20 of the Top Famous Scottish Bands of All Time
I often get the response "I never knew they were Scottish" when I mention some of these bands. So it's time to set the record straight.
Many Scottish artists have been among the greatest UK bands of all time. They have contributed immensely to the history of contemporary music over the past 40 years, so it is difficult to choose the best.
So this a list of 20 of the top famous Scottish bands of all time based on many factors such as quality, influence, popularity, and success but not necessarily all of the above. Solo artists are not included as this is purely about groups.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
1. The Average White Band
A Funk and R&B band from different parts of Scotland such as Dundee, Glasgow, and Perth who were hugely popular in the 1970’s with their soulful style of disco tunes.
They had Alan Gorrie, and Hamish Stuart on lead vocals backed up by the voice and guitar of Owen 'Onnie' McIntyre. With Malcolm Duncan, Robbie McIntosh, and Roger Ball they made up the original band members. Their breakthrough came after signing to Atlantic Records and basing themselves in New York.
The resultant album AWB was No.1 in the USA in 1974 establishing them as a top act. Their biggest hits were "Let’s Go Round Again," "Cut the Cake," "Queen of My Soul," and the largely instrumental brass of "Pick Up the Pieces." Many gold albums and Grammy nominations followed, and their work has been sampled by many other artists ever since.
The group broke up in 1982 before reforming in 1989 and despite various line-up changes are still working today and very popular in America where their music has crossed over the supposed colour lines of R&B.
Best song: "Pick Up the Pieces"
2. Bay City Rollers
The Rollers were a 1970s pop phenomenon not only in the UK but the also had success in America.
They made tartan fashionable among the teeny-boppers of Great Britain, and their style of dress was ubiquitous especially at their height in 1975.
Not since The Beatles had such teenage hysteria been seen in the UK as the band had the country in their grip. Probably their most famous hit was the No.1 song "Bye Bye Baby" although in the same year "Give a Little Love" was another No.1 in 1975.
They also went high on the charts with '"Shang-a-Lang," "Love Me Like I love You," and "Summerlove Sensation," songs which still stand up today for their sing-a-long style.
By the late 70's their short-lived popularity had faded, and they effectively ceased to exist by 1979. Not the most accomplished artists and musicians but they deserve their place in the history of Scottish music simply for the brief and dramatic impact they had. Unfortunately, there have been disputes, recriminations and legal actions ever since between band members and management over royalties.
Best song: "Bye, Bye Baby"
3. Belle and Sebastian
A much-vaunted group from Glasgow who was formed in 1996, initially as a college project. Their first album Tigermilk was the result, but it was the follow-up that made their name.
Their sophomore album If You're Feeling Sinister is reckoned to be one of the best records of the 90's. They then went from strength to strength with the next album The Boy With the Arab Strap hitting No.12 on the UK charts and winning a 'Best Newcomer' prize at the prestigious Brit Awards in 1999.
Many highlights in their career include shows at the Glastonbury Festival, studio work with producer Trevor Horn of Yes fame, and an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006 backed up by the L.A. Philharmonic. And to top all that in an extensive public opinion poll conducted by The List magazine in 2005 they were actually voted the best ever Scottish band.
Best song: "I Want the World to Stop"
4. Biffy Clyro
A band from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire formed in 1995 although they first existed under the name Skewfish. They are the trio of Simon Neil and the brothers Ben and James Johnston.
Like many great bands, they were a slow-burner and the big time came slowly. An appearance at the T-in-the-Park Festival in Scotland in 2000 brought a contract with Beggars Banquet. The first three albums which began with the 2002 release of Blackened Sky performed respectably on the UK charts.
But it was their fourth album Puzzle in 2007 through a Warner Brothers company called 14th Floor, which made the grade. It went platinum in the UK, and since then all of the resulting albums have been huge hits both in the UK and Europe. Top tunes include "Folding Stars," "Mountain," and "Many of Horror."
