“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff wrote “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” while scoring The Breakfast Club. They sent it to Simple Minds, a favorite group of theirs. Simple Minds turned it down, preferring to do songs they themselves had written. Bryan Ferry turned it down. Billy Idol turned it down. Eurythmics turned it down. Cy Curnin of the Fixx turned it down. The record company suggested Corey Hart; Forsey turned them down. Chrissie Hynde loved it, but was pregnant and didn’t want to do the accompanying video, so she badgered her husband to try it. Her husband was Jim Kerr, of (wait for it) Simple Minds.
Once the band came around, they followed Forsey & Schiff’s demo pretty closely, with Kerr throwing in the “Hey, hey, hey, hey” and a few “la la la”s toward the end. After its release, while grateful for the doors it opened, the band sometimes sounded like they wished they’d stuck to their guns and kept turning it down. “(The lyrics) sound pretty inane to me,” Kerr later said. “Sometimes I play it and I just puke.”
It seems like the only people who ever loved the song were the target audience. They took the song to number one and permanently lodged it in the collective conscious of the class of ’85. When Simple Minds performed it at Live Aid (at Bob Geldof’s insistence), the Philadelphia crowd went crazy, and the band realized what they had on their hands was more than just another hit. Thirty-five years later, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” can bring the era back like few other songs.
Such a song becomes an easy target for artists wanting to cover it. In Spin‘s definitive oral history of the song, Forsey says, “For me, the song only goes one way, and what we did when we did it was the way.” That’s as may be, but that didn’t stop many others from taking it their way. As Schiff says in the same article, “The song has really gone off on its own and has become that thing for other people, and that comes across when somebody else does it. You know, walking by bars in New Orleans, at a karaoke bar and it’s there. It’s sort of fun where it can pop up.”
Seven of them pop up below. Enjoy!
Kids Incorporated – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
The earliest cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” listed by Second Hand Songs came out the same year. It’s by the cast of Kids Incorporated, the children’s show that was a mainstay on the Disney channel. It’s fairly note for note, just done by an enthusiastic bunch o’ youngsters. One of them, the girl with the mustard clothes and pink cap, is Stacy Ferguson, who would grow up to be Fergie of the Black Eyes Peas.
KT Tunstall – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
If you only know KT Tunstall from “Suddenly I See” and “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” you should listen to some of her covers. She’s one of the queens of remaking a song in her image. Her “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is a little quieter than I would have expected from her, but as you’ll hear, it’s certainly no less affecting.
The Wind and the Wave – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
Now this is how I expected a KT Tunstall cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” to sound. Full of foot stomps and handclaps, the Wind and the Wave version is an acoustic groover. Dwight Baker and Patty Lynn really go to town here – and that town is Shermer, Illinois.
Willis Earl Beal – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
“I don’t think there was much soul bared in that song,” Kerr said in yet another interview where he couldn’t help disparaging “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” No worries; Willis Earl Beal brought the soul to his cover. It was recorded for a State Farm commercial, and it brought the ad’s message home with great force. To paraphrase Al Capone, you can get more done with a guilt trip and a good cover than with a guilt trip alone.
Nicole Mason – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
Schiff singled out Nicole Mason’s cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” as a notable one. “[T]his one girl with a single amp and electric guitar, she walks up on stage, plugs in… and she sort of changed the song. It’s sort of a slightly different song, the way she does it.” Indeed, Mason puts just enough of her own spin on the song to make it her own, echoing nothing but her own life experiences.
Jamaican Me Breakfast Club – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
From New Orleans comes Jamaican Me Breakfast Club, a band that performs roots-reggae covers of ’70s and ’80s hits. “Call it pop rock steady,” they say on their website. “Or just plain fun. It’s feel-good music with a nod and a wink.” With a name like theirs, JMBC was duty-bound to record a cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” which they did on their Pop Rock Steady release in 2017.
Molly Ringwald – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
It seems only right to let one of the stars of The Breakfast Club have the last word in “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” covers. Molly Ringwald recorded a version of it for her 2013 jazz album Except Sometimes, the lone non-jazz original. She was inspired to sing it by the passing of John Hughes, who was responsible for the trio of films that made her famous. It was her idea to strip down the arrangement. “I wanted to do it in a way that was completely different from the original,” she said. “Because what’s the point of doing a cover if you don’t completely reinterpret it? It’s a great original version. The only reason to redo a song I think is because it wasn’t so great or if you have something new to offer.”