Scotland - not quite a nation, much more than a region.
Standard pop history books state that Scottish pop began in a Glasgow flat, when Alan Horne hand stamped the first Postcard single. That scratchy indie aesthetic has held sway for thirty years now and, seminal as that label may have been, its an absolute fallacy to claim that Scottish pop begins and end with Orange Juice. The true story of Scottish pop is far wider, more complex and far more ambitious than some would have you believe.
Harvey’s version is quintessential blue eyed soul
By no means a definitive list ("wot, no Boards Of Canada?" I hear you cry) this is Clashmusic.com's attempt to stimulate debate, and show that the Scots have channeled their unique identity crisis into some of the most thrilling and vital music of the past fifty years.
Lonnie Donegan – Frankie And Johnny
Back in the primordial roots of British pop, what do we find? A Scotsman leading the way. An entire generation discovered a new use for the washboard as Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle boom took hold on young minds from Lennon and McCartney to Jimmy Page. This is an earthy, passionate salute to that Southern blues sound and remains a stunning piece of British Blues music.
Alex Harvey – Shout
Born into extreme poverty in the Gorbals, Harvey escaped his background through soul shouters like this. His band wore suits made out of coffin lining, they were drunk onstage, swore, fought with promoters and played brilliant music – how much more Scottish can you get? Lulu later took this to the pop charts, but Harvey’s version is quintessential blue eyed soul.
Incredible String Band – A Very Cellular Song
The story goes than anyone seen in Glasgow’s George Square with a guitar in the swinging sixties would be assaulted on sight. Quite how Scotland became a bastion of hippy folk is a mystery then, but the Saltire flies above the heads of Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Richard Thompson (well his dad) and this lot. Massive on both sides of the Atlantic, nothing defines that magical period like this song. Artists such as Devandra Banhart are still taking notes.
Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces
When not tossing cabers, the Scots love a ceilidh – and in the 70s nowhere loved dancing more than Dundee. A bastion for funk and soul, Tayside supergroup Average White Band took that sound to the mainstream with this seminal slab of horn action. Top US session man Michael Brecker dropped by for a solo as the laddies fae the Hulltoon (Dundee council estate) became the first white group to top the American R&B charts. Ever.
The Skids – Into The Valley
The Skids were just about the first punk band in Scotland, but have now been almost entirely written out of history. Perhaps this is due to their locale – “The Valley” is a Fife council estate and their second album was called “Dunfermline”. Maybe its paranoia, but if that album had been called “Bearsden” perhaps we’d here a bit more about them. This rabble rouser got the group on Top Of The Pops - the sound of young Fife? We think so.
It helped define Glasgow’s Soma Records imprint
The Associates – Club Country
One of many geniuses who littered the Scottish music scene in the 80s, Billy MacKenzie was certainly the most tragic. Battling mental illness for years, he took his own life in 1997. Remembered in awe by his peers, “Club Country” is one of the early Associates classics and its vast sonic ambition sits in total isolation to the scratchy Postcard sound.
The Blue Nile – A Walk Across The Rooftops
Much like the musical equivalent of The Flying Dutchman, the good ship Blue Nile docks every so often and unleashes an astonishing melodic bounty. Three albums over twenty years doth not a career make, but the band’s devoted cult following mean they can still sell out concert halls across the nation. Taken from their first album, this was designed to test stereos and the level of production remains astonishing. Otherworldly songcraft from a very much forgotten period of Scottish music.
Slam – Positive Education
As bands across the globe frequently attest, no one does ‘mad for it’ like the Scots. So when the blast of energy known as rave came along, it was natural that the Picts would go ape over it. “Positive Education” is a world-wide floor filler, a beast of a tune that grabs you by the hips and doesn’t let go. It helped define Glasgow’s Soma Records imprint, which discovered Daft Punk and is still going strong today.
Arab Strap – First Big Weekend
There’s an argument to be made that Chemikal Underground is in fact a far better label than Postcard. It goes like this: all the bands are better, and they released better records. This became a massive radio hit, and propelled Arab Strap to over a decade of cult hysteria. Apparently supermodel Helena Christiansen is a huge fan, and it’s easy to see why – the melancholic camaraderie of this record inspires almost fifteen years after it was first released.
The Twilight Sad – That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy
Post devolution, Scotland is a far more confident nation than it was when Lonnie Donegan first took up pluckin’ the six string. This confidence has arguably found its expression in The Twilight Sad. Unashamed to use their native accents, the band’s vast orchestrations and poetic lyrics reflect an almost undefinable ‘Scottishness’. Undefinable, that is, until you put on the record, whip out your kilt and down a bottle of buckie. Och aye the noo!