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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

The Songs That Saved My Life #6: Theme For Great Cities - Simple Minds

In 2024, it's 40 years since I first started buying records properly, so it seems as good a time as any to look back at the records that really shaped my tastes, such as they are. And as Moz said, "don't forget the songs that made you cry and the songs that saved your life..".

Instrumentals to me as a teenager meant The Shadows, Peter Gunn by Duane Eddy, Telstar - things I grew up with from the telly, my parents' record collection and the radio. As my own tastes took shape, Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer, theme of 1984's Beverley Hills Cop, the film that shot Eddie Murphy to stardom, was a favourite, the first instrumental I remember loving. It's terrible and has not aged well. But the heart wants what the heart wants.

By 1985, 15 year old JO'B is smitten with Simple Minds. I have documented my falling for Simple Minds elsewhere (Simple Minds – Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call). In 1985 - 1989, they were in my top five bands, along with New Order, The Smiths, Depeche Mode and David Sylvian. I still love them and will see them yet again in March in London.


I loved their scissor-kicking, air punching, waist-coat wearing, mullet adorned stadium rock. I loved their political, campaigning, rabble rousing period. But most of all, I loved their arty, synthesiser driven early 80s post-punk meets New Romantic music.

Before I got to their 1981 classic albums Sons And Fascination / Sister Feelings Call, I bought an old 12 inch single - Promised You A Miracle. Back then, finding vinyl from singles released a few years ago was a doddle. Our local Our Price was a treasure trove. These days it's a case of crate diving in charity shops or looking at eye-wateringly inflated prices on Discogs.

Promised You A Miracle was fabulous - crashing synths, obtuse, abstract lyrics, weird, ambient breaks funky bass. I loved it. And I was 14 when I bought it, three years after it was released. I was fascinated by the cover of New Gold Dream (81+82+83+84) - it looked like some historical or religious artefact (see Decades – 1982). But I was 14. Money was too tight to mention (no, that's Simply Red - wrong "simple"). So I settled for this 12 inch single first - it was in the sale, only £1. Yay!

Back then, with no internet or Spotify, and limited money, whatever I bought, I played. And played to death. B-sides were nearly as important as the lead A-side. I played both sides of anything I bought and felt ripped off if it was just an instrumental of the A-side.

The B-side of Promised You A Miracle was an instrumental, but not a version of its lead song. It was a track from their previous album (well, one of them - they released two albums simultaneously in 1981).

It was mesmerising - no Jim doing his best Bowie meets Ferry meets Bono vocals. And his vocals and obscure, stream of consciousness lyrics appealed to me - youth, travel, Constantinople, changlings, empires, cacophony (I had to looked that word up) - they sounded important, they conjured pictures in an imagination that, other than a trip to Australia, had very very limited experience of anything outside of North West Kent and Ireland. I liked how his lyrics made me feel and the images I saw in my mind.

This was different. No voice, just icy synths, angular, chiming guitars and brilliant drums. But the lead was its incredible, funky bass guitar. Derek Forbes, their bass player, was a genius - his rhythmic, spine-rattling, bass lines still bowl me over. The bass is the whole epicentre of this song.

I play Theme For Great Cities still with alarming regularity (it's blasting out of my stereo right now - Mrs JO'B is at the gym and the neighbours are away). Every year it appears in my Spotify wrap up of the year in my Top 100 (often top 10), no matter how much great music has been released that year.

I saw Simple Minds in 2012 play a tour focused solely on their first five albums (if you count Sons & Fascination / Sister feelings Call as one album). The show was incredible, the best I have ever seen them. I was anxious during the first two parts of the gig that they hadn't played it. But then the encore kicked in with Theme For Great Cities as its opening song. I was, I am unashamed to say, knicker-wettingly excited. It was huge.

It's the soundtrack to some lost 80s sci-fi film. or some cool, Berlin based, late 70s spy film. Numerous dance acts have sampled it, including The Prodigy. If you listen to Manic Street Preachers' Walk Me To The Bridge - you can hear the influence. And it showed me that you didn't need lyrics to have a great song - indeed I love a great instrumental (see Louder Than Words – 21 fantastic instrumentals).

For me, it's the song the encapsulates the band, it's the perfect song to walk along to, my headphones shutting out the world, nearly 40 years after I first heard it. And if they play it again in London in March, I will endeavour not to get overexcited again and embarrass promises though..

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x

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