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Holding Back the Years

"Holding Back the Years" is the seventh track on Simply Red's debut studio album Picture Book (1985). It remains their most successful single, having reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the UK Singles Chart. It is one of two Simply Red songs (the other being their cover of "If You Don't Know Me by Now") to reach number one in the US. It also reached number four on the Adult Contemporary chart. "Holding Back the Years" had initially been released in the UK the year before, reaching number 51. The song was nominated in the category of Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 29th Annual Grammy Awards.

"Holding Back the Years"
Holding Back the Years by Simply Red UK 7-inch single.jpg
1986 reissued UK 7-inch vinyl single
Single by Simply Red
from the album Picture Book
  • "Drowning in My Own Tears"
  • "I Won't Feel Bad"
Producer(s)Stewart Levine
Simply Red singles chronology
"Come to My Aid"
"Holding Back the Years"


""Holding Back the Years"

"Open Up the Red Box"
Music video
"Holding Back the Years" on YouTube


Frontman of the group Mick Hucknall wrote the song when he was 17, while living at his father's house. In a 2018 interview, Hucknall said the song was inspired by a member of teaching staff at Manchester School of Art, where Hucknall was a fine-art student: the lecturer suggested the greatest paintings are produced when the artist is working in a stream of consciousness, which Hucknall then tried to apply to songwriting – "Holding Back the Years" was the second song he wrote using this method.[2][3][4]

The song's writing credits are shared between Hucknall and Neil Moss, a friend and member of Hucknall's first group, the Frantic Elevators.[5] However, according to Hucknall, Moss did not co-write the song, but the credit was added "to remember the great times we had" as the pair had written so many other songs together.[2] The song was first performed by the Frantic Elevators. The song's "I'll keep holding on" chorus was not added until many years later, after the band had split and Hucknall had formed Simply Red.[2][6]

Hucknall's mother left the family when he was three: the upheaval caused by this event inspired him to write the song.[7] However, according to Hucknall, he did not realise what the song was about until it was finished: he characterised it as a song "about that moment where you know you have to leave home and make your mark, but the outside world is scary. So you’re holding back the years". He said that the line "Strangled by the wishes of pater" was inspired by arguments he had with his father: according to Hucknall, the two clashed often during his teenage years "because there was no woman to act as referee".[2][4]

Music videoEdit

The music video focuses on Mick Hucknall, who, while singing the song, walks through the English countryside and Whitby Abbey carrying luggage and thinking about his childhood memories and the difficult relationship he had with his mother. During his journey, he greets a one-man band and some local cricketers in a field (portrayed by the rest of the band). In the last part of the song, Hucknall is seen riding a train, the scenes for which were filmed at and around Goathland railway station on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.[8]


Chart (1986) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[9] 16
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[10] 22
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[11] 8
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[12] 6
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[13] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[14] 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[15] 3
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[16] 5
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[17] 40
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[18] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[19] 1
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[20] 4
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[21] 29
US Smooth Jazz Songs (Billboard)[22] 13


  1. ^ "Toto Eclipse of the Heart: The Best of Eighties Soft Rock". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Simpson, Dave (27 November 2018). "Simply Red: how we made Holding Back the Years". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  3. ^ "Mick Hucknall thanks Manchester for 'amazing start'". BBC News. 24 October 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  4. ^ a b Wintle, Angela (23 February 2013). "Mick Hucknall on his daily routine, going solo and etching". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  5. ^ "Holding Back The Years". Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  6. ^ Holden, Stephen (11 March 1987). "Simply Red's 2D Album Blends Funk with Ballads". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2008.
  7. ^ Davies, Hugh (19 June 2001). "Simply Red star cleared after arrest for rape". The Daily Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 11 October 2008.
  8. ^ Simply Red (26 April 2009). "Simply Red – Holding Back The Years". YouTube. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  9. ^ "AUSTRALIAN (ARIA/DAVID KENT) WEEKLY SINGLE CHRTS FROM 1986". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  10. ^ " – Simply Red – Holding Back the Years" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  11. ^ " – Simply Red – Holding Back the Years" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0689." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  13. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 0699." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  14. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Holding Back the Years". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  15. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 4, 1986" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  16. ^ " – Simply Red – Holding Back the Years" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  17. ^ " – Simply Red – Holding Back the Years". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Simply Red Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  20. ^ "Simply Red Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  21. ^ "Simply Red Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  22. ^ "Simply Red Chart History (Smooth Jazz Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 4 April 2018.

External linksEdit