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Simply Red

Simply Red

Under the leadership of vocalist Mick Hucknall -- the only member to play in all the many incarnations of the band -- Simply Red turned from New Wave soul upstarts into British pop institutions, specializing in immaculately tailored, impeccably polished adult contemporary pop with a soulful accent. While Simply Red were hardly unknown entities in the United States -- they reached the top of the Billboard charts twice in the '80s, once with the slow-burning original "Holding Back the Years" and again with a cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know My by Now" -- the group dominated adult-oriented music in Britain and Europe from the late '80s into the early 2000s, racking up such blockbuster albums as 1991's Stars, 1995's Life, and 1998's Blue. Shifting fashions in the 2000s eventually led to the group's disbandment in 2010 but their retirement didn't last long: Hucknall and his longtime saxophonist Ian Kirkham assembled a new lineup of the band in 2015, releasing the album Big Love that year and embarking on a 25th anniversary tour of Stars the next. Over the next decade, Simply Red continued to tour, as well as releasing the occasional new studio album, like 2023's Time.

The band was formed in 1985 by singer Mick "Red" Hucknall with three ex-members of Durutti Column -- bassist Tony Bowers, drummer Chris Joyce, and keyboardist/brass player Tim Kellett -- plus guitarist Sylvan Richardson and keyboardist Fritz McIntyre.

The group signed to Elektra Records and released Picture Book (1985), which featured "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)," a Top 40 cover of a 1982 R&B chart single by the Valentine Brothers, and "Holding Back the Years," a Hucknall original that topped the U.S. charts. The single caused the album to go platinum, and made the group one of the major successes of 1986. Men and Women (1987), which featured two collaborations between Hucknall and soul songwriter Lamont Dozier, was less popular, though it generated the Top 40 hit "The Right Thing." (In the U.K., "Infidelity" and a cover of Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" also made the Top 40.) Richardson left in 1987 and was replaced by guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, who was replaced by Heitor T.P. The third album, A New Flame (February 1989), went gold due to the cover of the 1972 Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes hit "If You Don't Know Me by Now," which hit number one and became a gold single. (In the U.K., "It's Only Love" and "A New Flame" also made the Top 40.)

By the time of their fourth album, Stars, in September 1991, Bowers and Joyce had left, with Shaun Ward joining on bass and Gota on drums, and saxophonist Ian Kirkham had become a permanent member. Stars was a relative commercial disappointment in the U.S. (though it spawned Top 40 hits in "Something Got Me Started" and "Stars" and eventually went gold), but it became a major success elsewhere, especially in the U.K., where it was the best-selling album of 1991, topped the charts for 19 weeks, and spawned the Top Ten hits "Stars" and "For Your Babies" and the Top 40 hits "Something Got Me Started," "Thrill Me," and "Your Mirror." Worldwide, it had sold eight-and-a-half million copies by the second quarter of 1993.

Ward and Gota were gone by the release of Simply Red's fifth album, Life (October 1995), leaving a lineup of Hucknall, McIntyre, Heitor T.P., Kirkham, and backup singer Dee Johnson. The album again proved more of a success at home than in America, topping charts all over Europe, as did its leadoff single, "Fairground," while spending only three months in the U.S. charts. Blue followed in May 1998. It topped the British charts and spawned Top Ten hits in "Say You Love Me" and a cover of the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" at home, but was a negligible seller in the U.S. In November 1999, Simply Red issued Love and the Russian Winter, which reached the U.K. Top Ten, with the single "Ain't That a Lot of Love" (a cover of a Sam & Dave song) hitting the Top 20.

After establishing the label, the band released Home in April 2003. It reached number two in the U.K., with the singles "Sunrise" and a cover of the Stylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New" becoming Top Ten hits. Two years later came Simplified, a collection of old and new songs that hit number three in Britain and number two in the Eurochart. Another two-year absence followed before the notable Stay in April 2007. It hit number four in the U.K. and number two in the Eurochart. By the time of its release, the lineup of Simply Red consisted of Hucknall, Kirkham, Sarah Brown (background vocals), David Clayton (keyboards), Peter Lewinson (drums), Steve Lewinson (bass), Kevin Robinson (trumpet), and Kenji Suzuki (guitar). Hucknall then decided to retire Simply Red but he revived the band in 2015, making a splash with the new album Big Love. Four years later, Simply Red released Blue Eyed Soul, a collection of ten Hucknall originals produced by Andy Wright. The band returned in May 2023 with Time, an album that found Hucknall turning inward on a collection of 12 songs that were once again produced by Andy Wright. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & William Ruhlmann

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