Simple Minds: how we made Don't You (Forget About Me)

Jim Kerr: ‘I did the big la-la-la-la-la ending because I didn’t have any lyrics’

Jim Kerr, singer

It was the mid-80s and we were on the verge of making it big all over the world, having just released Sparkle in the Rain. However, as with many UK bands, the US was proving tough to crack. Then our record company came to us with an idea. The director John Hughes was making a movie called The Breakfast Club, and they thought it would be a great vehicle for their bands. All this sounded great until they said: “And we’ve got a song for you.”

‘We didn’t give a toss about American high school kidss’ … The Breakfast Club.
‘We didn’t give a toss about American high school kids’ … The Breakfast Club. Photograph: Universal/Rex/Shutterstock

Being chippy Glaswegians, we said: “What? Nah, we write our own songs.” But Bruce Findlay, our manager, said: “Look, go and see the movie, just so you’re not being rude.” A cinema in the West End was hired to show us a rough cut, but we couldn’t give a toss about teenage American schoolkids.

But my wife at the time, Chrissie [Hynde], who was older and wiser, kept badgering me. “I like the song,” she said. “What’s the problem?” Finally, the song’s writer, Keith Forsey, phoned me and rather cleverly said: “I’m a huge fan of the band. How about I just spend a couple of days with you? Maybe we’ll do something in the future.”

We clicked right away, though we did spend rather a lot of time in the pub. Eventually, I started to feel sorry for him. “Maybe we should go into a studio for an afternoon,” I said, “and bang out his tune.” At that stage, the song was just a demo on a battered cassette, with Keith singing over some keyboards. It didn’t sound like something we would do, but in the bonding session with our new best mate we had a go. I added the big “la, la-la-la-la” ending because I didn’t have any lyrics. I said I’d write some, but Keith said: “Over my dead body. We’re keeping that.” By the end, we were sneaking off to our rooms to listen to it.

The Breakfast Club came out three months later, and Don’t You (Forget About Me) was released as a single. MTV were all over it, and soon it was at No 2 in the US charts. A week later, I was sitting in the south of France when I got a call telling me we had an American No 1.

Eight years earlier, in 1977, I’d asked my dad for £100 so we could start the band. He was a brickie’s labourer and just sat there in his vest, like Rab C Nesbitt, thinking we were nuts. “You mean like the Beatles,” he said, “playing in stadiums?” I said: “Probably.” When we performed Don’t You (Forget About Me) in Philadelphia for Live Aid in 1985, my dad was down the front. It was the first of many stadiums – although he never got the £100 back.

Stadium fillers … Simple Minds in 1990.
Stadium fillers … Simple Minds in 1990. Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Charlie Burchill, guitarist

We started bonding with Keith the minute we found out he’d been the drummer in the krautrock band Amon Düül II. He couldn’t believe we were into German experimental music. He thought it was some obscure thing nobody knew about, so we told him how all our early stuff was based around the same repetitive, metronomic grooves. Then, when we found out he had played all the electronic drums on the records Giorgio Moroder produced for Donna Summer, including I Feel Love, we just adored him. He had so much energy, he was dancing in the studio.

We’d just finished Sparkle in the Rain, the biggest, most bombastic album we’d done. So when it came to Don’t You (Forget About Me), I ramped up the intro with these massive power chords. It was almost a caricature – I associated powerchords with American AOR. But it worked.

We made a video in a manor house, surrounded by a load of stuff from a junk shop, wearing really bad clothes we’d been given. So you’ve got this movie about US high-school kids, with a song by a band from Glasgow in a manor house in England. It was the thinnest of concepts, but it became huge.

At the time, we felt the song didn’t suit us, because we had delusions of being ultra-hip. When I listen to it now, it’s obviously a brilliant, well-crafted pop song. I’m embarrassed we dissed it so much.

• Don’t You (Forget About Me) appears on Simple Minds Acoustic, out now on Caroline International.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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