Saturday, June 03, 2023

Kat's Korner: Simply Red's just marking TIME

Kat: 36 years ago.  That's about how long ago it was. April 19, 1987, if you need a specific date.  There was Tom, that cute high school boy.  In mechanic shop.  Lot of people found him cute.  The next week, a teacher would have the hots for him.  The week prior he was still torn up about his dad, Tom Sr., dying a few years prior.  He was sensitive like that.  And Sunday nights were all about wondering what Tom would do next?

It was Johnny Depp's world and we were just along for the ride and could be cut out at any minute -- all of us, even Simply Red.  

"America, What A Town" aired April 19, 1997.  The broadcast featured not one but three Simply Red songs.  If you watch it now, you don't hear the songs, they've been replaced with generic crap so I guess they didn't have the rights to use the songs in syndication and streaming.  Click here for a clip of the episode with Simply Red's "The Right Thing" starting at the 20 second mark and then click here for the full episode at FILM RISE without Simply Red's songs. 21 JUMP STREET was a new show on FOX and, in addition to featuring the songs of Simply Red in that episode, the group's hit "Holding Back The Years" was also being used in TV spots focusing on Johnny's cute face to promote the new show.

All these years later, does anyone remember Simply Red?

I do. 

Here in the US, they had a string of top forty hits: "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)," "Holding Back The Years" (a number on pop hit in the US), "The Right Thing," their cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (another US number one) and "Something Got Me Started."  Starting in 2003, they'd notch up six US adult contemporary hits before breaking up in 2010.  So 11 hit singles in the US. Over in England, they'd have 31 top forty hits -- only one number one, though ("Fairground").  They were from England, a British soul group.  In the UK, they haven't had a hit since 2007.  A lot of people tie their inability to connect with fans into the band leader's very vocal cheering on of the Iraq War.  Simply Red has now had 13 singles that have failed to chart in their home country.  That includes three from the album that came out last week, TIME.

There's said to be a lot riding on their performance tomorrow night at The Festival de Nimes in France -- where TIME has failed to chart.  (It has made the album charts in the UK and in Germany).


What is TIME?  12 tracks.  

Listening to it, I immediately think of Barbra Streisand's WALLS -- easily the worst album she ever recorded and, sadly, the last studio album she might ever record -- the voice has thickened -- not just in the upper range but also in the chest register.

So avoid it because it's like WALLS?

No.  That's not what I'm saying.  TIME is musical, it's very musical.  It also tries to tackle some issues, like WALLS did, only Mick Hucknall, singer, band leader and songwriter (solo on every one of the 12 tracks) actually comes up with songs that, had they been on WALLS, would have saved Barbra Streisand a lot of embarrassment.

"Hey Mister" absolutely would have been an improvement.  The same with my personal favorite "Butterflies."

Mick has always had songwriting talent.  Barbra's talent and judgement is questionable.  She fled pop music to go back to being an 'old lady' doing old songs and then she thinks the pop world's going to welcome her back.  No?  She destroyed her own career with THE BROADWAY ALBUM and all that followed.  Most of it was sap and nonsense and she may have returned to 'The Songbook' but she brought her disco phrasing and her contemporary pop phrasing with her so, in the mid 80s through 90s, this was not the talent she showed -- sported! -- on THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM, it was instead really bad performances of show tunes.  

In the 70s,  she'd finally -- thanks to Richard Perry, Laura Nyro and a host of others -- found pop success.  She ruled the pop charts.  As the eighties kicked off, she dismissed the notion that she'd go back to singing show tunes in public statements.  But she did GUILTY -- her best selling album of all time -- and then when her next studio album came out, EMOTION, it didn't do as well (though it did sell a million copies in the US) so she went running back to show tunes.  

A person with good judgment would have said, "Hmm?  Maybe I bilked too many people out of hard earned money with the garbage that was MEMORIES and I needed to work to win them back over?"  Because she did bilk them out of their money.  She followed 1980's GUILTY with 1981's MEMORIES that sold five million copies in the US but was nothing but two new recordings and past filler, tracks that had pretty much all already shown up on 1978's BARBRA STREISAND'S GREATEST HITS VOLUME II.  And she'd bilked them in another way.  While Tom Petty spent the late seventies arguing for lower lp prices, Barbra's lps were just costing more each release.  She led the way in price hikes on albums.  

In 1987, while Barba was fleeing pop music in disgrace, Diana Ross recorded "Shine" on her album RED HOT RHYTHM AND BLUES -- a song written by Mick Hucknall.  It was a great song and she did a wonderful job on it.  

For all the applause from critics, THE BROADWAY ALBUM never managed to outsell GUILTY (Barry Gibb wrote some great songs for that album).  And what happened next was exactly what Clive Davis had told her would happen -- was happening -- back as the seventies started, her album buying audience would get smaller and smaller if she didn't update her sound.  Following her return to Broadway, her multi-platinum album sales fell to platinum and then to gold.  And this was at the height of her vocal power.  And then to non-existent unless she did a gimmick like PARTNERS -- where the faded singing voice resorted to a lot of talking instead of singing and paired herself with Billy Joel, Lionel Richie and a lot of other men including the dead for decades late Elvis Presley.  The gimmick worked.  Once.  She tried to pull it a second time -- with film stars -- and it didn't even go gold.  

Her retreat was the stupidest thing in the world and returning to the genre she started in only demonstrated that she really couldn't go back -- no matter how many lying critics tried to praise garbage like HIGHER GROUND and BACK TO BROADWAY.

 She was a force to be reckoned with as she tackled The American Songbook in the 60s and then she became a force in the contemporary pop genre from 1971 to the early eighties.  And then she made herself nothing.

Which brings us back to Simply Red.  TIME is nothing special.  It's a tuneful album.  I could listen to each track again.  But I won't because it's just sort of dull.  Mick trying to reclaim his past without ever grasping what made him and the band so great to begin with.  

"Holding Back The Years" and "If You Don't Know Me By Now."  Blue eyed soul tearing up ballads.

Mick can't really write that anymore.  Okay.  That doesn't mean he can't cover other artists.  He wrote "Holding Back The Years" but "If You Don't Know Me By Now" was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and Teddy Pendergrass' vocals on it (fronting Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes) made it a hit 17 years before Simply Red ever recorded it.

So if he can't write it, he can interpret it.  Take any ballad off any of the first three solo albums by George Michael, for instance.  Hell, take any track -- even a fast song but slow it down -- from those first three albums and you've got a real shot at a hit song.

I don't hear a hit song on TIME.  I hear some nice music.  Reminds me of a lot of people who never stood out.  They released nice albums but they didn't have the spark.  Carole Bayer Sager, for example.  She writes great songs.  But those seventies albums?  And even 1981's SOMETIMES LATE AT NIGHT?  They had no spark and no life.  The songs on them were great.  Later on, Diana Ross did a great "Come In For The Rain" cover, Michael Jackson brought real life into "It's The Falling In Love," Rita Coolidge nailed "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love," and both Joyce Kennedy and Chaka Khan did defining work on their covers of "Stronger Than Before."  But as presented on Carole's own albums?

She had a distinct voice and could have been a huge hit maker as a singer.  (She is a hit maker as a songwriter.)  The albums, however, always sounded like a generic piano bar recording.  You weren't going to boo and you'd gladly have the sound as background noise, but it was nothing you would ever pay money for.

And that's pretty much what TIME is.