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Best Simply Red Songs: 20 Red-Hot Takes On Blue-Eyed Soul
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List & Guides

Best Simply Red Songs: 20 Red-Hot Takes On Blue-Eyed Soul

With fiery sophisti-pop and Mick Hucknall’s flaming locks, the best Simply Red songs brought a sparkle back into blue-eyed soul.

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Simply Red’s phenomenal popularity has easily established them as one of the biggest British bands of all time. Exploding into public renown in 1986 with their US No.1 hit Holding Back The Years, the band’s enduring success owed much to their flame-haired frontman, Mick Hucknall, whose smooth vocals and elegant songwriting ensured that the best Simply Red songs straddled the lines between soul, pop and R&B. Loved by the record-buying public thanks to best-selling albums such as 1991’s Stars, the group’s timeless blend of jazz-tinged dance-pop and soulful love ballads speaks for itself.

Listen to the best of Simply Red here, and scroll down for our 20 best Simply Red songs.

20: Thrill Me (from ‘Stars’, 1992)

After talking for years about wanting to head in a more jazz-inspired direction, Mick Hucknall worked with Fritz McIntyre to craft Thrill Me, a jazz-funk jam featuring a jaunty piano intro and Ian Kirkham’s exquisitely vivid sax. As the fourth single to be plucked from Simply Red’s most successful album, Stars, Thrill Me boasted a memorable music video featuring concert footage of the group at the height of their early 90s fame. As Mick Hucknall struts around the stage to the song’s impeccably arranged groove, you can almost sense what the atmosphere must have been like capturing Thrill Me in the studio. Recorded in Venice, Italy, it evokes all the romance of a couple gliding along the canals on a gondola.

19: You’ve Got It (from ‘A New Flame’, 1989)

Co-written with Lamont Dozier, You’ve Got It was one of many songs Mick Hucknall composed with the legendary Motown songwriter. “Music just kind of streams out of him,” Hucknall remembered of their collaboration, “but if you don’t kind of get it controlled quickly, it’s gone.” Seemingly about the shifting tectonic plates of romantic infatuation, You’ve Got It is a soul-pop ballad simmering with near-volcanic intensity, with lyrics wrestling with the pitfalls of lust (“Why did I mistake sex/For another sense”). While only reaching No.46 in the UK, the single deserves its place among the best Simply Red songs for demonstrating Mick Hucknall’s aptitude for writing about relationships without resorting to cliché.

18: Fake (from ‘Home’, 2003)

Launching with a fanfare and vocal motif evoking Motown groups such as The Supremes and Four Tops, the 2003 single Fake was a poppy takedown of disingenuousness in modern relationships. Seemingly about loving someone despite their artificiality, the music video underscored the song’s message by featuring Mick Hucknall in a nightclub partying with dozens of celebrity lookalikes such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Eminem and Britney Spears. By implying that fame itself is a thin veneer of deception, Fake shifts from being about the duplicity of a lover into a musing on the nature of celebrity. Peaking at No.21 in the UK, it showed us just how far Mick Hucknall’s songwriting had evolved, and serves as a reminder of the lasting appeal of the best Simply Red songs.

17: Ain’t That A Lot Of Love (from ‘Love And The Russian Winter’, 1999)

During his time as a DJ in the early 80s, it’s highly likely Mick Hucknall would have spun more than his fair share of Northern soul classics. For their seventh album, Love And The Russian Winter, Simply Red had a go at covering Homer Banks’ 1966 floor-filler Ain’t That A Lot Of Love, and scored yet another UK Top 10 hit by giving it a summery club-friendly makeover. With a beat similar in sound and style to Armand Van Helden’s You Don’t Know Me, Mick Hucknall took the opportunity to toy with the musical continuity between 60s soul and the house explosion of the late 90s. By staying current while hinting at being part of a musical lineage, Ain’t That A Lot Of Love peaked at No.6 in the UK and remains one of the best Simply Red songs for having the courage to adapt its style to meet the rising trend for sunnily optimistic dance music.

16: Come To My Aid (from ‘Picture Book’, 1985)

While the follow-up single to Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) failed to replicate its predecessor’s success, Come To My Aid deserves a spot as one of the best Simply Red songs for being a fun flirtation with jazz-funk. Fizzing with zing, this energetic pop number kicked off the band’s debut album, Picture Book, and proved that synthesisers needn’t render music sterile or inorganic. Brought to life by Tony Bowers’ driving bassline and guitarist Sylvan Richardson’s Chic-inspired fretwork, Come To My Aid showed Mick Hucknall wasn’t joking about his deep-rooted soul influences, despite the fact that he’d originally started out as a punk rocker. Setting out Simply Red’s stall in synth-driven pop-soul, this song was the seedling for a blossoming career.

