Today’s the day that Scotland decides whether to become an independent country or stay part of the UK. It’s been a momentous campaign that’s seen impassioned arguments from both the Yes and No campaigns, record levels of voter registration and David Cameron almost cry. Being a music site, that’s about all we have to say on the Scottish referendum.
When it comes to the joys of Belle & Sebastian, The Associates, Arab Strap and many more wondrous acts from north of the border, we could ramble on forever - so we did. Read on for our pick of the best Scottish songs of all-time (you'll find these all compiled in a handy playlist at the bottom).
The Shy Retirer
“Another blowhead disco, another sniff of romance I’ll forget/ we promised to ourselves, before we came out, we’d do somethin’ we’d regret” begins the opening track of Arab Strap’s seminal Monday At The Hug and Pint, encapsulating perfectly the week-to-week, futile yet inevitable, routine of pub culture. Arab Strap approach the subject with a particularly affecting malaise: none of Aidan Moffat’s drawled couplets miss their mark, and they are reinforced with superb aptitude by Malcolm Middleton’s mournful arrangements. There is however a beauty within the cynicism, captured in yet another outstanding lyric: “You know I’m always moanin’, but you jump-start my serotonin”. A flawless track. Jon Clark
How tragically apt that the purest, finest piece of music from Scotland’s greatest musical export - the band that changed everything for so many people - is named after a street in Bristol. Like the majority of Come On Die Young, it’s devoid of the many whistles and bells that characterised Young Team, relying heavily on sonically toned down, often relatively clean guitar lines, melancholically interweaving, and eventually picking up a menacing pace as it races towards that archetypal post-rock climax. Neither before, nor since was the format done better, with the amorphous unit of Mogwai working in perfect hive mind unison through the song’s chillingly powerful ten minutes. As the guitars (recorded in America) disappear through some three minutes of gradual fade out at the song’s tail end, Luke Sutherland’s violin (recorded in Glasgow) from the original single version laments in the distance, calling the band, as always, back to their homeland. Tristan Bath
There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake
Before Biffy Clyro started making inroads on stadiums and headline slots, there was a band with some real anger lying underneath. If there's a stereotype of the Scottish that I can get on board with musically, then it's the angry one. Jaggy Snake twists, turns, grates and wraps itself around you leaving you either amazed or wondering how this band went on to write Many of Horror. Biffy Clyro somehow still find space in their setlists for the track, slotting this strange explosion of rage between the likes of Bubbles and That Golden Rule. Luke Beardsworth
Life in a Scotch Sitting Room #2 Episode 11
Ivor Cutler is a self-described "oblique musical philosopher" who gained the unlikeliest of cult followings following his appearance in The Beatles 'Magical Mystery Tour' in 1967. In "Life in a Scotch Sitting Room #2 Episode 11" Cutler recounts the depressing years he spent growing up in the Scottish countryside which inspired many of his songs. Accompanied by his trademark Harmonium, Ivor's storytelling is bleak, hilarious and deeply touching all at the same time. The absurd nature of his songs only emphasises the fact that he was clearly a deeply troubled man. He is a Scottish national treasure that will be forever missed. Jamie Prisk
Hue & Cry
The mid-eighties was a transformative time for British pop. And around the same time The Smiths began to implode, a short-lived musical chimera reared its head known as 'Sophisti-Pop'. It saw the airwaves dominated by an audio-visual feast of Burtons suits and white-boy crooning, from Johnny Hates Jazz and Living In A Box to bobble-legged beatniks Curiosity Killed The Cat. But far north of London, Hue & Cry were proof that (despite being their nation's second most famous fraternal pop combo) a Caledonian duo could rival the best of those soulful sasanach chart botherers. 'Ordinary Angel' - the opening track from their second album - wasn't their biggest hit, but it's the one that got stuck on repeat in my Dad's car somewhere around 1988. A tiny bit of Motown inspired alchemy, caught between an overly enthusiastic brass refrain and the effortless vocals of (long time Scottish Independence activist) Pat Kane. Plus, we found a video from a kids TV show, where Craig Charles sings backing vocals...what more could you ask for on this historic day? Tom Fenwick
