Greatest Scottish song ever: Reflecting on your life, what would you choose? – Aidan Smith

Last week it was Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand. Next week it could be any one of half a dozen tunes featuring the vulnerable, haunting voice of Gerry Rafferty. But right now, pop-pickers, my choice for the greatest Scottish song of all time is Marmalade’s Reflections of My Life.

Dean Ford (centre) and Marmalade, Aidan Smith's pick for Scotland's greatest-ever song. (Picture: James Gray/ANL/Shutterstock)

The search is on for the best tartan-tinged track, the Caledonian composition par excellence, the ditty representing the furthest distance travelled from Fran and Anna and one we could carry confidently and maybe even swaggersomely into the Words-and-Melody Olympics.

Radio stations like Clyde, Forth and Tay are in on the hunt and will prompt debate and argument with special programmes. There have been similar polls before, of course, but maybe this one strikes as more poignant and more urgent, given that none of us knows where our next gig is coming from, and when we’ll next be in the same room as our favourite singer or band. (Oh to be drinking warm, overpriced beer again! Oh to have it sticking to our shoes!). The winner will be announced on St Andrew’s Day.

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As you can tell, I can’t quite make up my mind. It’s not that there are too few decent choons from which to choose, which seemed the case at one stage. Rather - hurray for us - there are quite a lot.

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Reflecting on my musical life, there were definitely periods when I shunned Scotland. The tyranny of the Bay City Rollers was one. Trying so very hard to be cool, daring and esoteric, I was into rock, not pop, and preferred acts had to be American (or French and difficult, or German and very difficult). The Rollers seemed like a thumping great embarrassment in their cartoon boot-boy clobber. Plus, I couldn’t like a band when my wee sister was in love with the singer, Les McKeown (or was it Woody? Eric? … ).

Conversely, I didn’t like Scots who tried to be American nor Scots who overplayed their Scottishness - making their guitars sound like bagpipes, for instance. But, perversely, when the Proclaimers came along and sang in Scottish accents, and Arab Strab’s Aidan Moffat warbled in a wonderfully flat and drunk-sounding native tongue, this seemed just right for the times - respectively, the Thatcher years and the state in which that bloody woman left us. The Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith has a place in perpetuity in my top five while the Strap’s The Shy Retirer is in jeans and trainers, arguing with the bouncers to gain entry.

Better sunshine than rain, and Sparky’s Dream by Teenage Fanclub, even though the idea of them being the Bellshill Beach Boys seemed ludicrous, is another pick. Why have there been so many Scottish songs about rain? Yes, I like authenticity but also fantasy, and so these damp ditties cannot be considered: Travis’s Why Does It Always P*sh on Me? Deacon Blue’s P*shtown, Blue Nile’s Tinseltown in the Drookitness and this from Garbage: Ian McCaskill, Heather the Weather and Peter Sloss Are Only Happy When it Rains.

And yet … and yet … Ivor Cutler is battling for contention with any one of his epistles titled Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, even though they’re spoken not sung. None of them, as far as I can recall, mentions rain, but the gloomy voice and groaning harmonium tell you that it’s never letting up.

Miserabilism is becoming a theme so let’s lift the mood with two songs which I love hearing on football excursions to Dunfermline Athletic. The Skids’ Into the Valley is always played when the home team run onto the pitch - and always too loud so the guitars dissolve into sonic soup, but I’d be disappointed if they didn’t - and Jimmy Shand’s Bluebell Polka is the traditional accompaniment to the crowd heading for home at the final whistle. Each in their own pawky way has a claim to greatest-ever.

Jauntier still are Lulu’s Shout and Simple Minds’ I Travel, the latter a vital part of the soundtrack to student life when it was fun and not a prison sentence. Personal memory, especially when a song instantly whooshes you back to a formative moment, is bound to influence nominations. Choices will be, to a large extent, subjective. How otherwise do you measure greatest? Wet Wet Wet - they were never going to be called Dry Dry Dry - topped the charts longer than some wars but that cannot guarantee another No 1 position.

There are honourable mentions for the Rezillos’ Can’t Stand My Baby (the first artistic expression of “radge”, pre-dating Irvine Welsh), Party Fears Two sung in the high operatic style of the Associates’ Billy Mackenzie, from Dundee via Jupiter, and Wild Mountain Thyme sung by just about anyone, including Rod Stewart. Does he qualify as Scottish? If so, Maggie May gets in too.

But I think the winner has to be Reflections of My Life. I can’t pretend I’ve had this lovely ballad in my head ever since its release in 1970, and indeed only became aware of it two years ago, right after Dean Ford died. He was Marmalade’s singer and similar to Gerry Rafferty had a voice like an expelled choirboy. He also wore a yellow scoop-neck T-shirt and bell-bottoms - a hazardous look, Sydney Devine once attempted it - better than anyone.

Every time I hear the song it makes me cry but it means much more to those who know it better, with YouTube packed with the testimonies of Vietnam vets and those for whom life became too hard but with Ford’s help - “The world is a bad place, a terrible place to live, oh but I don’t want to die” - pulled themselves back from the brink.

Let’s hope Scottish music can do that too.

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