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Scottish and Irish Singers and Bands That Made It Big in America
When you think of Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland, do you hear the distant sound of bagpipes or Celtic music? Does your mind conjure images of medieval castles, the Loch Ness monster, and the Blarney Stone? Maybe you imagine the Highland games and tartan-clad men in kilts. Or perhaps you crave fish and chips, Guinness, whisky, or potatoes. (Let's be real: Nobody craves haggis.)
While these countries are known for many things, some of their finest attributes are the popular musicians that they have famously exported to America. Some of the biggest stars on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart have been from Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. Let's take a look at which singers and bands have scored big in the United States.
1. U2 (Ireland)
U2 has become almost as synonymous with Ireland as Celtic music, leprechauns, and shamrocks. Rolling Stone designated the famous rock band as one of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time," and in 2005 the Irish group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
However, in 1976, when Bono and his bandmates first formed U2 in Dublin, they were mere teenagers. The Irish rockers have reinvented themselves over the years, shifting their sound and finding not only worldwide commercial success but also nabbing a string of Grammy Awards and other key accolades.
Named after a spy plane, U2 has become known for its sociopolitical messages, including poverty, disease, and social justice. Fans identify frontman Bono (real name Paul David Hewson) with a trademark look, colored or dark sunglasses. However, he wears them not because of how hip he is but rather because he suffers from glaucoma.
Among U2's Top 40 hits on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 charts are:
- "With or Without You" (1987)
- "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (1987)
- "Desire" (1988)
- "Angel of Harlem" (1988)
- "Mysterious Ways" (1991)
- "One" (1992)"
- "Even Better Than the Real Thing" (1992)
- "Staring at the Sun" (1995)
- "Discothèque" (1997)
- "Beautiful Day" (2000) and
- "Vertigo" (2004).
2. Calvin Harris (Scotland)
Scotland can proudly claim prominent DJ Calvin Harris as its native son. Harris is a popular vocalist, songwriter, and music producer who has released a series of Top 40 tunes on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Additionally, the Scottish musician has collaborated on popular singles with a variety of big-name artists: Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, Ne-Yo, Gwen Stefani, Alesso, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Grande, Katy Perry, Snoop Dogg, and Florence Welch. Talk about name dropping!
Some of the Scottish DJ's mainstream releases to make the Top 40 Billboard charts include:
- "Feel So Close" (2011)
- "We Found Love" (2011)
- "Let's Go" (2012)
- "Sweet Nothing" (2012)
- "I Need Your Love" (2013)
- "Summer" (2014)
- "Blame" (2014)
- "Outside" (2014)
- "How Deep Is Your Love" (2015)
- "This Is What You Came For" (2016)
- "My Way" (2016)
- "Slide" (2017)
- "Feels" (2017) and
- "One Kiss" (2018).
3. Celtic Woman (Ireland)
This five-woman Irish lineup performs traditional Celtic tunes, modern songs, and Christmas tunes. They dovetailed off the international popularity of the wildly traditional Irish music and dance performance theatre of Riverdance. Although Celtic Woman has not realized success on the mainstream pop charts, their contribution to music has not gone unnoticed. The all-female group is a household name in America and has been named Billboard World Album Artist of the Year six times.
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4. Simple Minds (Scotland)
If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, then you likely recall the Scottish rock band Simple Minds for their 1985 new wave ditty, "Don't You (Forget About Me)." It was the theme song for the cult movie classic, The Breakfast Club, about five high schoolers who spend a Saturday together in detention. Originally, Simple Minds didn't want to record the single because they didn't write it, plus the song style deviated too much from their usual vibe. It had already been turned down by several other prominent artists.
In addition to "Don't You (Forget About Me)," Simple Minds released several other singles that achieved the Top 40 of the Billboard's Hot 100 chart:
- "Alive and Kicking" (1985)
- "Sanctify Yourself" (1986) and
- "All the Things She Said" (1986).
5. Van Morrison (Northern Ireland)
Known as "Van the Man" to his followers, this Northern Irish singer-songwriter is admired for his R&B and soul-tinged mainstream hits. Van Morrison first made his mark on mainstream music with the 1967 rock hit, "Brown Eyed Girl," a song originally intended to be titled, "Brown-Skinned Girl." This career-defining number with an island vibe continues to be one of the most downloaded and played 1960s tunes.
