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Best Simply Red Albums: The Studio Discography, Ranked, Reviewed
List & Guides

Best Simply Red Albums: The Studio Discography, Ranked, Reviewed

Defined by Mick Hucknall’s iconic voice, the best Simply Red albums prove why the group remain the UK’s most-loved blue-eyed soul band.

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Simply Red, the British pop group led by the Manchester-born songwriter Mick Hucknall, are one of the biggest-selling blue-eyed soul groups of all time. With a career spanning over three decades, they have produced a rich discography of 13 studio albums that continues to resonate with fans old and new. Globally renowned for Hucknall’s soaring voice and his band’s unique blend of pop, R&B, soul, funk, jazz and even reggae, it’s no stretch to say that the best Simply Red albums have left a lasting impression on music history.

Whether toying with irresistible melodies on 1991’s Stars or experimenting with an electro-pop sheen on 1998’s Blue, Simply Red have amassed a diverse catalogue that showcases their versatility and musical ambition. Here we take a deep dive into the band’s discography and rank the best Simply Red albums, taking into consideration their cultural impact, musical style and commercial success…

Listen to the best of Simply Red here, and check out the best Simply Red albums, below.

13: ‘Blue Eyed Soul’ (2019)

Having previously expressed his discomfort with the “blue-eyed soul” tag, Mick Hucknall had clearly warmed to it by the time he released Simply Red’s 12th album. “I just wanted to make what I thought was like an R&B record,” he said of Blue Eyed Soul in an interview with Music Week. “I want to stick with the theme of soul and funk as a genre.” A return to the bounciness of Simply Red’s debut album, Picture Book, but with the added twist of 2010s production values, the album features Hucknall’s soulful vocals bumping up against the tightly coiled guitar work of Kenji Suzuki, delivering a fresh-sounding take on funk, R&B and blues.

From the classic Motown sound of Thinking Of You to the slow and seductive elegance of Tonight, Blue Eyed Soul proved that Simply Red still had something to offer after three decades in the industry. By “owning” the “blue-eyed soul” tag in such a fun and infectious way, Hucknall made it hard to deny his band the right to be called leading purveyors of the genre.

Must hear: Thinking Of You

10: ‘Time’ (2023)

Re-emerging in 2023 with a collection of heartfelt and soulful tracks that mix funk, R&B, blues and pop, Mick Hucknall ensured that Simply Red’s 13th album, Time, reflected his journey of self-discovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When we were in lockdown, I went, Well, jeez, who am I actually?” Hucknall said. “What makes me tick? And I realised: you are a songwriter. So why don’t you write some songs about who you are? That’s really the essence of this album.” Recorded in London with long-standing Simply Red producer Andy Wright, Time showcases Hucknall’s unerring ear for melodies that stir the heart and lyrics that stimulate the imagination.

From the stay-at-home gratitude that pervades Better With You to the tale of an emotionally scarred victim of sex traffickers, It Wouldn’t Be Me, there are plenty of classic Simply Red moments on Time, among them poppy confessionals and honest accounts of Hucknall’s married life. A must-listen for fans of the band and anyone who appreciates the sincerity of soul music, Time made for a vibrant return.

Must hear: Better With You

9: ‘Simplified’ (2005)

Marking something of a departure from the band’s typical sound, Simply Red’s 2005 studio album, Simplified, features intimate and pared-down versions of some of the best Simply Red songs, most notably a bossa nova reinterpretation of Holding Back The Years. “I’ve not been doing the identical arrangement from the original hit,” Mick Hucknall explained. “I’ve really tried to go for something that feels more timeless than just like an 80s arrangement, or something that’s very fixed in time, stylistically.”

Simplified’s minimalism also saw Hucknall draw upon Leon Russell’s “Tulsa sound” for his cover of A Song For You, which is worth the price of admission alone. By putting the spotlight on his honey-smooth vocals and showcasing the group’s versatility in a more subtle and nuanced way, the album reveals a more timeless quality to Simply Red’s musicianship, proving that their music still possesses great heart and emotional depth.

Must hear: A Song For You

8: ‘Blue’ (1998)

Following the departures of keyboardist Fritz McIntyre, guitarist Heitor TP and producer Stewart Devine, it’s fair to say that, of all Simply Red’s “children”, their sixth album, Blue, had the most difficult birth. Though featuring a heavier reliance on cover versions than normal, Mick Hucknall brought a freshness to Blue by forming the production trio AGM with Andy Wright and Gota Yashiki, pioneering a new Simply Red sound that leaned more into electro-pop and house-influenced synths. One of the album’s best moments, the Hucknall-penned single Say You Love Me, peaked at No.7 in the UK and proved Hucknall’s mellow and soulful impulses could overcome the emotional struggles he was facing at the time of recording.

