Significant Songs (21)

Money’s Too Tight To Mention

In 1985, I was still living in Wimbledon, in south-west London. Just off Worple Road, there was a small independent record shop, of the type you rarely see these days. I used to go there every week, and buy single releases that interested me, sometimes ten or twelve at a time. The owner and I had developed a good relationship, and he would bring my attention to new records that he felt were my type of music. He got them all together, and when I arrived, he would play them. I would stand on the other side of the counter, saying yes or no, as he popped them into a bag, or returned them to his stock.

One day, he greeted me with some excitement. He had a brand new release, and he was sure that I would like it. When I heard the title, I told him I was sure that it was an old record. He consulted some large reference books, and sure enough, found an original version, by the Valentine Brothers. They were a not very well-known soul duo, and the song had been around a few years earlier. He started to play the single, telling me it was by a new group called Simply Red. Neither of us had heard of this group, and knew nothing about them, their line-up, or origins. He confirmed that it was a UK release, not an import. As soon as it started, I recognised it from some long-forgotten hearing. The arrangement was virtually identical, and there were no discernible changes from the previous version.

What was there, was a powerhouse vocal, oozing soul, with an incredible range. It went well with the soulful production, and funky arrangements, so it was an instant buy for me. The B side was called Red Box, and had a good piano intro, followed by more huge vocals, and a bluesy feel. I thought that this had to be an American group, and I was sure that the lead singer must be black. On that day in Wimbledon, there was no picture on the cover of the 45, just a plain sleeve. Within a few weeks, the record was in the top twenty, and I saw the group on TV. I was surprised, to say the least. They were from Manchester, in England. The singer, Mick Hucknall, was not only not black, he was very white, with long curly ginger hair, and blue eyes. Dressed in a bohemian style, wearing a large floppy cap, he really did not look as if that voice could come out of him.

The group went on to become one of the biggest ever UK successes, selling over fifty million records, before they split in 2010. Hucknall was to come across as rather boastful, once claiming to be the best singer in the UK, as well as making other self-congratulatory utterances. He was a difficult man to like, and sometimes unappealing to watch. But he can sing, that is undeniable. He went on to record some of the biggest pop hits of the decade, and like him or not, you cannot resist pure talent.

Here is the song, as I heard it that day, twenty-nine years ago. I still like it, and I still like Simply Red.


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