Belle and Sebastian
Lazy Line Painter Jane
I’ll see your “best Scottish song” challenge, Drowned In Sound, and raise you the best outsider anthem ever written. Released in the interim between If You’re Feeling Sinister and The Boy With The Arab Strap, ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ is the sound of Belle and Sebastian at the very peak of their creative powers. Cross-country running, furtive fumblings on public transport, yeast infections: Stuart Murdoch sets the minutiae of a stifling, small-town adolescence against joyous swells of Hammond organ, adds soaring guest vocals from Thrum’s Monica Queen, then slathers the whole lot in nostalgic, Super-8-style fuzz. Desperately sad, yet inexplicably uplifting, these are the finest 5 minutes and 52 seconds of music any Scot has ever committed to tape. NOW WHERE’S MY PRIZE MONEY? Gemma Samways
The song that revived the proverbial saxophone market, 'Baker Street' got thousands of people and Lisa Simpson picking up the instrument. Not bad considering it was initially only a placeholder for a vocal hook. Mysterious and evocative, the tale of loneliness in a crowd and a Scot's isolation in London – something apparently felt by half a nation nearly 40 years later – conjures up images of city lights, wanderlust, the fine line between ambition and reality, and that togetherness we feel in being alone. A sublime classic from the dearly departed Paisley Buddie. Andy McDonald
Indie-pop is another one of Scotland’s perennially great inventions like the TV, telephone and penicillin, but when it comes to quality Pop we have to dig up the past. In the early 80s, whilst Postcard Records was birthing Indie, Altered Images (like compatriots The Associates and Eurythmics) rode the crest of New Pop and crashed the charts at number two with ‘Happy Birthday’. Forsaking depth for fun it hooks you instantly with plonking xylophone before bursting forth like a jack-in-the-box, all plucky bouncing bass and staccato guitars like Josef K high on E-numbers. Add to the mix the schoolgirl-coy vocals of Clare “Gregory’s Girl” Grogan and it’s a sugary confection of post-punk pop perfection. Neil Ashman
For all the filth and brewery fumes that emanated from Scotland's unofficial poet laureate's mouth, there was always a pure and tender love lurking in the shadows. Those shadows were more like the silhouettes of athletic torsos in the throes of some of the greatest drunken sexual positions you've ever vaguely misremembered, but you just knew that when the lights came on everyone looked like a Francis Bacon painting. Pale, pink blotches, trucker tans, mismatched moth-bitten underwear, grimacing, lips cracked from dehydration beneath strained eyes that squint at pallid skin and crooked tufts of hair... In the warm dark of the night tho, everything was perfect!
'Cherubs' was the song that made me want to move to Scotland (I never did). It stopped me in my tracks and made me want to dance the loneliest, most miserable dance. Amid the perfect storm of a teenager discovering Peter Cook, Bukowski and Hemingway, 'Cherubs' was the song that made me unafraid of growing a beer gut if I could whisper a sweet nothing. Something about these mumbled musings and the throb of the beat turned this simple song into something far bigger than the sum of its semi-eroded parts. I remember that on the first few listens the red hue and misty fug of it intrigued me, but after all these years I'm only really beginning to fully appreciate how much I wanted/needed to hear a human being inside my stereo. I'd grown up listening to these pumped up rappers, theatrical rock stars and cliched punks, and I'd never realised what I was actually looking for from music was a deep human connection. A kinship. A friend to walk home with on dark nights of the soul.