While affording Hucknall the opportunity to showcase his passion for reggae with a cover of Gregory Isaacs’ 1982 single Night Nurse, as well as revealing his fondness for The Hollies’ soft-rock classic The Air That I Breathe, Blue became Simply Red’s fourth UK No.1 album in a row and sold over a million copies worldwide. “There are some nice moments on the album,” Hucknall later reflected. “I think the experimentation is nice.” Despite the challenges faced during its creation, Blue’s mix of original compositions and well-chosen cover versions had the perfect balance of freshness and familiarity, and it still holds its own among the best Simply Red albums.

Must hear: Say You Love Me

7: ‘Stay’ (2007)

Once seen as a swan song, Simply Red’s 2007 album, Stay, is a mature and introspective album that finds Mick Hucknall reflecting on the ups and downs of life and love. Seemingly intended as the band’s farewell record prior to going on hiatus in 2010, it’s a heartfelt and honest effort that brings out Hucknall’s more introspective side, particularly in the deeply personal lyrics he penned for the soulful title track. That said, the soul stomper Oh! What A Girl! is an upbeat delight, while the album’s second single, So Not Over You, had a blisteringly funky bassline and an infectious chorus that no doubt helped it become a Top 40 hit in the UK.

Telling Record Collector magazine that Stay “had a bit more bite to it”, Hucknall acknowledged that “it seemed we were subconsciously going towards a deep soul vibe”. A mellow and pitch-perfect curtain call, Stay saw the group bow out in style. Until, of course, they decided to stage an encore…

Must hear: So Not Over You

7: ‘Stay’ (2007)

Once seen as a swan song, Simply Red’s 2007 album, Stay, is a mature and introspective album that finds Mick Hucknall reflecting on the ups and downs of life and love. Seemingly intended as the band’s farewell record prior to going on hiatus in 2010, it’s a heartfelt and honest effort that brings out Hucknall’s more introspective side, particularly in the deeply personal lyrics he penned for the soulful title track. That said, the soul stomper Oh! What A Girl! is an upbeat delight, while the album’s second single, So Not Over You, had a blisteringly funky bassline and an infectious chorus that no doubt helped it become a Top 40 hit in the UK.

Telling Record Collector magazine that Stay “had a bit more bite to it”, Hucknall acknowledged that “it seemed we were subconsciously going towards a deep soul vibe”. A mellow and pitch-perfect curtain call, Stay saw the group bow out in style. Until, of course, they decided to stage an encore…

Must hear: So Not Over You

6: ‘Men And Women’ (1987)

Described by Hucknall as “probably the most difficult album I had to make”, Simply Red’s second album, Men And Women, found the singer struggling with internal disagreements within the band, following the success of their debut. As sophomore records go, however, it saw Simply Red stretching their wings, with Hucknall channelling the charms of a lothario on The Right Thing and tackling a cover of the Great American Songbook standard Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, to highlight his interpretive skills. “There’s unlimited possibilities for this band,” Hucknall said in a 1987 interview with Musician magazine. “We all have a knowledge of different musical forms, different periods of R&B, jazz, reggae.”

Cementing Hucknall’s place as an icon of British soul music, Men And Women also featured a collaboration with legendary Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, on the songs Infidelity and Suffer, proving just how quickly his group had shot through the ranks of 80s pop stardom. Once again showcasing the band’s unique blend of pop, soul and funk music, Men And Women remains one of the best Simply Red albums – the one on which they asserted their staying power.

Must hear: The Right Thing

5: ‘Life’ (1995)

Edging closer towards electronic dance music, Simply Red’s fifth album, Life, acted as their follow-up to Stars and found them at the peak of their commercial powers, delivering their third successive UK chart-topper. With a music video featuring Mick Hucknall riding on a rollercoaster with his newly sported dreadlocks blowing in the wind, Fairground became the band’s first UK No.1 single and saw Hucknall’s confidence as a frontman reaching new heights. Offering a mix of pop, soul and R&B with a contemporary edge, the Life album continued in the same upbeat vein, with the group’s use of electronic dance elements adding a fresh twist to their blue-eyed soul sound.

