100 best Scottish albums - Nos 1-25
Formed in the summer of 1984, Primal Scream's early history revealed a chameleon-like quality. First releases boasted a beguiling 12-string chimera, but this direction ended after Sonic Flower Groove (1987) and the defection of co-founding guitarist Jim Beattie.
Primal Scream (1989) showed a realigned band besotted with Detroit brats the Stooges and MC5, but vocalist Bobby Gillespie viewed such changes as a learning curve. By 1989, the singer had become enthralled with the rave scene at Brighton's Zap Club and Shoom, and discovered a seemingly unlikely ally through a mutual love of Thin Lizzy.
DJ Andy Weatherall was then invited to remix a track from the Scream's second album. I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have was stripped down to guitars, conga and brass and reassembled using various musical samples and two of Peter Fonda's lines from the biker film The Wild Angels. The result was Loaded and not only had Primal Scream found a host of new possibilities, work on Screamadelica had begun.
The gospel-influenced single Come Together followed in 1990 and, over the ensuing year, the band assembled a sybaritic album drawing influences from house and dance culture, acid rock and 60s iconoclasts. Screamadelica opened with Movin' On Up, a throbbing Rolling Stones pastiche which was mixed and post-produced by the Glimmer Twins' former mentor, Jimmy Miller.
Further Weatherall collaborations, I'm Comin' Down and Shine Like Stars, continued the blend of melody and sound sculptures, while Inner Flight brought to mind the Beach Boys, with a chord sequence recalling those of Pet Sounds.
A nod to psychedelics past was revealed on the mesmerising Slip Inside This House, first recorded by Texas outlaws the 13th Floor Elevators, but the highlight was probably Higher Than The Sun, a spaceward interpretation of the ambient dub of producers Joe Gibbs and Lee Perry, underscored by Jah Wobble's curving bass lines. Screamadelica remains a triumph and justifiably sits proudly at No1 in Scotland's greatest rock and pop album chart.
2 THIS IS THE STORY
Groomed on Beatles' songs and country music while in their teens, twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid emerged during the rise of punk with a brace of bands, the Hippy Hasslers and Black Flag. A handful of gigs in Fife's mining towns ensued but, sensing a musical cul-de-sac, they left for Edinburgh where, over the next two years, the Reids wrote songs reliant on acoustic guitars, harmony and melody.
By 1983, their notion of what the Proclaimers should be was fully formed, and the duo began performing live. An acquaintance passed on a demo tape to the Hull-based Housemartins, who invited the Reids to contact them during a Round Table broadcast on Radio 1. A support slot on a national tour ensued, but it was a memorable appearance on Channel 4's The Tube which introduced the Proclaimers to a national audience.
Here they previewed Letter To America, a nominal homily to Scottish migration, but which politicised brilliantly by closing with a litany of places struck by economic blight. A big-band version, produced by Gerry Rafferty, reached the Top 3, whereas an acoustic reading was cut for This Is The Story (1987).
The bulk of this album - recorded in just nine days - was left similarly unadorned; a purity which emphasised their unreconstructed accents and a call-and-response vocal style which echoed Sam and Dave.
It also allowed the plaintive melodies space to breathe. Make My Heart Fly and It Broke My Heart benefit from this freedom, as does the wry lyricism of The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues. A cover of George Jones's (I'm Gonna) Burn Your Playhouse Down is equally telling, as their love of country music allows them to explore such roots in a nominal soul song and in the process breathe an alternative life into an established classic.
However, the real strength is found in Craig and Charlie's songwriting, which, aided by a singular vision, lies at the heart of the Proclaimers' attraction.
3 AWB (AKA THE WHITE ALBUM)
AVERAGE WHITE BAND
When the Average White Band was formed in 1972, a decade of Scottish aspirations were encapsulated within. Musicians from Dundee, Perth and Glasgow had come together, bringing a range of contrasting experiences.
Alan Gorrie and Owen "Onnie" McIntyre brought Roger Ball and Malcolm "Molly" Duncan (the Dundee Horns) on board. Drummer Robbie McIntosh, returning from Italy, joined them, before the final piece of the jigsaw, Hamish Stuart, slotted into place.
A first album, Show Your Hand, was highly promising and the group was shocked when their label, MCA, dropped them. Stranded in New York, they secured an appointment with Atlantic MD Jerry Wexler, and by the end of the meeting had a deal. With Arif Mardin as producer, AWB completed this wonderful album.
Riffing horns, tough rhythms and criss-crossed vocals fire up a succession of sublime original songs, including Nothing You Can Do, You Got It and Person To Person, which unashamedly stand beside a fiery reading of the Isley Brothers' Work To Do. The set confirmed, not just an empathy with black music, but how it could translate into a sound held in common and not simply emulated.
