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Guitarist Charlie Burchill sizes up our Simple Minds playlist—which doesn’t include the band’s biggest hit

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Charlie Burchill, left, and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds.
Photo: Dean Chalkley / Courtesy

When “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” the Keith Forsey/Steve Schiff-penned theme to John Hughes’ now-classic film The Breakfast Club, was first offered to Simple Minds in 1984, the band rejected it. “We love it now,” says Minds guitarist Charlie Burchill, chuckling. But at the time, Simple Minds was coming off a hit U.K. album—the terrific Sparkle in the Rain—and were writing songs; they didn’t want to lose their momentum.

Finally, an impassioned phone call from Forsey convinced the band, and Simple Minds bashed out “Don’t You” in less than four hours. When the song became a hit, the band was appreciative but still wary, and it chose not to put it on its next LP, 1985’s Once Upon A Time. “Biggest mistake we could make,” Burchill says.

I’m not sure about that. I was a fan of the Simple Minds long before “Don’t You,” and I can’t help but think of the song as an outlier. It’s lovely and very much an emblem of its time, but it doesn’t embody the Scottish band at its best. The Minds—still centered around two founding members, Burchill and singer Jim Kerr—have a discography that ranges from the experimental to the expansive. In anticipation of their October 21 show at the Pearl—and with Burchill’s invaluable judgment—here’s a Simple Minds playlist that goes beyond the warm safety of their biggest hit.

“I Travel” This jittery post-punk dance number has more in common with LCD Soundsystem than “Don’t You.” It recently rejoined the Minds’ live set. “It’s a tricky song to play; it’s very stylized, very robotic,” Burchill says.

“Theme for Great Cities” “This is one of our most covered songs, despite being an instrumental,” Burchill says. A number of trance producers—including Paul Oakenfold and Fluke—considered this 1981 track a proto-Balearic anthem, and tried in vain to improve on its hot, mechanical relentlessness.

“Promised You a Miracle” Burchill jammed out this song’s deathless New Wave riff with then-keyboardist Mick MacNeil as a sort of exercise, thinking it was fun to play but could never be a proper song—until “Jim heard it and said, ‘I could really write to that,” Burchill says. It gave the Minds their first U.K. hit in 1982.

“Waterfront” A one-note bassline, wailing guitar fills, bright keyboard splashes, fist-hitting-face drums and a lyric about rain and rebirth add up to a stadium-sized epic about the Minds’ hometown of Glasgow. “It’s about the [River Clyde], how it drew life to our city,” Burchill says.

“Up on the Catwalk” This aggressive-yet-euphoric takedown of celebrity culture has the energy of a live jam, but it was anything but: “It was constructed,” Burchill says. “We didn’t really play that as a band. We built it.” “Catwalk” is a prime example of the band’s singular gift for making “big music” in the studio as well as onstage.

“Alive and Kicking” The follow-up to “Don’t You” was born under pressure: “We had this enormous hit, but we didn’t write it.” Producer Jimmy Iovine pushed the band to add “twists and turns” to this soaring midtempo number, including backing singer Robin Clark, who’d featured on David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” The result was a No. 3 hit on Billboard’s Top 100—not as decisive as “Don’t You” (No. 1), but “it was close enough,” Burchill says, chuckling.

“See the Lights” It could be Las Vegas’ unofficial theme (or, at the very least, a theme for our Downtown soccer team). Burchill expresses disappointment with the studio version of this one: “It was supposed to have this rise and crescendo, and I don’t think we got it. But we do it really well live. It’s got great drama.”

“Barrowland Star” Aside from quick bursts on “The American” and “See the Lights,” Burchill had never really given into the urge to play a big guitar solo. With this 2018 track, he finally indulged—kind of. “I did it for a laugh; it was me in caricature,” Burchill says. Naturally, Kerr loved it and insisted that it stay on the track.

“The Signal and the Noise” The best track on the Minds’ 2018 album Walk Between Worlds was created with an artifact: an ARP 2600 analog synthesizer, a favorite of Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and others. “I put on a recorder, let it run and just noodled,” Burchill says. The resulting track nods at the Minds’ experimental beginnings, while sounding as contemporary as the bands they inspired.

SIMPLE MINDS October 21, 8 p.m., $36-$82. The Pearl, 702-944-3200.

Tags: Music, The Pearl
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