They also have crossover appeal between indie rock and heavy metal and have headlined at the Download Festival and Glastonbury in England as well as T in the Park.
Best song: "Folding Stars"
5. Big Country
Stuart Adamson built on his success with The Skids with a distinctively Scottish style of Rock in which the guitar was synthesised to resemble the sound of bagpipes or fiddles.
This worked to great effect, and they became even more popular than The Skids enjoying some brief success in the USA with their album "The Crossing" in 1983.
Ironically none of the members of Big Country were actually born in Scotland. Even Adamson was born in Manchester but to Scottish parents and he was raised in Dunfermline from the age of 4 years old.
Their most famous tunes were "Fields of Fire," "Look Away," "Chance," "In A Big Country," "One Great Thing," and "King of Emotion" throughout a sparkling career in the 1980’s. Tragically Adamson struggled with alcoholism and was found dead by hanging in a Honolulu hotel in 2001 at the young age of 43 years.
However, remaining members of the band reformed in 2010 with Mike Peters of The Alarm on vocals on their 2013 album The Journey. Although he left soon after, the band has continued to make music with a different lineup.
Best song: "In a Big Country"
6. Deacon Blue
A sophisticated mixture of 80’s pop-rock fused with 60’s style soul music made Deacon Blue one of the most stylish and classy bands around.
Calling themselves after a Steely Dan song they had massive success in the UK and Europe with "Dignity," "Loaded," "Real Gone Kid," and "Fergus Sings the Blues" as singer Ricky Ross provided especially superb songwriting.
Fellow singer Lorraine McIntosh became a successful actress in Scotland appearing as a regular in TV soap River City and drummer Dougie Vipond became a BBC sports presenter.
The band split in 1994 but reformed in 1999 and remain a popular headline act albeit in sporadic phases as they also continue to work on individual projects. Their 1987 debut album Raintown was a million seller in the UK and remains a classic album with an iconic cover picture depicting a rainy cityscape of Glasgow. Probably one of the bands from Scotland held in the greatest affection in their homeland.
Best song: "Dignity"
7. Del Amitri
Great songwriting marked this Glasgow band out from many others with excellent songs. Among their best were "Nothing Ever Happens," "Kiss This Thing Goodbye," "Always the Last to Know," "Right Time," "Move Away Jimmy Blue," and "Roll to Me" which was a Top 10 hit in America.
Strangely they never hit the Top 10 in the UK despite their catchy and well-written songs. However, in the late 80's and early 90's they were still a major force in the Scottish music scene winning many fans in the UK.
They were even awarded the accolade of recording the Scottish football team's official song for the 1998 World Cup which was called "Don't Come Home Too Soon." Sadly a prophetic title given the team's fortunes in the tournament.
Although they have never officially split-up, Del Amitri has not released an album since 2002, and soon after that they were dropped by their record company. Singer Justin Currie remained active in recording and performing before the band got back together again in 2013 and released a live album the following year.
Best song: "Kiss This Thing Goodbye"
8. The Incredible String Band
A Psychedelic Folk band from Edinburgh who was formed in 1966 and originally as a trio, by Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer, and Mike Heron. Their eponymous first album came out almost immediately and ended up winning Melody Maker's 'Folk Album of the Year' award.
They garnered praise from some illustrious contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Robert Plant and firmly established their reputation as exponents of experimental music blending elements of folk, rock, and pop. They actually split up and reformed in 1966, but on their return, it was as a duo with Palmer not returning to the fold.
Keeping themselves busy they released two albums in 1968 called The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and Wee Tam and the Big Huge and began playing big venues. They graced the stages of London's Festival Hall and even the Royal Albert Hall as well as an appearance at Woodstock in 1969.
All in all, they put out a prolific twelve albums in only nine years before they broke up in earnest in 1974. There was a reunion however in 1999 which lasted until 2006 but was not augmented by any studio releases.