Morrison was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Aside from his signature song, the Irishman's Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 include:
- "Come Running" (1970)
- "Domino" (1970)
- "Blue Money" (1971) and
- "Wild Night" (1971).
Additionally, Van the Man wrote and originally recorded the song that Rod Stewart is often associated with, "Have I Told You Lately." Morrison won a Grammy for it in 1989.
6. Hozier (Ireland)
Andrew John Hozier-Byrne is mononymously known as Hozier. In 2013, after a bad romantic breakup, the Irish singer-songwriter penned a soulful song in his parents' attic at 2 a.m. It springboarded him to global fame when his video went viral on Reddit.
Hozier's song, "Take Me to Church," describes his love affair in religious terms and provides critical social commentary on established religion. The narrator believes that loving sex with his irreverent girlfriend brings him closer to God than any traditional church can: "There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin."
The alternative rock song crossed over to the mainstream pop charts as well as the dance and adult contemporary charts. Hauntingly beautiful, it became a worldwide sensation. The song's video was inspired by the hate crimes against gay men in Russia. "Take Me to Church" made the 2015 year-end Top 40 list as well as the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the decade.
The Irishman's hits have included Top 40 singles on both the rock and mainstream charts:
- "Take Me to Church" (2013)
- "Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene" (2014)
- "Like Real People Do" (2014)
- "Arsonist's Lullaby" (2014)
- "NFWMB" (2018)
- "Shrike" (2018)
- "To Noise Making (Sing)" (2018) and
- "The Bones" (2019).
Fun fact: Hozier's 2019 song with country star Maren Morris, "The Bones," kept him from being a one-hit wonder. All of his other hits saw success on the rock charts but didn't crack the mainstream pop charts. Many articles on the internet mistakenly list this Irishman as a one-hit wonder, but now you know better!
7. Niall Horan (Ireland)
Before Niall Horan launched his solo career, he was the Irish part of the English-Irish boy band One Direction, assembled in 2010 (and listed separately in the table below). As a preteen, Horan taught himself to play the guitar with the help of YouTube. When Horan auditioned as a lone performer on the British music competition show, The X Factor, he was eliminated from the individual rounds. Lucky for us all, Simon Cowell put the Irish musician together with several other rejected soloists—Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, and Harry Styles—to form a "manufactured" group.
Horan churned out hits with mega-group One Direction and toured the world until the band went on permanent hiatus in 2016. Then he struck out on his own to record mainstream pop 40 songs such as "This Town" (2016) and "Slow Hands" (2017).
8. Sheena Easton (Scotland)
Grammy Award-winning Scot Sheena Easton was first inspired to pursue a career as a singer when she saw the Barbra Streisand movie, The Way We Were. Easton later the prominent Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama on scholarship, and in a career-propelling move appeared in a documentary film that sought to document a virtually unknown musician's attempts to find fame.
When a respected talent scout told the Scottish musician that she had little chance of success, Easton proved them wrong. Within less than a year she had a record contract in America and was on her way.
At the pinnacle of Easton's success in the 1980s, the Scottish songstress had under her belt a series of hits on the mainstream pop chart, in addition to others on the dance, R&B, country adult contemporary, international and Latin charts. Talk about wide-ranging interests! Easton contributed the James Bond theme and collaborated with artists ranging from Prince to Kenny Rogers.
Easton's hits on the mainstream Billboard Top 40 include these memorable songs:
- "Modern Girl" (1980)
- "9 to 5 (Morning Train)" (1980)
- "When He Shines" (1981)
- "For Your Eyes Only (1981)
- "You Could Have Been with Me" (1981)
- "We've Got Tonight" (1983)
- "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)" (1983)
- "Almost Over You" (1983)
- "Strut" (1984)
- Sugar Walls" (1984)
- "The Lover in Me" (1988) and
- "What Comes Naturally" (1991).
9. Nazareth (Scotland)
Love wounds and marks
Any heart not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud, it holds a lot of rain
Oooh ... love hurts. ...