15: Angel (single A-side, 1996)

For this cover of Aretha Franklin’s 1973 ballad, recorded for Simply Red’s 1996 Greatest Hits album, Mick Hucknall enlisted the help of Fugees bandmates Wyclef Jean, Jerry Duplessis, Pras and Lauryn Hill to give the song a more contemporary R&B twist. The hip-hop-inspired production did wonders, sending the single straight to No.4 in the UK, thanks to its alluring rhythm and Hucknall’s impassioned vocal. During an interview appearance on TFI Friday, the Simply Red singer was egged on by presenter Chris Evans to give an impromptu performance of Angel without his band, singing along to a cassette boombox like the best karaoke rendition you’ll ever hear. The song even featured on the soundtrack to the bank-heist movie Set It Off, alongside tracks by Seal and En Vogue, proving that Mick Hucknall could more than hold his own among the best R&B singers of the day.

14: Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye (from ‘Men And Women’, 1987)

Inspired by jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald’s double-album of Cole Porter songs, Simply Red teamed up with producer Yvonne Ellis to record a version of Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye. Featured on their 1987 album, Men And Women, it was also released as a single and peaked at No.11 in the UK. By bringing the jazz standard to a whole new generation of listeners, Simply Red provided Mick Hucknall with a vessel to move beyond his Manchester origins and prove his worth as one of the greatest voices in 80s soul. His smoky, weathered take on Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye earns its place among the best Simply Red songs by virtue of bringing attention to Hucknall’s vocal sincerity and highlighting the band’s growing confidence.

13: Say You Love Me (from ‘Blue’, 1998)

Love-conquers-all ballads always go down well with Simply Red’s fans, and the 1998 single Say You Love Me was no exception. Pinning its hopes on a global message akin to The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, Say You Love Me reached No.7 in the UK, with Mick Hucknall inviting acceptance for all lovers of the world, whatever their sexual inclination (“Say you love me all around the world/Be yours a boy or be mine a girl”). A slow-dance gem, it still deserves to be considered among the best Simply Red songs.

12: It’s Only Love (from ‘A New Flame’, 1989)

Tackling a cover of Barry White’s 1978 single It’s Only Love Doing Its Thing, the lead single from Simply Red’ third album, A New Flame, saw Hucknall transform White’s bassy intonation to better fit his high tenor vocal range. Proving just as sultry and sensual as the original, It’s Only Love was Simply Red’s biggest hit in Italy, hitting to No.1 there following its release in 1989. It more than earns its place among the best Simply Red songs for putting a fresh spin on Jimmie and Vella Cameron’s composition while also reminding audiences of just how deeply the band’s soul inspirations lay.

11: Your Mirror (from ‘Stars’, 1992)

Meditating on the importance of self-love and building inner resolve, the fifth single from Simply Red’s 1991 album, Stars, swings dreamily as Mick Hucknall gives the listener a lyrical pep talk (“And your beauty lies within you/Look in the mirror, baby”). The song also features one of the band’s finest guitar performances from Heitor Pereira, thanks to an airily wistful solo towards the end which elevates Your Mirror among the best Simply Red songs. Capable of lifting anyone out of a sour mood, this is a track designed for the sole purpose of instilling confidence in oneself.

10: A New Flame (from ‘A New Flame’, 1989)

There’s a tango-like swagger to the tempo of A New Flame, a song Mick Hucknall reportedly wrote in tribute to a blonde model he’d met in Tokyo and who ended up accompanying him on tour. It was by all accounts a whirlwind romance, as the lyrics to this UK No.17 single suggest (“She’s turned me round/A new flame has come”). Musically, the single marked something of a sea change for the group: “I still was romantically dreaming of being in some kind of a band in the 60s definition of it,” Mick Hucknall later said. The overall result was infused by producer Stewart Devine’s cleaner, more polished sound.

9: For Your Babies (from ‘Stars’, 1992)

Upon the realisation that most of his old friends were having children – most notably his manager, Elliot Rashman – Mick Hucknall wrote For Your Babies as an affecting ode to parenthood, despite not yet being a father himself. Instantly regarded as one of the best Simply Red songs, it depicts a father watching his child playing, reflecting on how the troubles of the world melt away in the face of the love one has as a parent (“I don’t believe in many things, but in you, I do”). In yet another Top 10 UK hit for Simply Red, For Your Babies was a sign of Hucknall’s increasing maturity as a songwriter and demonstrated his empathy for those close to him. The singer’s ability to put himself in another’s shoes proved so powerful that it moved Rashman to tears upon first hearing.

8: If You Don’t Know Me By Now (from ‘A New Flame’, 1989)

This cover of Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes’ 1972 classic was the most successful single to be taken from A New Flame. Hucknall recalled dancing to Melvin’s original at the age of 13, but even he probably didn’t foresee his group’s enormous success with the song. Sweeping in at No.1 in the US, it dialled down the Philly soul favourite’s sugary strings in favour of a more stripped-back arrangement. The results speak for themselves. Not only did Hucknall himself claim it as one of the best Simply Red songs, their version has gone on to become the most iconic and widely recognised rendition – so much so that comedian Ricky Gervais couldn’t resist giving David Brent a cringe-worthy stab at singing it during The Office’s Christmas special in 2003.

