Top 40 Smash Taps: “See the Lights”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

I wonder if Simple Minds would have been chosen to record the song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” for the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club if they had still been operating under the name Johnny & The Self-Abusers. Of course, that outfit was more of a distant relation than a direct ancestor of the Scottish band that favored the lush and the gently epic. Vocalist Jim Kerr and multi-instrumentalist Charlie Burchill, friends since childhood, may have started by shredding eardrums together in the earlier band, but their collective voice was completely different by the time they started playing and recording under the name Simple Minds with an ever-shifting line-up behind them.

They’d had a reasonable robust career in Europe with barely a whiff of interest stateside when they were encouraged by their label, A&M, to record the soundtrack song that several other artists had turned down. It wound up going all the way to the #1 spot on the Billboard singles chart (spending one week there in between chart-toppers from Madonna and Wham, making it an especially eighties-riffic stretch) and suddenly made Simple Minds an incredibly viable rock act in America, despite the little detail that they didn’t even write their most popular song. Remarkably, given the song’s prominence and it’s presumed eligibility for the award, it wasn’t an Oscar nominee for Best Original Song. While the mid-eighties were a unusually competitive period for that honor, there are at least a couple actual nominees that certainly haven’t had the same sort of lasting cultural impact (and that’s without even mentioning that the eventual winner hasn’t aged especially well).

Simple Minds had Top 40 hits with their next three , all from their seventh studio album, Once Upon a Time, although there was progressively less interest in each new offering. They weren’t especially prolific any longer, but they did keep coming out with new music. There was only one more trip into the Top 40, though. It came with the lead single from their 1991 album Real Life. It may be unduly dismissive to characterize the song this way, but it’s hard to hear it as anything other than an effective extension of the band’s brand. It’s a mid-tempo ballad that is full and glistening, like some sort of ornate goblet melted down and reformed into musical notes. I don’t know that the band was that cynical about the song, but it does have something of a rote feel. It peaked, of course, at #40.

As far as I can glean, the band never really broke up although the occasional hiatus did take place. Their also grew to be less and less of a vital presence when it came to creating new music and more reliant on accumulated nostalgia to fill out touring gigs. Their most recent studio album was 2009’s Graffiti Soul, which went Top 10 in the U.K., Belgium and Switzerland. It had a deluxe edition that included a second CD of all covers that looks truly frightening.

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells

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