As outlined in A Love Deluxe, the past year or so has seen me become just a little bit addicted to creating “fantasy” deluxe editions. You take an album, and use whatever extra material is available (B-sides, Single Edits, 12″ Remixes, Demos, Out-takes, non-album 45s) to piece together a multi-disc celebration of it.
Here’s one they made earlier, but which I have decided to attempt myself. The 2015 Super Deluxe of Simple Minds’ Once Upon A Time (the album which made no bones about aiming for the American market and raising their profile into the league of Stadium Rock contenders) was a lavish affair. Sadly, it was also riddled with audio glitches, and chose to include the full 1987 Live double album In The City Of Light at the expense of other concert material from the era.
There are also several different masterings of the main album (1985, 2002 and 2015) which could be gathered in one set, along with all the 7″, 12″ and Alternate mixes of the singles (and some non-singles), plus the standalone 45 Don’t You (Forget About Me) and its B-side A Brass Band In Africa.
Plenty on offer, then, to create something different to the box released by Universal Music.
Once Upon A Time wasn’t the first Simple Minds LP that I heard (I’d borrowed a friend’s copy of Sparkle In The Rain not long after its release in early 1984), but it was the first that I actually bought. Not straight away in October 1985 (too many other records to spend my meagre pocket money on!), but very late on that year. A picture disc, no less (one of a few available at the time, along with Sting, Simply Red and Echo & The Bunnymen….possibly The Alarm, too).
Me and my weakness for pretty things. I suspect the standard vinyl LP would have sounded better (or even the cassette, which being issued by Virgin might not have been great itself). It’s not as though I had an audiophile set-up, though, or even cared too much about those things. Radio 1 was still being broadcast in Medium Wave!
Although nearly as famous for the hit song that wasn’t on it as the ones which were, Once Upon A Time is actually, all these years later, a surprisingly rewarding listen. The criticisms of unsubtle bombast and naked ambition levelled at it (and the band) back in 1985/86 are wider of the mark than I thought; my recollections of the record were of liking it almost in spite of its approach and sound, rather than because of it, but I did have a penchant for lively mainstream rock music around the start of 1986 (INXS’ Listen Like Thieves would have been my favourite album of that period).
The eight songs which comprise the main album have aged well in their studio forms. In concert, the arrangements became looser, while Jim’s vocals put bluster and energy over nuance and clarity. There is undeniable energy and drive to everything, and the material has enough hooks and changes of tempo to sustain the 40 minutes.
In fact, the band’s intense focus on what we are presented with on Once Upon A Time meant that there was literally nothing left over. Not one B-side from the entire era. No out-takes. For a deluxe edition project, this might not be ideal!
But…SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE.
Ultimately, I managed to expand it across six discs. Did someone say “bloated”?
Okay, so half of those discs are the various masterings of the album. There is still a lot of extra stuff to cover, however. Not least all the remixes which were sonically mauled on the Super Deluxe proper.
The original album, released October 21st 1985.
Our fantasy deluxe begins with the album in its original guise. Other options included replacing the LP mixes of the 4 tracks released as singles with either the 7″ or 12″ versions, and possibly even adding Don’t You (Forget About Me) (which in hindsight even Jim Kerr concedes wouldn’t have been such a terrible idea). A sort of Director’s Cut, if you will. We resisted.
CD2 is the 2002 remaster, from the days when loudness was king and more sensitive tweaking had yet to be implemented across the board. If I were needing to be more ruthless here, and keep the set down to 4 discs instead of 6, this would be the first thing to go.
CD3 is more or less all the main mixes of the album’s quartet of singles, plus Don’t You (Forget About Me) and the single edit of 1987’s Promised You A Miracle (Live) from In The City Of Light. The latter serves as the climax to the whole Once Upon A Time era, and hints at the direction to come with its glittering, atmospheric coda.
The 7″ versions don’t deviate much from the originals, just a bit of necessary trimming here and there for a more radio-friendly experience. In extended form, the likes of Ghostdancing and especially Oh Jungleland make use of the extra length to stretch out the arrangements and allow some of the subtler elements buried deeper in the mix to shine through. Unsurprisingly, the only remix to approach anything more daring is the Francois Kervokian 12″ of Alive & Kicking (which didn’t get a widespread release).
Jim looking like a right Charlie…sorry, I mean pictured to the right of Charlie.
More mixes to follow later, but first a detour into the tour for the album, which began at the Ahoy Stadium in Rotterdam. By all accounts, the plan was to record the shows and release them as a Live album, but the results weren’t deemed satisfactory. Instead, attention was turned to later shows in France, which were then edited, embellished in the studio and issued as the 1987 set we know and love, Live In The City Of Light.
The majority of the Ahoy material eventually surfaced on the Silver Box compilation in 2004, with a couple of selections also featured on CD/12″ singles and the Themes boxsets. This fantasy deluxe presented a chance to combine these recordings to create a 70-minute “concert” and bring that abandoned live album to life. While it isn’t as polished or sonically emphatic as Live In The City Of Light (for obvious reasons), Jim’s banter is enthusiastic even as his vocals falter on occasion, and it sounds more like a band captured onstage (the synths are more upfront in the mix, which is nice).
CD5 returns to the “bonus material” side of things. The 7″ and 12″ versions of A Brass Band In Africa(n Chimes), an array of instrumentals and dubs (woo hoo!) and a better quality copy of the Promised You A Miracle U.S. remix from Themes, replacing the mangled one on the 2015 Super Deluxe. But that’s not all.
Having recently stumbled on (nearly) the whole Live Aid show(s) available to purchase, I now seem to be doing my damndest to slip as many of those performances onto the deluxes of each artist (pity I’d already done Paul Young’s The Secret Of Association!). So, in addition to all the odds’n’ends gathered up on the fifth disc, we have the band’s Live Aid contributions. Plus the rehearsal for Don’t You (Forget About Me) from the trusty Silver Box.
AFDPJ…giving everything, inside and out.
Finally, a 2015 remaster of the album completes the picture, although as with the 2002 edition taking up disc two, it’s hardly essential and this fantasy deluxe could easily be a couple of CDs slimmer.
Now for some artwork. No point in something that looks like the official SDE (which is quite stylish), so I was forced to think of alternatives. What transpired was something of a cut and paste job, taking the background pattern used on the picture disc release and adding in the logo from another single/album cover. Then the “band jigsaw” montage in the centre of it all.
For the back cover, the text style chose itself based on the font officially used. Then I took one of the “white dove” shots from the iconic photo session for the album and singles, and used that as a backdrop to overlay the tracklistings. Another was cropped and utilised for the spine image. It’s all a little busy, but pays homage to some of the original designs (cassette, picture disc and the Sanctify Yourself singles).
You could say I’ve satisfied myself. I’ll get my coat…