Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in May 1985
We know the back story. Songwriter Keith Forsey shopped the song around. Billy Idol rejected it. So did The Fixx. Most infamously, so did Bryan Ferry. I suspect the Roxy Music scion, chastened by the success of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” went apeshit recording movie themes into the nineties, hoping for that elusive American crossover (anyone remember his Phenomenon theme? Someone had a promotional budget).
A UK New Pop mainstay, Simple Minds had no American profile. A stadium band reluctant to project; a singer with little trouble projecting to the cheapest seats saddled with New Pop arrangements — this is an ideal choice to sell a theme song creating a phony solidarity between band and audience. Yet Simple Minds, with two exceptions, can’t sell the grand gesture, despite their DNA. 1982’s “New Gold Dream” evokes a sunrise behind tall buildings, with an obnoxious herald announcing this dawn, its effectiveness in large part due to the insistent flicker of the synths and the clippety-cloppety drums, yet Utah Saints’ interpolation — go figure — brought the arena rock readiness; the second moment is “Promised You a Miracle,” whose keyboards flicker like a Bic lighter. I hate this song as much as I do OMD’s “If You Leave”: the hand-waving from the stage befouled both acts.
Insisting on quiet moments, open to melodrama, singer Jim Kerr couldn’t get anything right on this anthem. I have a memory of driving home with my parents from Aventura Mall as “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” played. The concluding la-la-la’s struck me as false — I’m of Cuban descent, how could they not? Nothing in his vocal suggested you could tell him your troubles and doubts: the booming arrangement is what INXS copied later on “Never Tell Us Apart” but without Michael Hutchence’s command of the grand gesture. You had to love The Breakfast Club to love “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” If you were too old, the song was Grand Eighties, uninhabited; if you were too young, it was another kind of REO Speedwagon.
Simple Minds wouldn’t know how to follow “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” up. 1985’s Once Upon a Time remains one of the decade’s most uninhabited major hit albums. Miserabilist synth pop duo Tears for Fears did the arena rock gesture with greater conviction. What is “Alive and Kicking” about except its title and mullet waving? “All The Things She Said”? Vibrato and drums. When fogies hate the eighties, these songs represent the sonic signifiers they have in mind. Billy Idol and Steve Stevens would’ve slathered echo to creates some distance. Bryan Ferry would have been reluctant to enunciate consonants. Neither would have gotten a hit, you’d think. If they had, who knows? In 1985, whether it was Madonna or Phil Collins-Marilyn Martin, the digging of their fingernails into the track while keeping their identities would’ve been a harder task than riding along. Maybe Simple Minds could’ve rescued “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” had it not been wedded to a John Hughes movie.