The band's first album, Life in a Day, was produced by John Leckie and released by Arista on 5 May 1979 in the UK, spending six weeks in the UK LP charts and reaching number 30. The title track was released on 12 May as Simple Minds' first single and reached No. 62 in the UK Gallup charts, spending two weeks there. However, the next single ("Chelsea Girl") failed to chart at all. A tribute to Nico and the Andy Warhol film Chelsea Girls, it was a popular live song for the band.
Andy Kellman of Allmusic rated the album the lowliest of Simple Minds' first five album releases, remarking on its derivativeness from Magazine and Roxy Music, and ranked "Someone" as the best and "Pleasantly Disturbed" as the worst track.NME's Tony Stewart praised the lyrics and arrangements despite noting the overt influences of 1970s music, and rated "Murder Story" the standout track. Although noting the album as overproduced and undermining the band's sound, he rated the album favourably.
In a 2012 interview, the band's frontman Jim Kerr has expressed regret that the album's production had resulted in the tracks lacking "a real spark" that was part of their live performances, and described his feelings about the album as "bittersweet". He recalled at the time, " as we were about to drive up to Scotland, someone gave me a cassette of Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division... and I thought, we've completely blown it."—ruing that their live material had sounded more like Velvet Underground and less like the Boomtown Rats.