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Pissing off the Taste Police with Simply Red

Here’s a cred rehab I never thought I’d perpetrate, yet here I am, giving qualified props to Mick Hucknall, the much reviled MOR-soul merchant of supermarket and megastore premier shelf space, whose CDs in many households reside alongside those of Céline Dion, Kenny G and Michael Fucking Bolton (as his mother calls him).

Even before he hit the big time in 1985, he was called “the most reviled man Manchester”. Not by New Order, but by the lovely folks of Swing Out Sister. Before the decade was over, he was widely acknowledged “the most reviled man in pop”. I know too little about Hucknall to curse his character. I take the world’s word for it that it is blemished, but suspect that he has many redeeming features.

My abiding dislike of Hucknall is rather more prurient, harking back to the days when he was having a relationship of alleged sexual nature with the lovely Steffi Graf, owner of the greatest legs in sports. I don’t usually picture the copulation of famous people (much less non-famous folks), but upon learning of this revolting mismatch, my mind involuntarily conjured the image of Hucknall on top of the lovely Steffi Graf, his transluscent sweaty arse, polka-dotted with freckles and postules, heaving and thrusting, thrusting and heaving, before delivering his ace (note the entirely unexpected and not at all lazy tennis pun here. But be thankful I did not stoop to the level of opening up the red box, as Hucknall has in song). If I was a sex therapist, this would be the image I’d recommend to young men as a mental remedy to the affliction of premature ejaculation, perhaps photoshopped to replace the lovely Steffi Graf with Margaret Thatcher.

The image of Rutting Mick has done little to enhance the appeal of his music. His version of If You Don’t Know Me By Now didn’t help either. Where Teddy pleaded and soared, Hucknall sucks the life out of the song and vacuum-packs its emaciated carcass. No surprise that he resides next to soul-killing Michael Fucking Bolton on CD racks in middle-class households everywhere. When David Brent in the Christmas special of The Office releases the song as a single, he covers not the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes original, but Simply Red’s version; a deliciously damning indictment of Hucknall’s interpretation.

And yet, Hucknall can belt out a great cover. On Simply Red’s unimpeachable debut, Picture Box, Hucknall delivered an excellent soul version of Talking Head’s Heaven. Hucknall can also write a great tune. Holding Back The Years is so fine a song, it is often assumed that it had to be a cover of some lost soul classic. That song is also proof, if any was needed, that Hucknall is an excellent vocalist, when he can be bothered. No doubt, Hucknall understands soul. All the more a pity that he has sacrificed these intrinsic soul sensibilities so as not to alarm Sharon and Tracey and the rest of his suburban housewive audience.

Picture Book is a consistently outstanding album. After that, there was little by way of consistency. The next two albums can be described most charitably as patchy. I do like 1991’s Stars, even though it is obviously aimed at Sharon and her boyfriend Gary. When it came out, I was in brief danger of becoming a Gary. Nonetheless, on Stars, Hucknall does the sterilised soul-lite thing he does better than at any other time. At least as far as I can tell, for by the time 1995’s Time arrived I had come to resent the indistinguishable sound of Hucknall’s depthless music (and that fucking tooth). All I have heard of Simply Red since has been over the airwaves, the showcase for an artist’s supposedly best work. I remember nothing of it.

Simply Red – Come To My Aid (1985).mp3
Simply Red – You’ve Got It (1989).mp3
Simply Red – Holding Back The Years (1985).mp3
Simply Red – For Your Babies (1991).mp3
Simply Red – Something Got Me Started (1991).mp3
Simply Red – Stars (1991).mp3
Simply Red – Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye (1987).mp3
Simply Red – Fairground (1995).mp3

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  1. Anonymous
    July 25th, 2008 at 21:43 | #1

    Hunknal is one of those singers I, as a soul music aficionado, tend to give a pass to mostly because of the Picture Book album. There’s is some great stuff on that album and I still play it often. But I also like his cover of Barry White’s “It’s only love. I remember it was a hit on Black radio here in New York and he made it his own. I love that tribal beat on “Fairground,” a gem of a track that should have been a hit here in the states. I agree that when he bothers, he’s a great singer. But I, frankly, have never seen Simply Red in the racks of folks who like Celine and Bolton. But I’ve seen Hucknal next to Pendergrass, Smokey Robinson, Redding, Gaye. Anyway, I don’t think he’s really as offensive soul as you make him out to be.Hydrino

  2. jb
    July 26th, 2008 at 04:58 | #2

    Full disclosure: I own a bunch of Simply Red CDs, although I don’t listen to the more recent ones very much. You have hit a number of essential tracks here, particularly “For Your Babies,” which is the best thing Simply Red ever did apart from the title, which is terrible.

  3. Anonymous
    July 26th, 2008 at 16:46 | #3

    Hahaha, soooo funny to read your perception of Hucknall-in-love. Especially if I compare it to my own memories. In 1985 I received my first real kiss, standing right outside the frontdoor of a school party. It was dark, it seemed there was nothing in the world except for this kiss and the sound of ‘Holding back the years’ – that was played inside at the party and seemed to fill the whole school yard. We kissed and we kissed until the song was over and then decided to enter the party. And after all these years, still, if I hear this song, there’s butterflies in my stomach. Not even your picturing of Hucknall copulating can overrule that feeling, hahaha.

  4. My hmphs
    July 28th, 2008 at 17:18 | #4

    I was having coffee with my boss this morning when “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” came on the radio, and he had to stop what he was saying to tell me how much he hated this song. I admire him so much more now.

  5. simmo
    July 17th, 2011 at 13:13 | #5

    Simply Red have been a bit of a guilty pleasure especially Picture Book and Stars, though left for other pastures some time ago.A lot was plastic manufactured and oh so bloody tasteful but when Mr H lets loose, there are few finer singers

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