On 13 May 1989, just after record stores welcomed a new album by Simple Minds, it helped them end the 1980s in style. Street Fighting Years was also the record that helped the Scottish stylists complete one of the decade’s most impressive UK chart sequences, as it became their fourth No. 1 LP in a row.
Street Fighting Years saw the chameleonic band turning into yet another new stylistic avenue, now confronting political and social issues more than ever before. At the same time, the sound of Simple Minds was also evolving, as it started to incorporate elements of traditional, Celtic and folk music within their powerful rock framework.
That new direction had been boldly announced when the Ballad Of The Streets EP was released in the UK in February. It comprised one of their strongest releases of what was already a long and distinguished career, with their adaptation of the traditional ‘Belfast Child’ as the lead track. That was backed by ‘Mandela Day,’ written especially for the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, the all-star concert held at Wembley Stadium the previous June.
The 12-inch edition of the EP added their version of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko,’ and the net result was Simple Minds’ first and only singles chart No. 1. Soon, the Street Fighting Years album, which contained all three tracks, would be spending two weeks at the UK summit itself.
When frontman Jim Kerr spoke to Q magazine as the album was released, he was well aware of its importance. “I was aware of the end of the ’80s coming up, and like it or hate it, we were one of the major bands,” he told Mat Snow.
“This record had to show, apart from in a commercial sense, that artistically, as opposed to peaking, we had used the last ten years’ experience to make something new and alive. A new strength, a new pragmatic [attitude]. That coincides with us as people as well — though we don’t sit down and analyse how we’ve changed and stuff.”