Best song: "October Song"
Being forever associated with their cover version of The Beatles song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" could be a blessing or a curse for this Glasgow band. Certainly, their re-working of the song hit No.1 in the UK and sold around a million copies worldwide but has since obscured many other great songs and top hits that they had.
Originally called The Gaylords they changed their name to The Marmalade before dropping the definite article and went on to fantastic domestic success and flirting with the US charts. It was a struggle at first, and they didn't help themselves by rejecting the offer to record "Everlasting Love" which became a massive hit for Love Affair.
But success did indeed come through top tunes such as "Lovin Things," "Wait For Me Mary-Anne," "Baby Make it Soon," and perhaps their best song, the beautiful "Reflections of My Life." This was co-written by band members Junior Campbell and Dean Ford and not authored by songwriters such as Tony McAuley who had penned hits for them. The charts started to elude them in the mid-70's, but they have kept on going in one form or another since then.
Best song: "Reflection of my Life"
A Glasgow band who started up in 1995 and named after the creature from the Gremlins movies. It was meant to be just a working title but it eventually stuck. Described as post-rock their music uses many effects, distortion, and lengthy guitar interludes with most of their output being instrumental songs.
Their first album called Mogwai Young Team appeared in 1997, and since then they have enjoyed consistent commercial success for many years without actually hitting the mainstream of the charts. Their biggest album to date was the 2014 disc Rave Tapes which reached No.10 in the UK charts.
Never considered as a singles band, they first managed to enter the UK Top 40 in 2006 with their song "Friend of the Night" which rose to a respectable position of No.38.
Having appeared on the scores of many movies and TV programmes, the music of Mogwai has become more recognisable through soundtracks. They even provided the complete background music for the football documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait and the documentary Atomic.
Best song: "Take Me Somewhere Nice"
Legends of the Scottish rock scene from Dunfermline and much admired internationally by artists such as Guns n’ Roses who included "Hair of the Dog" on their 1993 album The Spaghetti Incident.
Their most famous hit was a rocking version of Joni Mitchell’s "This Flight Tonight" which crops up on countless rock compilation albums. They also had a huge hit with their cover of "Love Hurts" in 1975 which was their only Top 10 hit in the USA and went platinum.
Singer Dan McCafferty was even invited to perform the song at Axl Rose’s wedding in 1990 but turned it down. However, they had many fine songs in their own right including "Razamanaz," "Broken Down Angel," "May the Sunshine," and "Bad, Bad Boy."
Although undergoing line-up changes the band has never broken up despite original lead-guitarist Manny Charlton leaving in 1990. They have maintained an honoured presence in the scene for over 40 years appreciated by lovers of raw and honest hard rock music. Possibly the greatest Scottish rock band ever.
Best song: "Broken Down Angel"
12. Primal Scream
Hailing from Glasgow their love of traditional classic rock shines through their songs as the influence of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles has figured heavily in their music.
With a mixture of styles borne from garage rock, indie, and even dance they have never stood still preferring to experiment in different genres. This was exemplified by their seminal album Screamadelica released in 1991 to critical and popular acclaim.
Fronted by the enigmatic but brilliant Bobby Gillespie, they are a fantastic live band with a back catalogue of instantly recognisable tunes. Their most recognisable are the catchy party-stomper "Rocks", "Movin’ On Up," "Kowalski," "Country Girl," and the psychedelic dance classic "Loaded."
A highly prolific band by modern standards they released nine albums on a regular basis between 1987 and 2008. The last of those, Beautiful Future was Top 10 hit in 2008. They've eased up since then, but More Light in 2013 and Chaosmosis in 2016 both went Top 20 in the UK proving they've never lost their popularity.
Best song: "Rocks"
13. The Proclaimers
Charlie and Craig Reid are two identical twin brothers from Fife who broke with tradition by eschewing the natural inclination to sing with mid-Atlantic style accents as many UK bands do.
