Simply Red is an English pop band, whose style draws influences from pop, rock, jazz, reggae, and blue-eyed soul. Over time, the name “Simply Red” has come to refer less to a specific group of musicians, and is widely regarded as a name for Mick Hucknall’s recordings.
Simply Red’s roots originate from the notorious 1976 Sex Pistols’ gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Art student Mick Hucknall was one of the many young music fans present, along with original members of Joy Division, The Smiths and Buzzcocks, who was inspired to form a band after witnessing that gig. The first incarnation of the band was a punk group called The Frantic Elevators. This band existed for seven years, with limited releases on local labels, but split in 1984 with only limited local attention and critical acclaim for their final single, “Holding Back the Years”.
After the demise of The Frantic Elevators, Hucknall linked up with manager Elliot Rashman. By early 1985 Hucknall and Rashman had assembled a band of local session musicians and began to attract record company attention. Around this time the group adopted the name Simply Red (after Hucknall’s nickname, which denoted hair color, football allegiance to Manchester United and left-wing political affiliation). They signed to Elektra in 1985, with the somewhat changeable line-up of Hucknall, Tony Bowers (bass), Fritz McIntyre (keyboards), Tim Kellett (brass), Sylvan Richardson (guitar) and Chris Joyce (drums).
Their first single, released in 1985, was “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)”, a cover of a soul standard originally recorded by The Valentine Brothers. This single had international success, reaching the UK Top 20, later the American, French and Dutch Top 30, and the Italian Top Five, beginning a successful career in Italy, sometimes more successful than in the UK. Their debut album, Picture Book, was also released in 1985.
In 1986 the band re-recorded a song that The Frantic Elevators had recorded earlier, “Holding Back the Years”, in a more accessible pop style, which was this time a major hit, peaking at Number Two in Great Britain, Number 20 in Italy and later Number One in the United States, establishing Simply Red as a household name. The song remains the band’s most recognized work. The album began to sell more copies, and became an international hit album.
Their second album, 1987’s Men and Women, saw the band adopting a more sober and professional image, with bowler hats and colorful suits replacing their earlier ragamuffin look, and the introspection and social commentary of their debut replaced by a blue-eyed soul sound with funk influences. Despite Hucknall’s bad reputation and the album’s mixed reviews, Men and Women was a commercial success.
With their third album, A New Flame, in 1989, Simply Red adopted a yet more mainstream populist sound aimed for commercial rather than critical success, typified by their cover of Harold Melvin’s pop classic “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, which became their second U.S. Number One hit and one of the biggest singles of the year internationally; and their greatest success until now. Hucknall was by this time an international superstar, being photographed with models and Hollywood celebrities. This seemed to harm the band’s coherence as a unit, with Hucknall declaring in 1991 that Simply Red was “essentially a solo project”.
The band’s popular career peaked later that year with the release of Stars, which became the best-selling album for two years running in Europe and the UK (though notably had far less success in the US than their previous albums). Stars mixed Hucknall’s anti-Thatcherite political lyrics with an easy-listening lounge-jazz sound, apparently to avoid alienation of their existing fan base.
After touring and promoting Stars for two years, Simply Red returned in 1995 with “Fairground”, a dance-influenced track featuring prominently a sample from Zki & Dobri’s Goodmen project. A massive radio hit, “Fairground”, went on to become the band’s first British Number One, amid critical panning. Its parent album, Life, sold more than a million copies in the UK alone, making it the fourth-biggest seller of the year. The band followed this up with cover-heavy Blue in 1998.
Then came Love and the Russian Winter, an album that many fans (and Mick himself) haven’t appreciated too much. Subsequent releases have mostly been greatest-hits collections, although the band did release Home in 2003, a mixture of original songs and covers, including a version of The Stylistics’ song “You Make Me Feel Brand New”. Simplified followed in 2005, mainly an album of stripped down versions of their Classic hits.
Simply Red released their tenth studio album worldwide in March 2007 called Stay. This was preceded by the new single, “So Not Over You”. The band will be on an accompanying tour during the first half of 2007.