The White Album topped the US R&B and pop charts, while the ebullient Pick Up The Pieces did the same in both corresponding singles lists. By then, however, the band had lost Robbie McIntosh to heroin. Nothing would ever be the same for this group, but what a fabulous statement to make.
4 A WALK ACROSS THE ROOFTOPS
Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore met in 1980. A single, I Love This Life, was issued by RSO in 1982, but early ambitions were dashed when the company folded. Further recordings attracted Linn Products, purveyors of high-quality hi-fi systems, who in turn offered to finance an album. As work was completed in isolation, few knew of Blue Nile's existence and A Walk Across The Rooftops (1984) caught the world unprepared. Its picaresque soundscapes were both delightful and haunting, enhanced by arrangements that remain scrupulously open-ended. Tinseltown In The Rain and Stay show a commercial edge, but compositions such as Easter Parade and From Rags To Riches allow the Nile's oeuvre to flourish more freely in a mesmerising collection.
Having evolved from the incestuous Bellshill scene of the BMX Bandits, Boy Hairdressers and Groovy Little Numbers, Teenage Fanclub emerged in 1989 to pull all previous aspirations together. A Catholic Education announced their arrival; Bandwagonesque confirmed them as something special. Endearingly sloppy but fired by purpose, this 1991 album revealed a band imbued with the Byrds, Kinks and Neil Young. Comparisons with cult band Big Star were made and, while accurate, it's also true to say both groups drew from similar wells. For all its many highlights, the cumulative charm of Banwagonesque is the secret of its attraction.
6 SOLID AIR
Released in 1974, Solid Air was John Martyn's sixth album, including two in collaboration with his then wife, Beverley. Aided by a concise backing unit, including long-standing partner Danny Thompson on double bass, the singer created a set distilling his past and pointing to the future. Stylistically, Over The Hill suggests earlier folk recordings, where Martyn's reading of Skip James's I'd Rather Be The Devil is a showcase for his trademark slurred vocals. May You Never has become the album's best-known track, thanks to Eric Clapton's cover, but it is on the title track which Martyn excels. A moving plea to the doomed singer and friend, Nick Drake, its open structure allowed space for a deeply poignant vocal, helping confirm Solid Air as Martyn's finest album.
JESUS AND MARY CHAIN
Brothers James and William Reid, abetted by Douglas Hart and Murray Slade, launched Jesus And Mary Chain in 1984 with the cathartic Upside Down. A cavernous slab of screaming feedback, basic bass and drums and eerily disengaged vocals, it inspired the sound found on the following year's Psychocandy. With Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie replacing Slade, the set included such stellar moments as Never Understand, You Trip Me Up and Just Like Honey, but where In A Hole is equally piercing, Cut Dead boasts a contrasting delicacy. Indeed, the Reids suggested a darker, more desolate Beach Boys and, in Sowing Seeds, something akin to the Chiffons. This understanding of pop structure would ensure the Jesus And Mary Chain's longevity.
8 BERT JANSCH
Glasgow-born Bert Jansch was one of the pivotal figures of Edinburgh's early 60s folk scene. Having absorbed, then surpassed, the guitar techniques of mentors Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach, he left for London, securing a record deal in 1965. Bert Jansch is, unquestionably, one of the most influential albums of its era, inspiring artists as diverse as Jimmy Page and Neil Young. It includes a rivetting reading of Davey Graham's standard, Angie, as well as several stellar Jansch originals. Among the strongest were the obligatory On The Road allegory, Strolling Down The Highway, Do You Hear Me Now, Courting Blues and Needle Of Death, a deeply personal homage to a departed friend. With dazzling guitar work, Bert Jansch is a masterpiece.
9 THIS IS THE SEA
The third Waterboys' album, This Is The Sea, was released in 1985. It consolidated a period when the band's live shows achieved near-mythical proportions, inspiring Mike Scott to create material of similar projection. When combined with the singer's almost ethereal perspective, this resulted in a compulsive collection, notably on the title song, which builds with a searing intensity. Don't Bang The Drum and The Past Within are also strong, but the highlight is The Whole Of The Moon, a passionate song encapsulating everything positive in Mike's singular muse. It would reach the Top Three six years after it first appeared, by which time Scott and the Waterboys were exploring pastures new.
10 THE 5000 SPIRITS
THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND
The Incredible String Band split up after their eponymous debut. Clive Palmer would not return, but Mike Heron and Robin Williamson were reunited when the latter reappeared from Morocco. Released in 1967, 5000 Spirits is an audacious selection. Sitar, oud, gimbri and tamboura add colour to some of the duo's finest performances; where Heron's contributions are more indebted to structure (Chinese White, Painting Box), Williamson's rise over formal meter. The results are enthralling. My Name Is Death resembles a lost Childe Ballad, where First Girl I Loved, which recounts a chance meeting with a long-lost girlfriend, is genuinely moving. If ever an album crystallised its era - in scope, ambition and (even) artwork - it is this one.
LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS
A student at Glasgow University, Lloyd Cole formed the Commotions with Blair Cowan, Neil Clark, Lawrence Donegan and Stephen Irvine in 1982. Eschewing overtures from local labels, the group opted for Polydor, releasing the impressive Rattlesnakes in 1984.
A highly literate selection, the set is also imbued with an engaging sense of song construction. Any composition referring to both Arthur Lee and Norman Mailer (Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken) has to be admired, while Perfect Skin, a Top 30 hit, rings with the sparkle of the Byrds and Velvet Underground. Elsewhere, Rattlesnakes and Forest Fire show a band brimming with self-belief, factors enhancing this album's continued appeal.
12 HIGH LAND HARD RAIN
Aztec Camera - Roddy Frame, Dave Mulholland and Campbell Owens - made two singles for Postcard Records prior to switching to Rough Trade. High Land Hard Rain (1983) maintained the Californian sunshine pop and confirmed songwriter Frame as an outstanding talent. Newcomers Bernie Clark and Ray Duff had joined the line-up, Mulholland had dropped out, and the reconfigured unit conjured a warm, more polished, sound, most apparent on the remake of We Could Send Letters. This honeyed approach ensures that Oblivious and Pillar To Post are instantly memorable, and their tonal positivity contrasts the more melancholic Walk Out To Winter and The Bugle Sounds Again. Largely acoustic, High Land Hard Rain is a remarkable achievement.
The Album Of The Year in several 1982 polls, Sulk followed up the success of Party Fears Two, an extraordinary hit single characterised by the unsettling ambiguity of the lyrics. It was anchored by Alan Rankine's delightful keyboard hookline, a substitute for an orthodox chorus. Freed from normal structure, vocalist Billy Mackenzie let fly; part mischief, part magician. The hit single Club Country further explored the duo's disgust with bourgeois society and showcased Mackenzie's otherworldly vocals. A cover of Gloomy Sunday further enhances the mood of doomed decadence. The US edition and the CD re-issues play around with thetrack listing, adding a cover of Love Hangover, but the changes dilute the sullen power of the original, which marked a high point for the duo's pop.
14 WHITE ON BLONDE
In the wake of Southside's commercial success, Texas maintained a rootsy path with Mother's Heaven and Rick's Road, but found a similar mainstream approbation elusive. Paradoxically, a cover version of Al Green's Tired Of Being Alone' released as a single in 1992, provided a clue about future direction, as the first chart entry culled from White On Blonde (1997) suggested a similar style. Say What You Want was a persuasive slice of pop/soul and deservedly reached the Top Three, paving a way for Halo and the more robust Black-Eyed Boy. White On Blonde basked in a new-found slick approach which was rewarded with a No1 slot, reinvigorating Texas's career.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
Of all the talent on offer in the Scotland's 100 Best Albums, few are as idiosyncratic as Belle and Sebastian. They were formed in 1996 by music business students Stuart Murdoch, Stuart David and Mick Cook. Having recorded a handful of songs, the trio recruited four further members in a caf. Tigermilk (1996) was financed by the course the founders attended, run by Glasgow's Stow College, when Alan Rankine nominated Belle and Sebastian for its annual prize. The ensemble's willowy, pastoral sound was already apparent on this enchanting collection. Sweet melodies and light arrangements abound in a gentle, sometimes dizzy, atmosphere that always suggests summer. Under the terms of the contest, a mere 1,000 copies were pressed, but Tigermilk was made available again in 1999.
THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND
Galvanised by the tragic death of his younger brother Leslie, Alex Harvey returned to Glasgow and, having joined forces with struggling hard-rock band Tear Gas, forged the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Their debut album, Framed, was strong, but the band truly flourished on Next (1973). During the 60s, Alex had played in the pit band for the musical Hair, and he brought a sense of theatricality to his new venture. The title track, Jacques Brel's sordid tale of mobile army brothels, was taken to new extremes by a leering, lascivious vocal, while Faith Healer would become one of many in-concert favourites. The inclusion of Giddy Up A Ding Dong was also telling. The original was cut by Freddie Bell And The Bellboys, the first rock'n'roll group to play live in Glasgow.
His early '80s venture, Woza, in ruins, Dundee-born singer-songwriter Ricky Ross took time out to hone songsmith talents. An album's worth of material resulted in a publishing deal, on the proviso he find a band. Initially known as Dr Love, Deacon Blue was formed in 1985 and signed to CBS the following year. The material on Raintown offered a panoramic view, where elements drawn from Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan and Prefab Sprout fostered a mid-Atlantic sound honed by Ross's sincere, finely-wrought lyrics. Raintown is best recalled for Dignity, a carefully contructed song which captures them at their best.