Now this is a breakup song that leaves nothing unsaid! Scottish hard rock band Nazareth is a one-hit wonder in the US because the group only eeked out one hit on the Top 40 list of the Billboard Hot 100. However, anyone who has felt like they've been stabbed in the heart by a lover and left to bleed out will feel like "Love Hurts" (1975) was written exclusively for them.
Nazareth was formed in 1961 from members of a group called The Shadettes. The new group took its name from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, a location cited in the lyrics of the song, "The Weight" (1968) by The Band.
Gun N’ Roses lead vocalist Axl Rose is such a Nazareth fan that he asked the Scottish hard rockers to play "Love Hurts" at his wedding, but unfortunately, Nazareth declined. A version of the band is still going strong today.
10. Lewis Capaldi (Scotland)
Imagine it's your first major hit and you take home accolades like the Brit Song of the Year, the Scottish Music Awards' Best Breakthrough Artist, and a Grammy nomination. That's where Scottish singer-songwriter finds himself. "Someone You Loved" (2018) was a chart-topper in the US and became a worldwide smash hit. Obviously, the pressure is on for Capaldi to keep creating incredibly successful mainstream Billboard Top 40 hits.
Capaldi's road to success began when he learned to play drums and guitar as a toddler, sang in pubs by the time he was a 9 year-old and was discovered thanks to a self-recorded upload of his vocals to SoundCloud. Along the way, Capaldi has performed with singers including Kygo, Ellie Goulding, Niall Horan, and Sam Smith. Expect more good things from the Scottish singer. No pressure, Lewis.
11. The Corrs (Ireland)
An Irish quartet of siblings, The Corrs gained international exposure when they performed at the1994 FIFA World Cup in Boston and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. They subsequently toured with Celine Dion as supporting vocalists.
Their distinctively Irish-flavored pop/rock and folk/rock sound produced modest success overseas. Unfortunately, the only Top 40 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart was their 2000 song, "Breathless," effectively making the group a one-hit wonder. Even so, The Corrs did enjoy some success on the American adult contemporary charts with these hits before they went on an extended hiatus:
- "Someone You Loved" (2001)
- "Would You Be Happier?" (2001)
- "Summer Sunshine" (2004) and
- "When the Stars Go Blue" (2007).
12. Thin Lizzy (Ireland)
Thin Lizzy's only song to crack the mainstream Billboard Top 40 was the rockin' 1976 tune, "The Boys Are Back in Town." It's hard to imagine that this Irish hard rock band, so popular abroad, was technically a one-hit wonder in the United States. At least their one hit was a really good one!
Founding member and leader of the group Phil Lynott was particularly noteworthy in that he was the first black Irishman to achieve commercial success in the rock music industry. Lynott was a songwriter and Thin Lizzy's lead vocalist. Even after his drug-related death in 1986, a version of the band still performs today. They record new material under the name Black Star Riders.
13. The Script (Ireland)
Two best friends since age 12—guitarist Mark Sheehan and vocalist Danny O'Donoghue—joined forces to form Irish rock band, The Script. Early in their careers, these Irishmen were part of a boy band called Mytown that split in 2001. Their production and songwriting work took them to North America where they supported artists like Britney Spears, TLC, and Boyz II Men. While there, the two Irishmen combined forces with fellow countryman and drummer Glen Power, thus forming The Script.
As a newly established rock band, The Script opened for Paul McCartney and U2. The Script's 2008 hit, "The Man Who Can't Be Moved" brought them international acclaim. In the United States, the song was an adult alternative hit and was often featured in the CBS television show, The Ghost Whisperer.
The band's Top 40 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 chart include the following:
- "Breakeven" (2008)
- "For the First Time" (2010)
- "Nothing" (2010) and
- "Hall of Fame" (2012).
14. Sinéad O'Connor (Ireland)
Famous for being bald-headed and oddly behaved, Sinéad O'Connor reimagined a little known song by Prince called "Nothing Compares 2 U" (1990). The pop hit became a chart-topping sensation across the globe. If you've ever felt emotionally stripped bare then had the remains of your raw heart stomped upon by a lover, then this pop ballad aptly describes your vulnerability.