On a muggy evening in Paris in the spring of 1985, Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr started plying strangers with champagne. Kerr was not a habitual drinker; if he had a vice, it was his penchant for oversized sports jackets with loud patterns. But he'd just received a message of world-shaking significance.
"I got a telegraph saying, 'You're #1 on the Billboard charts'," he recalled. " I'm getting rollicking drunk. Everyone who walks into the bar, I'm like, 'Give that man a drink!' Suddenly I'm Frank Sinatra. And it cost me a fortune."
'Don't You (Forget About Me)' was the track to which Kerr owed his place in the record books and the patrons of his hotel bar their night of free booze. The song marked its 35th anniversary last week and there is no better moment to rediscover it and the groundbreaking teen drama with which it will be forever associated, John Hughes' The Breakfast Club.
As Simple Minds were perfectly aware, 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' is a cheesy rocker of the first order. It opens in a flurry of power chords as subtle as a brick-sized mobile phone lobbed through the windscreen of a Ford Capri.
Then in swoop Kerr's vocals. He sounds like Bono if Bono was more interested in making an entire wine bar groove on the spot than in saving the world. A highlight is his "la la la la" outro - a quick bit of improvisation in the studio which ties the song together just like that rug with the room in The Big Lebowski.
'Don't You (Forget About Me)', in other words, is silly, strident, slightly high on its own grandiosity. Blasting out from the speakers while we're all in the lockdown purgatory it is a shot of pure escapist absurdity.
As Simple Minds were quick to tell everybody at the time, they didn't actually write 'Don't You (Forget About Me)'. And they remain somewhat sniffy about it to this day, though, as Kerr has admitted, not when the postman turns up with the royalty cheques.
The song was composed by Keith Forsey and guitarist Steve Schiff specifically for The Breakfast Club. John Hughes' coming-of-age classic stars Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and the "Brat Pack" triple threat of Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez as troubled teenagers of different tribes bonding at Saturday detention.
And if Simple Minds may have felt 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' unhelpful to their credibility, as a window into The Breakfast Club and Hughes' entire teen melodrama oeuvre it fulfilled its mission perfectly.
"To have a song work for the movie, it can't just be written apart and shoved in," Hughes had said, explaining his philosophy of repurposing his beloved indie rock genre to flesh out the emotional resonances of his work.
"We would get rough cuts of the movie and sit in the back room and kind of watch and just make notes, make notes, make notes," said Forsey, a protégé of electro-pop pioneer and soundtrack guru Giorgio Moroder.
"There was a specific scene where Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall, in the middle of movie, they're confronting each other, and I think it's Anthony Michael Hall who says to Judd Nelson something along the lines of, 'Are you gonna remember me after this?' Cause they kind of come together in that section," continued Forsey. The anglophile Hughes wanted a British band to sing the track after selecting it as the movie's theme song.
Alas, nearly everyone approached turned Forsey down, including Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol. One issue was that British musicians shown a rough cut of The Breakfast Club didn't understand what it was all about. This was before the American high school experience had become the universal standard when it came to interrogating adolescent woe. Hughes' angsty teens struck Idol and his peers as from another planet.
Simple Minds became involved when Kerr's then-wife, Chrissie Hynde, heard Forsey's exuberant demo. She was one of the few musicians in the UK to understand the potential of the track. "She got the movie. She got the song. She was down with the whole thing," Michelle Manning, co-producer of the Breakfast Club, said to Spin Magazine in 2015.
"But she was pregnant [and reluctant to make the video for the track], so she said to her husband Jim 'You should do this song. The song is a hit…' You know, she was agenting for us on our behalf. And Simple Minds were signed to A&M, so it was a no brainer. And then they said no."
Forsey, though, refused to accept their answer. He flew to London and struck up a friendship with the band, who, to their annoyance, were coming under increasing pressure from their label to record the song. One night, at the end of a long stretch in the pub, Forsey suggested they go into the studio and bash it out. If it didn't work, it didn't work. At least it would get the record company off their backs.
So it was off to a London studio where Simple Minds laid down their most enduring hit in just three hours. As already pointed out, the biggest departure from the demo was Kerr's improvisation of "la la la la" during the outro. And that was it. But even after they had done their duty, Simple Minds were hugely unenthusiastic. Shooting the official video, director Daniel Kleinman recalled having to deal with a rather truculent Jim Kerr.
"The band was not overly cooperative, as I remember it," he told Spin. "They're quite a moody bunch."
Simple Minds assumed - perhaps actively hoped - 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' would be a quickly forgotten footnote. Yet week after week, following its release on April 8, the track gathered momentum in the US. This was a significant development, as America had previously proved immune to Kerr and company's anthemic charms.
"We kept having this double attitude - 'oh yeah… that thing'," is how Kerr characterised the group's ambivalence towards their suddenly scorching new single. "What number is it this week? It kept climbing and climbing. The Human League have this song: the Black Hit From Space. Where did it come from? We sometimes referred to 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' as the black hit from space. When it comes to royalties, we take a different view."
As is often the way with slightly ludicrous nuggets from pop's past, the song has lately been rehabilitated. Today, it shimmers proudly as a cheesy 1980s classic.
A soft spot for the late John Hughes' melancholy and sweet movies - his biggest success would be the Home Alone franchise - certainly enhances the appeal of the track. It isn't mandatory, however. The song more than stands on its own. In these strange days, a blast of youthful melodrama, laced with naivety and ennui, is more than just nostalgia. It feels like a lifeline to simpler times.
Kerr would finally come around to seeing the upside of a US number one single, too (it reached number three here in Ireland). He went back to the day, in the late 1970s, when he asked his father for a loan of £100 so he and his mates could start a band.
"He was a brickie's labourer and just sat there in his vest, like Rab C Nesbitt, thinking we were nuts," he recalled of his father's response. "'You mean like The Beatles,' he said, 'playing in stadiums?' I said: 'Probably.' When we performed 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' in Philadelphia for Live Aid in 1985, my dad was down the front. It was the first of many stadiums - although he never got the £100 back."
© The Telegraph