If you were a British pop act in the mid-Eighties, then most likely you drew from Motown and ’60s/’70s R&B as an influence. Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Eurythmics, Sade, Heaven 17, George Michael…it was obvious that all of those acts listened to their fair share of Smokey and Marvin. You can certainly lump Simply Red in with those acts. Lead singer/focal point Mick Hucknall probably had the most soulful voice of the bunch, which had to at least partially made up for the fact that he wasn’t the prettiest of men.
Simply Red’s career got off to a blazing start in the U.S ., as their debut single “Holding Back the Years” rose to the #1 spot on Billboard’s pop chart in 1986. They were nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy, but lost to Bruce Hornsby & The Range, to the delight of Matt Wardlaws everywhere. 1987’s follow up, Men & Women found Simply Red working with legendary Motown songwriter/producer Lamont Dozier, but the album didn’t achieve the same level of success.
Two years later, the band was back on the scene with A New Flame, and the breezy funk of the album’s first single, “It’s Only Love” took the band to it’s highest ever R&B chart ranking, stopping at #21 (it peaked at #57 on the pop list.) One thing I didn’t realize for a couple of years was that “It’s Only Love” was a cover of a Barry White tune. Entitled “It’s Only Love Doing It’s Thing,” it was a standout cut on Barry’s 1979 album Barry White-The Man.
I will say, all due respect to BW-but Mick owned this one. His delivery is passionate, and as embarrassing as ‘80s videos can be, this one’s pretty damn classy. There’s some romantic slow dancing, and Mick lip-synchs his homely ass off. It’s one of the band’s finest moments, and it set the stage for their next single, a remake of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” that became their second chart-topper and won songwriters Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff a Grammy for Best R&B Song.
Simply Red continued scoring hits into the Nineties (especially in their native UK, where 1991’s Stars is certified 12X Platinum and the 6th best selling album in that country.) Mick and his boys continue on to this day, having recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. Mick’s still redheaded, and still not the handsomest of men, but that hasn’t apparently stopped him from bedding his share of comely ladies. Must be the voice.