15 of the Top Famous Scottish Bands of All Time
The Top Scottish Bands of All Time : 15 of the Best (with videos)
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 great Scottish artists have been among the greatest British bands of all time.
They have contributed handsomely to the history of contemporary music over the past 40 years and therefore it is difficult to chose the best.
I was going to compile a Top 10 list but felt that there were too many good artists that would be left out and so here is my Top 15.
Of course there are many bands I could have included and so mentions in dispatches are in order for the likes of Runrig, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Aztec Camera, Belle and Sebastian, The Silencers, The Blue Nile, Gun, The Exploited, The Almighty and many others that you may yourself have enjoyed.
So here is my purely personal take on who I think would be the top Scottish bands 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.
I also don't believe in rating them in preference or choosing an absolute No.1, all music is subject to taste. So here they are in alphabetical order.
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
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 in 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
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 Stuart struggled with alcoholism and was found dead by hanging in a Honolulu hotel in 2001 at the young age of 43 years.
Best song: Look Away
A sophisticated mixture of 80’s pop-rock fused with 60’s style soul music made Deacon Blue one of the 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 especially provided superb song-writing.
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
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 the commercial possibilities of their 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 phrophetc title given the team's fortunes in the tournament. Although they have never officially split-up, Del Amitri have not released an album since 2002. Soon after they were dropped by their record company. Singer Justin Currie remains active in recording and performing.
Best song: Kiss This Thing Goodbye
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 CD’s.
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 sold 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 have never broke 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
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’, the psychedelic dance classic ‘Loaded’ with also ‘Movin’ On Up’, ‘Kowalski’ and ‘Country Girl’.
A highly prolific band by modern standards having released 9 albums on a regular basis between 1987 and 2008. The last of those albums 'Beautiful Future' was Top 10 in 2008, proving that they have never lost their popularity
Best song: Rocks
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)
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
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 bass-line.
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 in the US 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
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 British Punk bands to come out of the late 1970s.
However they broke up in 1982. 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.
Best song: Into the Valley
Teenage Fan Club
Highly influential group in the Indie music scene in the 1990’s with their harmonic vocals over soft rock melodies and acoustic music reminiscent of The Byrds.
Their only major single success in the UK was the 1997 song ‘Ain’t That Enough’ although they had some success in the US Rock charts also.
Producing many well-written tunes like 'The Concept', 'Sparky's Dream' and 'Mellow Doubt' they became one of the most respected bands to come out of Scotland.
Their most popular albums were ‘Grand Prix’ and ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ released in the mid-90’s at the height of the BritPop era in the UK. They are generally recognised as inspiring the music of the more commercially successful career of Travis in recent years. Despite the fact that Teenage Fanclub rarely appeared high in the charts their work is nonetheless held in high regard today and they still busy making music.
Best song: Ain't That Enough
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 onto 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 sit-com ‘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 obviously inspired by 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. They are still prolific recording artists and a major attraction live.
Best song: Turn
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 old 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 marvellous 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 and are still active today. 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 own take on who are the greatest Scottish bands in popular music history. You may have your own ideas on entries or ommissions which is not surprising given the rich heritage of Scots 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.
I'm sure this list will quickly go out of date given the fantastic new Scottish bands who have appeared on the scene in recent years. Hopefully groups like Franz Ferdinand, Idlewild, The Fratellis and Biffy Clyro will maintain their quality for years to come.
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