18 HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS
THE COCTEAU TWINS
The seventh album of a highly innovative career, Heaven Or Las Vegas shows the Cocteau Twins' powers undiminished. Having made their debut in 1982, Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie had forged a startlingly original path, marked by broad-palette soundscapes and Fraser's spectral, wordless vocals. Eschewing vocalisation for conventional lyrics did not deter from the atmosphere kindled by Fraser's voice, and in Fifty-Fifty Clown, Iceblink Luck and Heaven Or Las Vegas itself, the Cocteau Twins created some of the finest songs in their entire canon.
19 THE MAN WHO
Travis secured a publishing deal following an early release as Glass Onion. Having subsequently financed a self-titled EP, the band moved to London in 1997, armed with a contract with Sony "vanity" label, Independiente. Their debut album, Good Feeling, showed a promise fulfilled with the No1 follow-up, The Man Who (1999). By softening their approach, the quartet allowed space for a textured mellifluousness, captured on the easy-styled Driftwood and Turn. Why Does It Always Rain On Me became one of the songs of the year, confirming Travis's grasp of persuasive melody.
20 NEW GOLD DREAM
In New Gold Dream (1982), Simple Minds defined their sound, freeing Mick McNeil's dexterous keyboard work and Derek Forbes bubbling bass. A lush production enhanced their newfound confidence in concise, strong structures, encapsulated on Promised You A Miracle and the propulsive title track. Moments of passivity, notably King Is White And In The Crown, show a sense of adventure undiminished, but a one-time discordant austerity is replaced by a warm, almost seductive, texture. As Jim Kerr later related: "New Gold Dream is where we came into our own."
21 GRAND PRIX
Released in 1995, Grand Prix marked the debut of new drummer Paul Quinn, who replaced Brendan O'Hare. The Fanclub had been the subject of an unwarranted backlash in the wake of Thirteen (1993), and this set more than answered their detractors. An infatuation with US west coast icons is still apparent, but the album nonetheless shows a band forgoing their metier. Punning titles, Mellow Doubt and Neil Jung openly reveal a sense of humour always apparent in Teenage Fanclub, and this unfettered joy is what makes the best of their work so appealing.
THE BLUE NILE
Five years after their enigmatic debut, The Blue Nile unleashed Hats in 1989. Expectations were inevitably high, and fully realised, by another exquisitely-crafted set. Every song is sumptuous, whether the mildly up-tempo Headlights On The Parade or the image-laden Downtown Lights, which encapsulates The Blue Nile's fascination for urban landscapes and personal observations. The tenderness of Let's Go Out Tonight, a showcase for one of Paul Buchanan's finest vocals, is equally prevalent on Saturday Night, a homage to that perennial pop fascination, the weekend. A moment of undiluted optimism, it closes an unequivocally beautiful album.
23 THE ORANGE JUICE
By the release of their third album, Orange Juice were a markedly different proposition to the group first signed to Polydor. They were now ostensibly cut to a duo of Edwyn Collins and percussionist Zeke Manyika, aided by dubmaster/ producer Dennis Bovell. Collins was clearly liberated, and in What Presence?!, the band created the perfect sonic tapestry for one of the singer's finest songs. Another gem, The Artisans, is obliquely autobiographical. The Orange Juice set brims with similarly excellent compositions but, despite being the band's finest hour, it would prove to be their swan-song.
24 SUNSHINE ON LEITH
Where their debut album had been left largely unadorned, Craig and Charlie Reid opted for a fuller sound on Sunshine On Leith. With producer Pete Wingfield on piano and Jerry Donahue, formerly of folk-rock favourites Fairport Convention on guitar, the support on offer enhanced the intrinsic pathos in the twins' work. Their distinctively Scottish brogue brings fire to the punchy I'm Gonna Be, while the Reid brothers' intuitive harmonies resonate on the stellar title song and a moving reading of Steve Earle's My Old Friend The Blues. The Proclaimers' polemicism surfaces on What Do You Do? and Cap In Hand, an overall combination which ensures Sunshine On Leith's continued popularity.
25 FISHERMAN'S BLUES
Having completed This Is The Sea, Mike Scott sought to add different forms of music - folk, Cajun and country - into the Waterboys' sound. This coincided with the departure of Karl Wallinger and the arrival of Irish fiddler Steve Wickham, who invited Scott to move to Ireland. By the release of Fisherman's Blues (1988), the group had been reshaped and was resident in Galway. The Celtic influence peppers this excellent album. Its title track reveals a lightness of touch, with Scott sounding his most joyous. The more sombre Strange Boat is a captivating ballad.
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