7: Something Got Me Started (from ‘Stars’, 1991)

Given that Simply Red’s biggest hit of 1989 was that Harold Melvin cover, Mick Hucknall was eager to prove he remained a capable songwriter in his own right with Simply Red’s next album. Having a hand in penning every track on 1991’s Stars, lead single Something Got Me Started – co-written with Fritz McIntyre – was a gutsy move, bouncing along to an acid-jazz groove courtesy of new drummer Gota Yashiki. Its upbeat vibe and piano-led instrumentation sold well internationally and peaked at No.11 in the UK, the song’s appeal no doubt widened by house DJ Perfecto (aka Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne) revamping it for the burgeoning dance-remix culture. By kicking off the new decade with such exuberance, Simply Red made sure something truly had started.

6: The Right Thing (from ‘Men And Women’, 1987)

“I must admit I never saw myself as a pin-up,” Mick Hucknall once said. With The Right Thing, however, it seemed like he was rather enjoying its perks. Playing up to his newfound image as a late-80s sex symbol, Hucknall’s lustful posturing and lyrical flirtations with slap’n’tickle left little to the imagination (“I feel it now/Much harder than I’ve ever done now”). Despite reaching No.11 in the UK and No.27 in the US, the song’s unashamed celebration of sexual abandon prompted the Singaporean government to its parent album, Men And Women. Consider it their loss.

5: Sunrise (from ‘Home’, 2003)

Making excellent use of its sample from Daryl Hall and John Oates’ 1981 synth-driven hit I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), Sunrise marked something of a comeback for Simply Red following a three-year absence. The song boasted a lavishly produced music video in which Mick Hucknall sang while scantily clad models basked in the Brazilian sunshine outside the mansion of famed architect Oscar Niemeyer. Released just a year after Sugababes had scored a No.1 with their unique fusion of Adina Howard’s Freak Like Me and Gary Numan’s Are “Friends” Electric?, Sunrise was also very much in tune with the mash-up culture dominating pop music during the early 2000s. As the lead single from Simply Red’s eighth album, Home, it peaked at No.7 in the UK.

4: Fairground (from ‘Life’, 1995)

Combining a love of house music with ultra-busy samba percussion, Simply Red’s Fairground invited a dreadlocked Mick Hucknall to jump on the pop rollercoaster once more after the runaway success of Stars. Selling 783,000 copies and topping the UK charts, the song became Simply Red’s first No.1 in their homeland and remains one of the band’s most successful singles. Despite coming along during the height of the Britpop era, Fairground remained on top of the charts for a whole month. A highlight of the band’s 1995 album, Life, it also gave a songwriting co-credit to Dutch DJs The Good Men, a sample of whose 1993 single, Give It Up, lent Fairground a more club-ready flavour.

3: Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) (from ‘Picture Book’, 1985)

With over three million people out of work in 1985, there was arguably no better song than Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) for Simply Red to release as their first single. Timely and socially relevant, this cover of a lesser-known R&B curio by The Valentine Brothers was the perfect vehicle for Mick Hucknall’s left-leaning politics and soulful vocals. Setting expectations for what would become their debut album, Picture Book, the single reached No.13 in the UK and No.28 in the US, even giving a subtle nod to the mass unemployment wreaked by Reaganomics (“I’m talking about Ronnie, Ronnie/Did the earth move for you, Nancy?”). By mixing the ballsy attitude of punk with a bold new take on blue-eyed soul, Simply Red were starting as they meant to go on.

2: Stars (from ‘Stars’, 1991)

The UK No.8 single Stars drifted on the radio waves like a forgotten lullaby upon its release in 1991, lulling listeners into reverie with Mick Hucknall’s silky vocal range. Deep and soft-spoken on the verses, and angelically high in the chorus, Stars saw Hucknall reflect upon his famous lifestyle and how he yearned for love to keep him grounded (“I wanna fall from the stars/Straight into your arms”). “I had this fixation with stardom and what that does to a person,” Hucknall would later say. “I think it’s just all about escaping from that.” Ironically enough, Stars only served to increase the band’s popularity. Endlessly replayed yet rarely tiresome, the single is still regarded as one of the best Simply Red songs and was chiefly responsible for causing sales of their album of the same name to skyrocket.

1: Holding Back The Years (from ‘Picture Book’, 1985)

Written when he was 17 years old, Mick Hucknall originally recorded Holding Back The Years with his post-punk band The Frantic Elevators, before producer Stewart Levine gave it a sophisti-pop overhaul. A coming-of-age ballad meditating on the absence of his mother, who abandoned him at age three, Holding Back The Years saw Hucknall sing movingly of loss, longing and finding a way to cope on his own. Reissued as a single in 1986, it hit No.1 in the US charts and No.2 in the UK, instantly becoming Simply Red’s signature song. Hucknall’s mother subsequently made contact with him, but the Simply Red singer came to regret it. “You think you can walk back into my life and it be OK?” Hucknall remembered thinking. “I realised that there was no future in it.” A deeply personal work, Holding Back The Years easily tops our list of the best Simply Red songs and marks the most successful attempt yet of a white British singer to emulate 70s US Black music. It’s a classic that stands the test of time.

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