It was 1985 and Simple Minds were in the recording studio with famed producer Jimmy Iovine trying to follow an unexpected hit after finally breaking through in the U.S. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was featured in the movie and soundtrack to The Breakfast Club and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May of that year.
Iovine, whose resume at the time already included Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedos and Stevie Nicks’ debut solo album, Bella Donna, was brought aboard for the sessions for the band’s eighth and most successful album, Once Upon a Time. He was pushing the band hard to create something special, singer Jim Kerr tells Billboard’s Behind the Setlist podcast from his home in Sicily while the band was on break from touring following the release of its 21st studio album, Direction of the Heart, on Oct. 21 through BMG.
“We were already feeling the pressure,” remembers Kerr, “but Jimmy was relentless. ‘You’ve got to come up with something special,’” Iovine told the band. “’You have to come up with something. We have to have something special.’
One result from those sessions with Iovine was the song “Alive and Kicking,” which became the group’s second-biggest U.S. hit and peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 in Dec. 1985. Like its predecessor, “Alive and Kicking” ends in a sing-along Kerr says was borrowed from The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” “It’s almost like a hymn at the beginning. And just when you think you’ve heard it all, the ‘la la la’ comes in at the end — which, coincidentally, ‘Don’t You’ had, too.”
In recent concerts, Simple Minds strategically paired “Don’t You” with “Alive and Kicking” in the encore. Not only are the songs the band’s biggest hits and from the same era, “they’re the sing-along moments,” says Kerr, an opportunity for the audience to participate. “That’s when the whole place sings in tune and where we just stand back and the night belongs to them. It’s a wonderful thing to behold.”
In fact, says Kerr, the genius of those songs is their lyrical simplicity. “The great thing about those choruses is anyone in the world can sing ‘la la la.’ You can sing it in Japan, you can sing it in Oslo. That’s the most intelligent lyric we ever wrote,” says Kerr with a chuckle. “Think about it. The whole world can sing that.”