Ten Great Proclaimers Songs that Aren’t ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’

proclaimers

Just today a little uninvited ad popped up on my Facebook page asking if I liked the Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ and directing me to check out their new album, Like Comedy. Ironic since I was already planning to write this post complaining about how the Scottish sibling duo are too often summed up by their one-and-only American pop singles chart entry.

Thanks to its inclusion in the 1993 Johnny Depp film Benny & Joon, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ was a #3 hit a full five years after its original release on the Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith album. And given our perception of one-hit wonders and the fact that there are plenty of respected acts (Tom Waits, Phish, The Ramones, Indigo Girls, Bob Marley) who have never had a top 40 single, I can’t help but wonder if that fluke hit actually has had a negative net effect on the Proclaimers’ legacy.

One-hit wonders are a joke. No-hit wonders are too cool to have hits. Right?

At any rate, the fact that Craig and Charlie Reid play coffeehouse-size venues in this country belies their status as a popular worldwide touring attraction. Their songs have been sung by stadia full of soccer fans and had stage musicals written around them (a la ABBA’s Mamma Mia!) in countries where they’d be baffled to see ‘I’m Gonna Be…’ featuring in VH1’s 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders.

Here are ten proclamations of the songwriting prowess of the Reid brothers:

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1. “Letter From America”

The Proclaimers’ first album, 1987’s This is the Story, has similarities to another promising artist’s debut, that being Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True.

Though brimming with great songwriting, both albums featured a primitive sound that would be abandoned by the release of the respective artists’ sophomore LPs. Costello’s ragged throwback sound (provided by backing band Clover, later known as Huey Lewis & the News) pegged him as a punk Buddy Holly; a year later, with the legendary Attractions in place, Elvis began forging a legacy that terms like “punk” and “new wave” couldn’t encapsulate.

The Proclaimers’ first record presents them in a stripped-down (in this case acoustic) setting with an almost folk-punk feel. But tacked on at the end, in a full-band arrangement that presaged their sound on subsequent albums, was their first classic anthem, “Letter From America”.

This song deserves the status that “I’m Gonna Be…” enjoys as the Proclaimers’ calling card. It’s a heartbreaking elegy to Scotland’s emigration drain due to economic depression:

I wonder my blood/Will you ever return/To help us kick the life back/To a dying mutual friend?/Do we not love her?/Do we not say we love her?/Do we have to roam the world to prove how much it hurts?

Interestingly, the 12′ vinyl pressing interwove the full band and acoustic versions of the song on the same side of the record in such a way that the needle would play one or the other version randomly when the needle hit the grooves. The song was a #3 UK hit.

young proc

2. “Cap in Hand”

From their second and finest album, 1988’s Sunshine on Leith, a truly overlooked classic despite the fact that it contained “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. The brothers and their backing band talk about the special feeling they all had recording the album, and the great melodies that were flowing from the brothers’ collective pen.

In a brilliant piece of writing, “Cap in Hand” mixes cheek with pointed political commentary:

I can understand why Stranraer lie so lowly/They could save a lot of points by signing Hibs’ goalie/But I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land/We’re cap in hand

3. “Then I Met You”

A hopeful ode to new love’s ability to overcome hardened cynicism. Also from Sunshine on Leith.

older proc

4. “Sean”

The Leith album was littered with songs which stirred the best kind of nationalistic feelings. Not the defiant, ready-to-take-up-guns type. But the kind that make you want to sing loudly and celebrate the beauty of family, nation and heritage.

Though fear and hurt and care can lead me to despair/I saw why I’m here the morning you appeared

Sean, I sat awhile on clouds to ask God if He’s living/I should have spent the time on knees in thanks for what He’s given

From parents smart and strong to both of us passed on/From kings is where you come, through daughters and through sons

5. “Sunshine on Leith”

Speaking of songs you want to sing loudly, the album’s title track–a beautiful serenade to the port district near Edinburgh–has been adopted by the Hibernian Football Club, whose fans belt it at all their matches.

The first video below shows the cheer that goes up when the song begins, and the team’s celebration of the CIC Cup victory as the fans serenade them. The second adds a layer of poignancy with the story of the coach losing his father. It captures a moment when life and music intersect in a powerful way.

6. “I’m on my Way”

Yet another track from the Leith album (and it wasn’t easy to narrow it to five). This one will be familiar to anyone who saw the movie Shrek.

7. “Shout Shout”

After a six-year drought due to writer’s block, the twins returned with their attention having turned somewhat from the political/cultural focus of Sunshine on Leith to more domestic matters. Significantly, the album delivered no big follow-up single to “I’m Gonna Be…”, cementing their one-hit status.

proc 4

8. “Should Have Been Loved”

After a pair of so-so albums and a ‘best of’ collection, the brothers returned to form in 2003 with Born Innocent, their strongest album since Sunshine on Leith. The effortless songcraft and catchy melodies were abundant on this, their most underrated record.

9. “He’s Just Like Me”

Also from Born Innocent. Illustrative of the honest, poignant lyric style that sets them apart as writers.

10. “Now and Then”

This song, written in memory of the Reid brothers’ lost father, will be a dose of strong stuff for anyone who’s experienced a similar loss. Sad, beautiful and reassuring all at once.

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See also:

Ten Great Hollies Songs That Never Hit the U.S. Top 40

Ten Great Asia Songs That Never Hit the U.S. Top 40

Ten Great Irish Rovers Songs that Aren’t ‘The Unicorn’

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb D.
    Aug 26, 2016 @ 15:36:18

    You’ve completely missed Restless Soul – particularly the title track and the sweet “What I Saw in You.”

    Reply

    • Barb D.
      Aug 26, 2016 @ 15:56:20

      I apologize, Now and Then is from Restless Soul. I stand by the other two choices, though.

      Reply

      • Ed Cyphers
        Aug 26, 2016 @ 16:39:59

        I’ll give the songs you mention another listen. But “Now and Then” is certainly a standout track on Restless Soul in my opinion.
        You do help make the point though that the Proclaimers deserve a better fate than their one-hit wonder status.

        Reply

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