The Story of... 'Holding Back the Years' by Simply Red

13 October 2020, 15:23 | Updated: 13 October 2020, 15:27

Simply Red - Holding Back the Years
Simply Red - Holding Back the Years. Picture: Elektra/YouTube

By Tom Eames

If we were going to pick our favourite Simply Red track, then 'Holding Back the Years' would be hard to beat.

It was one of the greatest ballads of the 1980s, and remains a bit of a tearjerker to this day, helped by its incredible and powerful vocal by frontman Mick Hucknall.

But did you know the backstory of Mick's masterpiece? Here's everything you need to know about the 1985 classic...

  1. Who wrote 'Holding Back the Years'?

    Frantic Elevators - Holding Back The Years

    Simply Red frontman Mick Hucknall wrote this song, while his former Frantic Elevators bandmate Neil Moss also has a songwriting credit.

    Mick first started writing it when he was just 17 while living at his father's house, but it took several more years before he added the famous chorus.

    Watch Mick Hucknall's incredible acoustic performance of 'Holding Back the Years'

    However, according to Mick, Moss did not co-write the song, but the credit was added "to remember the great times we had".

    Hear the original version with The Frantic Elevators above, featuring a more stripped back guitar-driven sound.

  2. 'Holding Back the Years' meaning: What is the song about?

    Simply Red
    Simply Red. Picture: Elektra

    The song is thought to be inspired by Mick's family and upbringing. His mother left the family when he was just three.

    It was this upheaval that inspired him to write the song.

    The lyrics "Strangled by the wishes of pater (father), hoping for the arms of mater (mother)" particularly reflect this.

    Read more: Simply Red's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

    Speaking in 2018, Mick Hucknall said the song was inspired by a member of teaching staff at Manchester School of Art, where Hucknall was a student.

    The lecturer suggested that the greatest paintings are produced when the artist is working in a stream of consciousness. Mick then tried to apply this method to songwriting. Using this method, he wrote this when he was just 17.

  3. It wasn't a hit at first

    It was Simply Red's third ever single, taken from their debut album Picture Book.

    However, it stalled at number 51 in 1985. The following year, it was re-released and it peaked at number two in the UK. It was also a number one hit in America.

  4. Where was the video filmed?

    Simply Red - Holding Back The Years (Official Video)

    Filmed around Whitby in 1985, the video looks back on Mick's difficult childhood, before he decides to leave home for good.

    Mick is also seen riding a train, which were filmed at and around Goathland railway station on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

  5. Who has covered it?

    Holding Back The Years

    Among the covers, have included versions by:

    - The Isley Brothers (above)

    - Angie Stone

    - Train

    - Randy Crawford

    - Another Level

  6. It was used to great effect in Only Fools and Horses

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    Posted by Only Fools and Horses Lines on Friday, 26 June 2020

    In one of the iconic comedy's sadder moments, the song is movingly played while Del Boy reflects on seeing his younger brother Rodney marry and move out for the first time.

    Tissues at the ready...