From the acid-jazz groove of Never Never Love to the pulsating rhythm of So Many People, Life crossed genre lines with playful glee, even finding Simply Red dabbling in reggae on Hillside Avenue. Elsewhere, on more reflective moments such as the piano-led ballad Remembering The First Time, Hucknall’s range as a songwriter was on full display. Easily earning its place among the best Simply Red albums, Life sold more than five and a half million copies worldwide and was an energetic and diverse entry among a discography that still leaves fans feeling inspired and moved.

Must hear: Fairground

4: ‘Home’ (2003)

As the first Simply Red album to be released on Mick Hucknall’s own record label, Simplyred.com, the band’s eighth outing, Home, is regarded by Hucknall himself to be one of his best. Thanks to the pop-funk fusion of its UK Top 10 hit single Sunrise – boosted by a sample of Daryl Hall and John Oates’ 1981 hit I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do) – Home would go on to sell more than two and a half million copies worldwide and became the most successful self-released album of all time.

“There’s a great sense of feeling in doing things independently,” Hucknall said in the mini-documentary Home: In Sicily. “I put a lot of my own personal money into this, but I felt that I had more artistic freedom.” Riding horns, strings and funky bass, Hucknall’s unmistakable voice is in flawless form throughout Home, particularly on tracks such as Fake and the organ-led groover Home Loan Blues. With its successful blend of pop, funk and soul, and Hucknall’s strong artistic vision as an independent artist, Home represents a career high among the best Simply Red albums.

Must hear: Sunrise

3: ‘A New Flame’ (1989)

Simply Red’s third studio album, 1989’s A New Flame, is a soulful and romantic record that brought the band even greater levels of success, thanks in no small part to Mick Hucknall’s growing vocal prowess. The group’s first album to top the UK charts, it contained more of Hucknall’s collaborations with Lamont Dozier, resulting in a handful of songs that were both mellow and impassioned, dialling in on the singer’s love of classic R&B and soul. “I still was romantically dreaming of being in some kind of a band in the 60s definition of it,” Hucknall said of A New Flame in 2015. “I wanted to guide the band into the direction of using the Philadelphia sound and the Barry White and Marvin Gaye sounds as more of an influence. A slightly more polished sound.”

Thanks to a cover of Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes’ Philly soul ballad If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Simply Red once again reached the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100, fully establishing Mick Hucknall as one of the greatest soul singers of his generation. A mix of original songs and covers, each interwoven with Hucknall’s sincerely felt emotion, A New Flame sold over six million copies worldwide and proved that Simply Red’s commitment to authenticity was beyond question.

Must hear: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

2: ‘Picture Book’ (1985)

Having started out as a punk-loving iconoclast in the scrappy Manchester band The Frantic Elevators, it wasn’t immediately obvious that Mick Hucknall would break into the mainstream. Appearing on the front of Simply Red’s 1985 debut album, Picture Book, as a cap-wearing pop star with a mop of curly red hair, Hucknall announced his reinvention with the album’s lead single, Money’s Too Tight (To Mention), and the deeply personal Holding Back The Years, which racked up airplay on MTV and peaked at No.1 in the US.

Still holding up as a confident introduction to Simply Red’s take on blue-eyed soul, Picture Book put a distinctly European spin on traditional US rhythm’n’blues and introduced the world to Hucknall’s velvety voice, the album’s rich tapestry of pop, soul and jazz perfectly capturing the spirit of the mid-80s. “The album as an entity is about that moment in time,” Hucknall admitted in Simply Red’s official biography. Selling over one and a half million copies in his home country, Picture Book validated Hucknall’s talent, catapulting him to rising-star status almost overnight.

Must hear: Holding Back The Years

1: ‘Stars’ (1991)

Fuelled by their previous commercial successes, Simply Red went stratospheric with the release of their fourth studio album, Stars, in 1991. Widely considered to be their magnum opus, the album saw Mick Hucknall display his full vocal range – leaping from deep and sensuous tones to dove-like flights of falsetto – across a glittering array of songs taking in pop, soul, jazz, blues and even reggae. “After the huge success of A New Flame, I set myself the challenge of composing a whole album of original songs,” he later explained in an interview with Glasgow Live. “I could never have imagined that Stars would have the impact it did.”

From its sultry and atmospheric opener, Something Got Me Started, to the soulful and gospel-infused For Your Babies, the album’s sheer breadth of musicality was nothing short of masterful, spawning numerous hit singles – among them the song Stars itself – and going on to sell more than nine million copies worldwide. A true masterpiece in Simply Red’s discography, the enduring popularity of Stars is a testament to its quality and timelessness, and that’s why it tops our list of the best Simply Red albums.

Must hear: Stars

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