I’d like to put forward a case which would upset my younger self;
Simply Red aren’t bad at all.
In fact they’re pretty good.
And that’s pretty good as in ‘well above par’, rather than pretty good as in ‘decent…. for a pop band’.
Let’s start with a subjective opening opinion.
“ Mick Hucknall is one of the finest UK soul singers of all times“.
Pretty ballsy way to start- but let’s go with it.
It’s a fair point to say that when we think about the Red One we often get distracted by everything outside of the music; the 50 million plus record sales, the girls, the lifestyle, the diva reputation. But, and similar to what we think of when we hear the name Elton John, we forget that the most important thing with a musician should always be the music, and how it is delivered.
For Simply Red that music, and that delivery, comes through Hucknall’s voice, a voice right up on par with Burdon, Springfield, Morrison and Cocker.
Hucknall, like all good singers- and especially soul singers- can achieve the purpose of soul music; he can change the mood of another person through his voice.
His voice carries the song’s structure and melody; the key elements of a song which affect a person’s thoughts. Changing thoughts then has the knock-on effect of changing a person’s actions, which then affects their behaviours.
The best singers in the world evoke total silence in a room not out of respect but as a sign of the transformative power of their music; the music being so powerful that it has changed our thoughts and actions. They have almost willed us to be meditative, reflective and still.
With Hucknall what is perhaps more interesting is how he uses his voice as an instrument to provoke feeling. Yes we know that he can hold a note and sing well, but (although we’ve heard the songs hundreds of times) do we know the words to ‘For your babies’ or ‘Something got me started’? Probably not.
That’s not shoddy delivery, that’s an intentional desire to suggest that in soul music, the words possibly aren’t that important.
It’s the feeling the music creates that is important.
And on that one-two, here’s my second belief;
“ Mick Hucknall is one of the finest UK soul writers of all times”
I’ll whisper it, but there is also a case to argue that Hucknall brought soul music into the 21st century; taking the Ray Charles original paradigm for soul music (mixing old standards from gospel and blues with newer R&B and jazz sounds) and adding 90’s defining electronic beats (house music for ‘Fairground’ and minimalist trip hop sounds for the likes of ‘Angel’) in turn producing a template later picked up by the likes of Everything but the Girl, Dido, and most of the turn of the century output from William Orbit.
Removing hip-hop from this analogy, but with the possible exception of Marvin’s ‘Midnight Love’ (which moved soul from it’s 70’s soul-funk era into an 80’s syncopated rhythm) it’s unlikely that another soul artist has done so much to fashion the sound of soul for a generation of artists. Simply Red’s style became the standard for most soul acts across the 90’s.
Live, performing ‘Stars’ on it’s 25th anniversary you get to see all of the strengths of Simply Red in action; Hucknall manages to transform people’s emotions by showing off the strength of his voice and his songwriting.
Yes it’s a little bit ‘Hi di hi’ in places, and yes it’s a gig for the Marks & Spencers/ Waitrose crowd, but it’s also a gig to witness the power that soul music can have.
Simply Red aren’t bad at all.