sons And Fascination’s Canadian print.
As much as it was making a buzz, especially in the nightclubs of the UK and Europe, its sales were (of the time)… mediocre at best in most places around the world. Just sitting outside the UK Top 40 at number 47 – it was, however, their best chart placing of all their singles so far. In Sweden, it broke into the Top 20, reaching number 16. But the best result came from some 12,000 miles away in Australia in which the single broke into the ARIA chart at an impressive number 9 – giving them their first gold record and Top 10 hit! THANK YOU, COUNTRY OF MY BIRTH for having exquisite taste!
Below is a review of Love Song from November, 1981, printed in Australian music magazine Roadrunner – published by an expat Scot, Donald Robertson. It may even be Donald himself that gave the review. No one is credited as giving the review, though when it comes to the album reviews written in the magazine a couple of pages later, credits to the reviewers are given. It may just be the interviewer of the corresponding piece that appeared with Jim – Ruthvven Martinus – as he is the reviewer of the album that appears in those couple of pages behind the Love Song review.
The boys certainly did promote the single quite heavily. Really gave it a push, appearing on music programs over Europe to “perform” the song (quotation marks as sadly most television appearances would be a lip-synching mime to the single or album track. Nothing I’m sure that ever sat well with the band. They would have always wanted to perform it live, I am sure).
There are three different appearances you can watch on YouTube – one is of them on German music program Szene. They are on such a tiny platform. All crammed on it, jostling for some space. Jim plays it wonderfully nonchalant as the album version gets the full musical intro treatment. But once the song gets going, there’s little room for him to perform his wonderful “prowling panther” style lunging moves – and he and Derek almost bump into each other at one point, which results in a bit of a sideways glance and a bit of chuckle between them. VIEW THE VIDEO HERE
The second clip I love to watch is still from a mystery source. No one can really agree where this clip comes from. What TV program aired it. Or even perhaps if the band recorded it in a nightclub somewhere. It’s certainly from 1981 – the clothes and the style of the band sit right within that look – and the fact that Kenny Hyslop is with them on drum duties (they he was still with them early in 1982) would very much keep inline with being 1981. They look as though they’ve had a rough few days. Jim looks the worst for wear – but still by far the hottest and sexist guy around right at that point. Just look at him! The clothes, the moves…he’s just the whole goddamn package right there! And well, the rest of the guys are doing their best to look pretty cool beside him. VIEW MYSTERY NO.2 CLIP HERE
Finally … we return to Oz and to Countdown. Countdown is, of course, Australia’s answer to Top Of The Pops. Anyone who was anyone, even Oz and Kiwi bands – or the international groups and artists that actually decided to tough out the grueling travel times to get half-way around the world, appeared on Countdown. And so with a band like Simple Minds in the country, and Love Song already making such a buzz and sailing up the charts, they HAD to appear! Look at them all! Charlie’s fucking WRECKED! Kenny’s got a tan that any modern day West End Glasgow hipster would be proud of! Derek’s almost in salute to Sir Les Paterson with what looks like a bloody STRING VEST on. Mick also seems to have a bit of a tan – but is his usual understated self. AND THEN THERE IS JIM FUCKING KERR! Head to toe in black (before Charlie took over with that look and made it “standard issue” Burchill) – complete with sunglasses – indoors (I’m sure in an exercise to conceal just how fucking shattered and/or off his tits he is), with this bloody bright, yellow satchell bag that I read on this lady’s blog from loooong ago, that he picked up in a shop in Sydney for the princely sum of $A8.00. I’m not sure what that would equate to in today’s money, or what it equated to him splashing out on it in pounds (given what I imagine the rate of exchange was then – perhaps about £3.00-4.00) but I’m assuming it would be about £20 today. Who knows what delights were in this bag? He told me “sherbet straws” once. I always took it to be code – hence the glasses, eh, Jim?
The most recent uploading of the video to YT sees Greedy Smith of Mental As Anything introducing Simple Minds. Greedy sounds well into them, giving them due praise for being a fantastic live band.
And here we are some 40 years later with the reputation of theirs of being a stellar live band firmly in tact. My tally of seeing them 23 times, to date, in my seven years of Simple Minds fandom (with many more booked to come!) I hope pays some testament to the calibre of performance they achieve to this day.
The song has been a fairly constant site on the setlist over the years. With only the short lull of it not appearing on the setlist during the Street Fighting Years tour of 1989/1990. So, there are many, many live versions that are available to hear. But for finality, it seems apt to share the final time (to date) that it performed live by the band. My recording of them performing in Copenhagen at the Store Vega in March 10th, 2020.
There have also been several remixes made over the years. Beginning with an extended 12” version that was released simultaneously with the release of the 7” version in 1981. There was a remix that was produced in 1992 to appear on the Glittering Prize ‘81/‘92 best of compilation as well as the Themes Volume 5 release. This version was mixed by Charlie and Gregg Jackman. It doesn’t bear too marked a difference from the original album version but I love the subtle remix treatment it has been given. I play this version often.
I shall leave the final words to Jim – featured below. They were written out by Paul Morley and appeared as part of an article that was in the New Musical Express on October 3rd, 1981. Morley wrote the piece out as through a “stream of consciousness” internal dialogue from Jim’s mind. You can read the full article HERE
The amazing and brilliant Dream Giver Redux – it really is the Simple Minds bible and an endless source of information.
Wikipedia – for certain other information on tracklistings and release dates as well as chart positioning information.
Lost Glasgow – more detailed information on the exact location of the Hellfire Club.
Lol-Z on YouTube – for the clip of David Henderson and Jacquie Bradley (and the other ladies from Sophisticated Boom Boom, as well as Clare Grogan) at the Hellfire Club.
Lastly but most importantly – big thanks to Jaine and David Henderson – you can find out more information on the Hellfire Club by visiting the dedicated Facebook page – HERE
One final little extra note is about the image just above. It’s to do with a post that Jim posted on the triggers he uses to remind him of where in the setlist he is during a show. A “visualisation” technique – something he talked about again only recently when posted about watching the drama series Queen’s Gambit. Anyhow – these short bits of notation will spark visual indicators – and you can see the one in the list for Love Song is – the Hellfire Club. All these years down the line and it still sparks the memory.
Thank you for reading this mammoth labour of love.