Sure, 'Cherubs' may have been a blowback from the fire 'How Soon Is Now?' sparked in indie music's heart, but for all the records I heard at the time and many of them that I've discovered since, 'Cherubs' remains the song that changed my relationship with music. And if we conciously uncouple today, we'll always have our song and late night dalliances to remember. Sean Adams
Party Fears Two
There it is. One of the best, most intriguing, uplifting, bittersweet keyboard riffs of all time, combined with an even more remarkable instrument: Billy Mackenzie's voice. His unearthly vocals soar above it all, seemingly infused (if you’ll forgive the trite narrative) with the pain that would ultimately lead him to take his own life. These two relatively simple elements together make something truly wonderful and strange: even the title is mysterious. In a decade stuffed with synthpop and new-wave classics 'Party Fears Two' still stands out as a gem, and remains one of the most beautiful and beguiling Scottish songs ever." Joseph Rowan
Rip It Up
I’d initially written an in-depth, wordy essay on how Orange Juice pretty well invented that most beloved genre of ours, indie-pop. How the introduction of Nile Rogers-esque guitars and bubbling synths sounds so exciting in 2014 that it’s impossible to imagine just how fresh they were 31 years ago. What an uplifting experience it was to see, at Green Man last year, a bunch of 15 year old kids, a dad with his family, several hipsters and two DiS writers dancing jubilantly as Edwyn Collins performed it with a big grin on his face in spite of his illness. Then Rob told me I was limited to 100 words, so I had to… Dan Lucas
The Amazing Snakeheads
Scotland you are our gritty, phlegmy, manly cousin. You’ve necked the whisky before we’ve reached the bar. We step in and there’s The Amazing Snakeheads slouched, growling out snarled Glaswegian-steeped sweet nothings. Flatlining takes its time. It’s cloaked in ominous bass riffs, saxophone scratches and echoing flashes of guitar. It’s dark and prowling and sexy like that woman across the 3am dance floor. And it makes us want more. Scotland if that’s what you’ve got going on across your borders, we’ll always be slightly jealous of you. Ruth Singleton
The Jesus & Mary Chain
If the winter of 1985 heralded a musical epiphany of sorts - ground zero even - then the seeds were sown twelve months earlier. Almost to the day in fact. As debut singles go, nothing could have prepared the synthetic pop landscape of the 1980s for the three minutes of visceral noise that was 'Upside Down'. Borne out of frustration from living in a deadend smalltown (East Kilbride), records like this only come around once in a blue moon. Guitar music would never be the same again. Dom Gourlay
It’s fair to say that Karine Polwart is not a household name. Quite why is as puzzling as her songwriting is elegant, often even transcendent. Here is traditional Scottish folk in the purest sense of the word - songs inspired by people, made and performed directly for them, buttressing family and social history, informing – she tackles politics and big business with aplomb - and moving in equal measure. I could cull one of several of the vocal ‘Yes’ campaigner’s songs for this list, but ‘Salters Road’ somehow captures timelessness of romance and yearning, wrapping it in a song of startling crystalline beauty. It also features a nice contribution from a passing pheasant. Matt Langham
Love in the Time of Ecstasy
This song will make your heart soar and break, often in the same heartbeat. Withered Hand’s finest creations are flashes of pure poetry and Love in the Time of Ecstasy is his tour de force. Like many of his tracks, it draws on his teenage years, trying to make sense of his religious upbringing, struggling to find his place in the world. But few compositions, his or otherwise, come with such a deep-seated sense of beauty. The swelling cello, the cracking voice, the plinking banjo and ethereal harmonies: there are very few pop songs in the world as perfectly formed as this one. Finbarr Bermingham
That rare moment when you’re in love and life is great, played on loop for three and a half minutes. I want to listen to it until infinity. Rob Leedham
Temporarily renamed when the freshly-shaven-headed Bobby Gillespie decided that “vowels are fascist, man”, PRML SCRM realised that this thumping millennial cyberpunk anthem was so good that they just had to put it on their album twice (the second version a Chemical Brothers remix). This accusatory blast of sneering dance-rock is the perfect song for each side of the independence question to yell at each other as the debate descends into its inevitable Godwin’s Law conclusion. And call me a cynic, but even if Scotland does break free, will it really be able to avoid collusion in the “military industrial illusion of democracy”? VOWELS ARE FASCIST. YOU GOT SWASTIKA EYES. YOU’RE PARASITIC. KILL ALL HIPPIES. But most of all, RIP ROBERT YOUNG. J.R. Moores