They sing with their distinctive Scottish brogue and perhaps surprisingly became an international success. Politically committed they released "Letter from America" about the social decline of industrial Scotland during the recession years of the 1980s.
The song was popular enough in the rest of the UK to reach No.3 in the charts in 1987. Another song "I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)" has become their roof-raising signature tune loved by music fans and football supporters ever since.
It was also used as the theme song in the opening titles of the 1993 Hollywood movie Benny and Joon at the request of actress Mary Stuart Masterton and which propelled it to No.3 in the Billboard Hot 100. They are still a major attraction today on the live scene inspiring patriotic gatherings of party-going fans.
Best song: "I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)"
14. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
Alex Harvey passed away with a heart attack in Belgium as far back as 1982 only a day before his 47th birthday. He is still fondly remembered as a uniquely larger than life character, with a charismatic stage persona and backed by superb musicians.
He was expertly assisted by the colourful Zal Cleminson on guitar sporting his 'Pierrot' image of white-painted clown make-up. There was also Chris Glen on bass and Ted McKenna on drums both of whom later joined the Michael Schenker Group. Ted's cousin Hugh played keyboards.
This was the Sensational Alex Harvey Band who perhaps vie with Nazareth for the crown of the greatest Scottish rock band of all time. They weren’t a huge chart band by any means but with their memorable live rendition of Tom Jones' "Delilah" which was a huge hit in 1975 and "Boston Tea Party" a hit in 1976 they gained a period of national fame.
Many of their songs stand out today for their quality and humour. Top tunes were the dubiously entitled "Gang Bang," the epic "Faith Healer," a hilarious version of Jacques Brel’s "Next," and the raunchy blues of "Framed." Alex Harvey had actually left the band before his death, and today former members still tour, although Zal Cleminson had decided to leave in 2008 and retire from the music business.
Best song: "Faith Healer"
15. Simple Minds
Hugely popular international band from Glasgow who were truly original exponents of electronic rock fronted by charismatic singer Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill on guitar. In the early 80’s they released memorable tunes like "‘Love Song," and "The American" before having hits with "Promised You a Miracle" and "Glittering Prize" in the UK.
However they really established themselves with the epic song "‘Waterfront" featuring an unforgettable bassline. After that they conquered America in 1983 when they sang "Don’t You Forget About Me," the theme tune to director John Hughes brat-pack movie The Breakfast Club which was a No.1 hit. This was followed by the anthemic "Alive and Kicking" which reached No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
They gambled on the song "Belfast Child" in 1989 when the troubles in Northern Ireland were still a problematic issue for musicians to address. However, they were rewarded with their first UK No.1 which balanced out the controversy and vindicated their decision. The band went into relative decline for several years before storming back with the single "She’s a River"’ in 1995. They continued to release records throughout the 2000s and still tour around the world.
Best song: "Waterfront"
16. The Skids
A punk outfit hailing from Dunfermline led by the combined talents of singer Richard Jobson and the late Stuart Adamson on lead guitar. They were very successful in the UK with their albums Scared to Dance, Days in Europa, and The Absolute Game and quickly developed a unique sound.
They combined the raw power of punk and the new sophistication of electronic music but always with Adamson’s fierce metal guitar sound to the fore. Jobson’s lyrics were highly eloquent and forceful although sometimes veering towards the pretentious.
Their biggest hits were the awesome "Into the Valley," "Masquerade," "Working for the Yankee Dollar," "Charade," and "Circus Games." These classics marked them as one of the best ever UK punk bands to come out of the late 1970s.
However, they broke up in 1982 and Jobson went on to present TV programmes and direct movies. In recent years the band reformed to play some gigs, in 2007 in Dunfermline as a tribute to Adamson, T-in-the-Park in the same year, and at the 2009 Homecoming celebrations. They have since played many other gigs and produced new studio material.
