The band was formed in 1984 by singer Mick “Red” Hucknall (born Michael James Hucknall, June 8, 1960, Manchester, England) with three ex-members of Durutti Column — bassist Tony Bowers (born October 31, 1952), drummer Chris Joyce (born October 11, 1957, Manchester, England), and keyboardist/brass player Tim Kellett (born July 23, 1964, Knaresborough, England) — plus guitarist Sylvan Richardson and keyboardist Fritz McIntyre (born September 2, 1956, Birmingham, England).
The group signed to Elektra Records and released Picture Book (October 1985), which featured “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention),” a Top 40 cover of a 1982 R&B chart single by the Valentine Brothers, and “Holding Back the Years,” a Hucknall original that topped the U.S. charts. The single caused the album to go platinum, and made the group one of the major successes of 1986. Men and Women (March 1987), which featured two collaborations between Hucknall and soul songwriter Lamont Dozier, was less popular, though it generated the Top 40 hit “The Right Thing.” (In the U.K., “Infidelity” and a cover of Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” also made the Top 40.) Richardson left in 1987 and was replaced by guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, who was replaced by Heitor T.P. (born in Brazil). The third album, A New Flame (February 1989), went gold due to the cover of the 1972 Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes hit “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” that hit number one and became a gold single. (In the U.K., “It’s Only Love” and “A New Flame” also made the Top 40.) By the time of the fourth album, Stars (September 1991), Bowers and Joyce had left, with Shaun Ward joining on bass and Gota on drums, and saxophonist Ian Kirkham had become a permanent member. Stars was a relative commercial disappointment in the U.S. (though it spawned Top 40 hits in “Something Got Me Started” and “Stars” and eventually went gold), but it became a major success elsewhere, especially in the U.K., where it was the best-selling album of 1991, topped the charts for 19 weeks, and spawned the Top Ten hits “Stars” and “For Your Babies” and the Top 40 hits “Something Got Me Started,” “Thrill Me,” and “Your Mirror.” Worldwide, it had sold eight and a half million copies by the second quarter of 1993.
Ward and Gota were gone by the release of Simply Red’s fifth album, Life (October 1995), leaving a lineup of Hucknall, McIntyre, Heitor T.P., Kirkham, and backup singer Dee Johnson. The album again proved more of a success at home than in America, topping charts all over Europe, as did its leadoff single, “Fairground,” while spending only three months in the U.S. charts. Blue followed in May 1998. It topped the British charts and spawned Top Ten hits in “Say You Love Me” and a cover of the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” at home, but was a negligible seller in the U.S. In November 1999, Simply Red issued Love and the Russian Winter, which reached the U.K. Top Ten, with the single “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” (a cover of a Sam & Dave song) hitting the Top 20.
After establishing the simplyred.com label, the band released Home in April 2003. It reached number two in the U.K., with the singles “Sunrise” and a cover of the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New” becoming Top Ten hits. Two years later came Simplified, a collection of old and new songs that hit number three in Britain and number two in the Eurochart. Another two-year absence followed before the notable Stay in April 2007. It hit number four in the U.K. and number two in the Eurochart. By the time of its release, the lineup of Simply Red consisted of Hucknall, Kirkham, Sarah Brown (background vocals), David Clayton (keyboards), Peter Lewinson (drums), Steve Lewinson (bass), Kevin Robinson (trumpet), and Kenji Suzuki (guitar). Hucknall then decided to retire Simply Red but he revived the band in 2015, making a splash with the new album Big Love. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & William Ruhlmann