Somewhere (Now and Again) in Summertime

Sep 13th, 2016 | By | Category: The Same River

To be alive is to know something about ebbs and flows. Sometimes everything feels stale and blocked, and the challenges come one after the other. But then a switch flips and doors open, and the challenges give way to opportunities.

Half a lifetime ago, I heard the switch flip. Early in my career as a poorly paid professor, I was counting on teaching summer classes to cover my bills. But enrollment was insufficient, and in late spring I was left for the first time in my adult life with having lots of time — and absolutely not a cent to spare. Summertime looked to be filled with frustration and resentment.

And then a new issue of Outside magazine hit my mailbox, and I opened it to find a double page Nike ad showing a hiker in the rain forest with the caption “If you don’t go, you won’t know.” I knew right then that I had to cancel my lease, dump my possessions at friends’ homes and spend the summer doing something I’d been dreaming of for several years: Riding my bike (nearly) cross country, an experience of a lifetime. I got out of my lease and left almost all my possessions with friends and started pedaling.

It was a given that part of my limited cargo space would be devoted to my Walkman and some cassettes. Six Maxell C90s, to be exact. On each I had recorded two recent albums that would serve as the soundtrack for my long summer bike ride. One that readily made the cut was New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84), released by Simple Minds the previous fall.

I had been a fan of Simple Minds since their 1979 debut, Life in a Day (but somehow overlooked the heavily Krautrock-influenced follow-up, Real to Real Cacophony). But nothing prepared me for their latest, when a major switch flipped for the band. A band that had been largely experimental was now churning out pop songs. But despite the fact that the album produced three hit singles (and reached No. 3 in the British charts), it stood out from typical pop of the day, like a more radio-friendly version of Magazine, Wire or PIL.

More than any of the other albums I had duped for that trip, NGD seemed tailor-made for my adventure. Driven by propulsive beats (great for keeping my legs spinning on those long, lonesome roads out West) and featuring tracks that referenced dreams, summer, brilliant days and prizes, both the words and music seemed just right for the journey. After all, “Glittering Prize” promised that “Anything is possible!”

While I’ve played it many times over the years, the recent release of the deluxe edition of NGD gave me the excuse not only to give it a careful listen but also to hear a range of variations on the themes of its songs.

A ringing guitar kicks off the opening track, “Someone Somewhere (in Summertime).” It’s an anthemic, optimistic song: “Somewhere there is something that one million eyes can’t see/And somewhere there is someone who can see what I see.” The song recalls “Wak(ing) up on brilliant days.” Anchoring the track is Mel Gaynor’s pounding drums and Derek Forbes’ strong bass rhythm — true throughout the album (although Gaynor switched off drumming duties with Michael Ogletree on some tracks, and they both played on the title track). Jim Kerr’s voice gains urgency at end. Right from the start, this album spoke to me at that special time as I journeyed west beyond the state of Ohio to places I had never seen.

The powerhouse rhythm section opens things up on “Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel,” then churns steadily on. The track is mostly stasis — no real development, just a visit to a particular soundscape.

Up next is the album’s first single, “Promised You a Miracle,” announcing itself as a power-pop masterpiece. The song incorporates some elements that line up with contemporaries in the New Romantic movement but also flashes back to progressive rock, particularly the keyboards. And that great guitar break in middle!

 

“New Gold Dream” is yet another stunning pop masterpiece. And it’s still as urgent and vital today as it was in 1982. The hits keep coming with “Glittering Prize,” the first track that the band recorded for the album (in just two days). Guitar like a buzzsaw kicks things off. Listening to the lyrics “We can remember bright skies at midnight …” brings me back to sitting in a campground near where the time zones change well past 10 p.m. watching the sunset — something I’ve not experienced since then.

“Hunter and the Hunted” is a lower key track, but carefully constructed with lots of interesting guitar under the surface. And it has a fascinating back story I did not know until getting the reissue. Strangely enough, jazz legend Herbie Hancock was enlisted to play keyboards on the track. Band members did not know who he was or how lucky they were until afterwards when they mentioned it to others. Ah, for the simplicity of the pre-Internet era.

Wrapping up the disc is “King Is White and in the Crowd,” a menacing and creepy piece. Kerr barks out the lyrics at the end, with the guitar biting behind him.

All those tracks (and a couple others) were included in the original package. The deluxe release adds 39 alternate takes, demos and live versions on CDs plus a DVD of surround and HD mixes and additional material. As someone who is not obsessed with the band, I find most of that material falls into the “interesting” camp. If anything, it’s not the extra music, but the oh-so-campy videos and the nice little book that make this set worth owning.

As I write this, I have recently returned from spending time in two of the key areas of the country that featured in my two-month bike trip. Listening to the album while traveling this year helped me appreciate that just as in 81/82/83/84, I am again fortunate enough to be living in a time of unforeseen possibilities.

Footnote: Also on the tapes were New Order, Psychedelic Furs, Tears for Fears and Wall of Voodoo. The others have been lost to history, unfortunately.

Details

  • Artist name: Simple Minds
  • Title: New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84)
  • Year of release: 1982
  • Year of first hearing by writer: 1982
  • Label of original release: Virgin (2016 deluxe via Universal)
  • Format listened to: LP/CD and streaming
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