Belle and Sebastian
Dress Up In You
Belle and Sebastian are fast approaching two decades in the business, at this point, and accordingly there’s any number of stories that Stuart Murdoch’s spun down the years that I could use for the drawing of parallels with the referendum. This gorgeous cut from The Life Pursuit, though, seems the most fitting; as a northerner who’s always felt in much firmer touch with my familial Scottish roots than my geographical English ones, this particular tale of one friend reflecting wistfully on the successes of another will likely prove pertinent in years to come, in the event of a Yes vote (and assuming I didn’t exploit my right to Scottish citizenship). Of course, it’s also a beautifully constructed pop song in its own right, with Mick Cooke’s trumpet solo at the midpoint not just the highlight of the song, but also one of the most triumphant moments in the later stages of the B&S catalogue itself. Joe Goggins
Boards of Canada
Damn the need for evidence. It’s clear to my ears at least that Scottish post-rock and Scotch whisky share some form of common origin story; shaped and immortalised by the country’s grand, dramatic scenery, stark climate and the cutting warmth and intellect of its people. Whether you're a drinker or a listener, both must be appreciated at length rather than in a hurry, especially when it comes to unique complexities of bands such as Boards Of Canada. 'Chromakey Dreamcoat' remains the first track I turn to when the rain outside somehow causes the sun shine brighter, or when I just need to hear its warped, wiry guitar sound just one more time. It's a track with a sound that you should stop and make time for rather than necking back in a rush. Greg Johnson
If there has been a more brilliant power-pop song released before or after the so-called "Bellshill Beach Boys" gave us the wonderful 'Sparky's Dream', then it's news to me. Everything about the song is perfect - the understated guitar riffs, the love-struck yet vague lyrics, the wonderful three-part harmonies that build up over the song, it is everything that you want in a song. Still have no bloody clue who Sparky was though.
The Modern Leper
Scott Hutchinson is one of those rare breeds that is able to combine devastating prose and anthemic backdrops with an utterly honest execution. "The solitary act of writing is a vicious cycle because when things aren't quite right, I'll retreat into myself," he once said to me in an interview. Retreating into himself however, often produces the kind of songs that will speak to just about everyone; they'll make you shout-sing the lyrics to a total stranger whilst feeling this pang of inner-sadness that only you can understand. Frightened Rabbit have this knack of putting their finger on those emotions and situations that you can never really put into words – but thankfully they can. 'The Modern Leper' is a song full of self-loathing, self-doubt and personal revulsion yet the band are able to produce it in this package of incredible beauty. Those simple opening chords; that building crescendo; the continuous thumps – Frightened Rabbit are a modern day revolution who's use of limb-losing metaphors will forever remain a cult classic.
Actually It’s Darkness
In the year 2000 the shed at the bottom of my friend’s garden reverberated to the sound of The Delgados' The Great Eastern and, perhaps more than any other album, Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows. It was the same year we did our GCSEs and decamped to Reading Festival for the first time, where Mogwai’s ‘Like Herod’ tore us apart in the Evening Session tent. Or maybe that was the following year; there were three consecutive trips, and it was all quite a while ago, now. Anyway, two songs saw me hit the repeat button countless times in that period: The Delgados’ ‘American Trilogy’ - a dreamy indie-rock number concerning depression that boasts a true, actual - and I don’t employ this term lightly - life-affirming chorus, and Idlewild’s ‘Actually It’s Darkness’, which, for the purposes of this article, I guess I could describe as that song’s twitchy, brilliant little adolescent brother. Best of All Time Ever? Maybe not, but two absolute favourites from two very special bands in their prime.
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What's your favourite Scottish song?
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