Best song: "Into the Valley"
Although hailing from Glasgow, they took their name from the movie Paris, Texas as they were heavily influenced by the bluesy slide guitar of Ry Cooder. This sound introduced them to the scene on their first album Southside which gave them an instant hit in 1989 with "I Don’t Want a Lover" sung by the beautiful and talented Sharleen Spiteri.
They went from strength to strength ever since especially with their classic White on Blonde album in 1996 which spawned many hits such as "Say What You Want," "Halo," and "Black Eyed Boy" with a combination of soulful dance and radio-friendly rock. It sold a million copies in the UK alone.
Also their song "So Called Friend" was adopted by Ellen DeGeneres for her hit US sitcom Ellen in 1994. Their last album to date was Red Book in 2005. Since then Sharleen Spiteri has recorded solo material and was also a guest singer on the song "Stirb Nicht Vor Mir" by the German industrial band Rammstein.
Best song: "I Don’t Want a Lover"
A very successful Indie band from 1990 obviously inspired by bands like Teenage Fanclub but who enjoyed more national success. They took their name from Paris, Texas too from the character played by Harry Dean Stanton in the movie.
They wrote melodic, catchy tunes such as "Why Does it Always Rain on Me," "Coming Around," "Sing," "Closer," "Re-Offender," and "Driftwood." Initially, they played rock influenced tunes but moved into more moody and reflective songs and their album The Man Who in 1999 rocketed them to stardom.
They also produced quirky and inspired videos, including "Writing to Reach You" with singer Fran Healey fleeing a WW2 Messerschmitt across a desolate countryside as machine gun bullets spat up from the ground behind him.
The turn of the new century saw them continue their great success three albums in a row going platinum and also achieving some success in America. Travis are still prolific recording artists, and a major attraction live.
Best song: "Turn"
19. The Waterboys
Formed in 1983 in Edinburgh by Mike Scott who is a vastly underrated singer-songwriter who deserves to be huge on the international scene. Initially, the group was Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite, and Kevin Wilkinson.
However, the band has been more of an open-house collective since those decades ago with scores of participants performing on their albums. They have provided listeners with an excellent and highly eclectic mix of folk and rock music, soulful ballads, and epic anthems.
The music of The Waterboys always resonates with fire and feeling such as on the inspiring "This is the Sea" in 1985. Mike Scott has been the songwriter behind classic hits like "Whole of the Moon," "Fisherman's Blues," "Glastonbury Song," "A Man is in Love," and "The Return of Pan" among many fantastic songs.
The band has had fewer singles success as the year have gone on but have maintained a strength in albums with recordings such as Room to Roam, Dream Harder up to later albums like Modern Blues and Out of All This Blue.
Best song: "The Whole of the Moon"
20. Wet Wet Wet
Clydebank's Wet Wet Wet were already long established when they struck gold with their massive hit "Love is All Around," a cover of The Troggs classic re-vamped for the soundtrack to the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.
This song stayed at No.1 in the UK charts for 15 weeks in 1994 and reaped a financial windfall for original writer Reg Presley who reportedly earned £1million from the publishing rights. However, they had many other marvelous original songs such as "Wishing I Was Lucky," "Hold Back the River," and the beautiful ballads "Goodnight Girl," "Julia Says," and "Angel Eyes" enhanced by the tremendous singing voice of Marti Pellow.
Unfortunately, Pellow experienced drug problems and the band split for a few years in the early 2000s. They reformed in 2004, but Pellow eventually quit the band in 2017. Nevertheless, their soulful ballads and dance tunes backed with lavish production values mark them as one of the classiest and most popular Scottish bands around.
Best song: "Love is all Around"
So there you have it, just my take on who are the greatest Scottish bands in popular music history. You may have your ideas on entries or omissions which is not surprising given the rich heritage of Scottish musicians.
On the other hand, if you were not familiar with many of the bands, then I hope you enjoyed some of the videos and are interested in finding out more about the rock and pop music of Scotland.
Questions & Answers
Was there a group called Sunshine?
Never heard of them