It’s not until you sit down and listen to their back catalogue pretty much end to end that it dawns on any compiler just how difficult it is to highlight only one song by probably the least likely looking pop stars of recent times.
Alright, it’s not looks we should judge Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid by. You’ve only got to slip on a Best Of collection to realise just how persistently under-rated The Proclaimers have been.
Yes, they’ve had their fair share of commercial success but have they been taken entirely seriously? No.
Perhaps it’s their own fault – after all they’ve refused to change their bank-clerk-next-door image or water down their accents, but more power to them for that.
Apart from a bit of politicking here and there, they pretty much shun the limelight and the headlines but over the years they’ve come up with a string of gems such as the travelogue Letter From America, the love song to their homeland Sunshine On Leith, the linguistic patriotism of Throw the R Away, the political statement of Cap In Hand, the hot highland gospel of The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues and, of course, the closing time anthem that will probably be carved on their headstone, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).
It was already a staple tune of any self respecting party, stag do or hens night long before Peter Kay, Matt Lucas and a cast of seemingly thousands emphasised its marching beat and made it a million-plus fund raiser for the Comic Relief charity.
But apart from anything else it deserves its place in the pop psyche for being (so far) the only hit song to feature the word “haver” in its lyrics. Haver? The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as a Scottish verb “to talk foolishly, babble,” or a noun “foolish talk, nonsense.” In English it’s to act in a vacillating or indecisive manner.”
Whatever. It was as welcome as Hoagy Carmichael’s unique use of “reverie”” in the song Stardust.
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) was first released as the lead single from their 1988 album Sunshine on Leith. It reached number 11 in the UK Singles Chart on its initial release, and has since become their most popular song worldwide, initially becoming a number one hit in Iceland of all places (perhaps they do a lot of walking there?), before reaching number one in both Australia and New Zealand in early 1990.
In 1993, following its appearance in the American film Benny & Joon, the song was released in North America and many other countries around the world, reaching the top five in both the United States and Canada.
But the real sit-up-and-notice moment for the song was 2007 when they re-recorded the song with comedians Peter Kay and Matt Lucas for the UK’s Comic Relief charity telethon, scoring a UK number one and outperforming their original singles performance by (500?) miles.
Not bad for something Craig banged out for his then girlfriend Petra (now long time wife) in under an hour whilst waiting in Edinburgh to be picked up for a gig in Aberdeen.
As he later said in The Scottish Sun: “It’s basically about the woman who was my girlfriend then and who’s my wife now. But when something like that comes so fast it’s maybe best not to think too much about it. It happened so quickly I really wasn’t thinking about much really.”
He’d earlier admitted: “I knew that it was a good song, maybe even a single, but I had no idea how popular it would become.”
He could also have expressed surprise (and delight) that the band’s earnings from the song are about five times the rest of their catalogue combined.
Keen ears and eyes will spot the comedy version makes a slight change in the title of the song, with the parentheses placed around “I’m Gonna Be” rather than “500 Miles”. The lyrics also include a change with the words “roll 500 miles” replacing “walk 500 miles”, because the lead characters in the accompanying video Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin are both in wheelchairs.
It reached number three on the official UK Singles Chart on download sales alone and a week later reached number one where it remained for three weeks. It sold 126,000 copies in its first week, making it the biggest selling number one of the year up to that point. Its sales were double that of the official Comic Relief single by Girls Aloud vs. Sugababes, and their cover of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way. The song ended 2007 as the year’s 8th biggest-selling single in the UK.
The unlikely duo were born in Leith on 5 March 1962, and grew up in Edinburgh, Cornwall and Auchtermuchty. When they lived in Auchtermuchty they attended Bell Baxter High School and after several school punk rock bands (honestly!) they formed The Proclaimers in 1983.
The pair came to public attention when a fan sent their demo to the English band The Housemartins, who were impressed enough to invite them on their 1986 UK tour. The exposure won them a January1987 appearance on the pop music television programme The Tube on Channel Four. Subsequently Letter from America peaked at number three in the UK while the debut album This Is the Story went gold.
At the end of the day who can resist a good love song with its little notes of reality. Spot them in this verse:
“When I’m workin’, yes, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s workin’ hard for you
And when the money comes in for the work I do
I’ll pass almost every penny on to you
When I come home (when I come home), oh, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who comes back home to you
And if I grow old, well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who’s growin’ old with you.”
|Charlie Reid, Craig Read
|Celtic Rock, Folk Rock
|Peter Kaye and Matt Lucas