What I’ve Been Listening To: Simply Red/Picture Book

Frequent visitors of the blog perhaps may be a bit surprised that I chose to highlight Picture Book by Simply Red. After all, sometimes it may appear I just can’t get enough of classic rock and blues. And while it’s certainly true these two genres form my core wheelhouse, I also enjoy other music.

Released in October 1985, Picture Book was the debut album by Simply Red. I’ve always dug it for its smooth soul and funky sound and Mick Hucknall’s distinct lead vocals. Before getting to some of the record’s music, I’d like to briefly touch on the band’s background.

Simply Red were formed in Manchester, England in 1984. Surprisingly, and I had not known about this until I read it on Wikipedia, most of the initial members came from musical backgrounds that were very different from Simply Red. Lead vocalist Mick Hucknall’s previous music venture was a punk band called The Frantic Elevators. That band was founded in 1976 and in addition to Hucknall (vocals) included Neil Moss (guitar), Brian Turner (bass) and Kevin Williams (drums). After seven years, The Frantic Elevators called it quits – ironically after the release of their fourth and final single Holding Back The Years had finally gotten them some attention.

Simply Red 1985
Simply Red 1985 (from left): Tim Kellett, Sylvan Richardson, Tony Bowers, Fritz McIntyre, Mick Hucknall & Chris Joyce

Following the demise of the Elevators Hucknall teamed up with band manager Elliot Rashman, and they put together a band of local session musicians, which became Simply Red. Their initial line-up consisted of Hucknall (lead vocals), David Fryman (guitar), Tony Bowers (bass), Fritz McIntyre (keyboards and vocals), Tim Kellett (brass, live backing vocals) and Chris Joyce (drums). Bowers, Kellett and Joyce each had previously been members of post-punk bands.

In 1985, Simply Red got a record deal with Elektra and started working in the studio. After recording one tune, Red Box, which would become the B-side of their first single Money’s Too Tight To Mention, Fryman left the band and was replaced by Sylvan Richardson on guitar. Let’s get to some music from Picture Book.

Here’s the opener Come To My Aid, a funky tune with a catchy melody. Co-written by Hucknall and McIntyre, the track also appeared separately as the album’s second single in August 1985.

One of my favorite songs on Picture Book is the second track Sad Old Red. I love the jazz and blues groove of the tune, which was written by Hucknall. It’s the kind of music that makes you snip your fingers.

Next up: A fantastic cover of Heaven, which was co-written by David Byrne and Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads and initially appeared on the band’s third studio album Fear Of Music from August 1979. I like the original but feel Simply Red kicked it up a notch by turning the tune into a beautiful soul ballad.

The second great cover on the album is the above mentioned Money’s Too Tight (To Mention). The song was co-written by brothers John Valentine and William Valentine who performed as The Valentine Brothers and first recorded it in 1982.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Holding Back The Years, the previously noted tune by The Frantic Elevators. Co-written by Hucknall and the band’s guitarist Neil Moss, the song also became Simply Red’s most successful single, topping the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at no. 2 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

Simply Red went on to record nine additional studio albums before disbanding in 2010. By that time, Hucknall was the only remaining original member and Simply Red essentially had become his solo project. In 2015, the band reunited and has since released a new studio album, Big Love, in May 2015 and conducted two anniversary tours.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The Old Whiste Test Logo

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/Ooh Las Vegas (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Rock & Roll High School & Rock ‘N Roll Radio (1980)

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years & I Won’t Feel Bad (1985)

U2/In God’s County (1987)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube