Scots stars who earned their stripes CALVIN ✩HARRIS
From the son of a Braemar surgeon to an unassuming 23-year-old from Bathgate, meet the pop sensations who gained the ultimate accolade... by topping the charts in America
IT is a musical fellowship so
that decades can pass without any new members getting in. But this week a 23year-old who still lives with his parents in Bathgate, West Lothian, became only the second musician this century to gain entry.
Lewis Capaldi joined the tiny clutch of Scottish acts to reach number one in the US Billboard Hot 100 after his plaintive ballad Somebody You Loved – released in the US months ago – crept to the pinnacle of the world’s most competitive pop chart.
‘I have no clue why this piano ballad has done what it’s done,’ said Capaldi, whose song has also been number one in the UK, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Malaysia.
The Bay City Rollers were perhaps similarly mystified when their song Saturday Night went to number one in the States in January 1976. It didn’t even chart in the UK.
Nor did Lulu’s To Sir with Love trouble the UK hit parade, despite topping the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks in 1967, completely overshadowing her signature hit Shout.
So who has succeeded in joining this most eclectic fraternity? Not the Proclaimers, Texas, Wet Wet Wet, Gerry Rafferty or even skiffle king Lonnie Donegan, although a few of them came close. Here we present the Scottish stars who have truly earned their stripes stateside.
A World without Love: Peter and Gordon (1964)
DEEMED too weak to be a Beatles song, Paul McCartney donated A World without Love to his then girlfriend Jane Asher’s brother Peter who, together with former schoolmate Gordon Waller, had just signed a recording contract as Peter and Gordon.
Few may have realised it at the time, but when the song topped the Billboard chart in June 1964, Waller made musical history as the first Scot ever to go to number one in the United States.
He was born in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, the son of a prominent surgeon, but moved to London as a child and met Peter Asher at Westminster School in 1959. Waller, the more rock ’n’ roll oriented of the two, persuaded Asher to broaden his jazz and blues horizons and embrace pop.
The pair released a string of albums and singles in the mid-60s but never repeated the success of their debut hit, released at the peak of Beatlemania. Thrice-married Waller lived in Cornwall before moving to the US. He died in Connecticut aged 64 in 2009.
Sunshine Superman: Donovan (1966)
THOUGH only 19, Donovan Leitch had come a long way from Glasgow’s Maryhill by the time he recorded this psychedelic pop smash in December 1965.
He and his family had moved to Hatfield, in Hertfordshire, when he was a child and, picking up a guitar at 14, his initial interest was in folk music. Indeed, until weeks before this song’s release, Donovan was dismissed by many as just another Dylan clone.
Sunshine Superman, on which future Led Zeppelin stars Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones both play, changed all that.
It spent two weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1966 and established Donovan at the vanguard of the flower power movement.
His follow-up single Mellow Yellow did almost as well, peaking at number 2 in the US in 1967.
The year after that, Donovan joined the Beatles on their sojourn in India under the tutelage of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Now 73, the star credits himself with helping John Lennon and Paul McCartney with their guitar techniques.
To Sir With Love: Lulu (1967)
IT was a year not short of classics. Aretha Franklin’s Respect went to number one in the US in 1967, as did the Beatles’ Penny Lane, the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday, the Monkees’ Daydream Believer and the Doors’ Light My Fire.
But when the year-end reckoning was done for the Billboard Hot 100, it was none of these which earned the distinction of 1967’s biggest seller. No, that accolade went to the teenager from Glasgow’s Dennistoun who was born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie.
Just 18 when the song from the film of the same name went to the top of the US charts, Lulu had already been a chart star in the UK for some three years.
Her version of the Isley Brothers’ Shout reached number seven in Britain and 1965’s Leave a Little Love also made the UK Top 10. But it was To Sir With Love – not even released as an A-side in her homeland – which broke her in the
US, remaining at the top for five weeks and selling more than a million copies.
Lulu is a star of the film, in which an unruly class of white students in London’s East End are won round by their charismatic black teacher, played by Sidney Poitier.
Pick up the Pieces: Average White Band (1975)
A SOUL-FUNK group from Dundee whose first four singles had failed to chart anywhere, Average White Band’s expectations for single number five could hardly have been humbler.
Sure enough, the largely instrumental Pick up the Pieces was roundly ignored on release in the UK in July 1974. Months later, the band’s fortunes nosedived when drummer Robbie McIntosh died of a heroin overdose at a showbiz party in Los Angeles.
Bassist Alan Gorrie nearly overdosed on the same night but was kept conscious by Cher until medical help arrived. Only with the release of their album AWB did US radio stations start to pick up on the infectious tune and its ascent of the Billboard Hot 100 began.
Saxophonist Malcolm ‘Molly’ Duncan later admitted he had argued with other band members about releasing the song as a single, telling them: ‘You’re completely mad. It’s a funk instrumental played by Scotsmen with no lyrics other than a shout.’
He later said: ‘But that might be why it was a hit, and then became a standard – because it was different. That “Pick up the pieces” shout just fitted: it’s about picking yourself up when things aren’t going well. We’d spent a lot of time making no money whatsoever, so it felt very relevant.’
Duncan, who was born in Montrose, died on October 8 this year.
Saturday Night: Bay City Rollers (1976)
THE Rollers’ biggest hit in the United States may have many Scottish fans scratching their heads. While monster hits such as Shang-A-Lang and Bye Bye Baby passed the US market by, it was the lesser-known Saturday Night which went to the top in America on the back of a massive promotional campaign.
Written by Glasgow-born Bill Martin and songwriting partner Phil Coulter, Saturday Night was originally recorded and released in the UK in 1973 with Nobby Clark singing the lead vocal. It didn’t chart.
But after Clark left the band it was re-recorded in 1974 with a new vocal by his replacement Les McKeown. This version took America by storm, reaching the top spot in February 1976.
It was the zenith of the band’s career and, alas, a short-lived one. Their final UK top 20 hit It’s a Game came just over a year later and thereafter the Rollers resurfaced only fitfully, often with altered line-ups and seldom without squabbles.
But the internal arguments were
never as bitter as those they had with Tam Paton, their manager in their heyday, who they believed had pocketed the lion’s share of their earnings. Paton died in 2009.
Morning Train (Nine to Five): Sheena Easton (1981)
A SONG called 9 to 5 by homegrown star Dolly Parton had just topped the charts in the US, so it seemed rather far-fetched to expect another one by an unknown from Bellshill, Lanarkshire, to do much business stateside.
Yet, after a quick tweak of the title to avoid confusion, the Sheena Easton song promptly raced up the charts, reaching number one barely a month after Parton’s song left it.
It was the springboard to huge success for the former student of Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
First came a Bond theme, For Your Eyes Only, then a duet, We’ve Got Tonight, with Kenny Rogers.
That preceded work on several songs with Prince, including U Got The Look, which went to number two in the Hot 100 in 1987.
Easton’s relationship with her ‘home’ fans has not always been easy, however. When she appeared at Glasgow Green in 1990, she was booed and pelted with bottles by audience members angry at her strange transatlantic accent.
She has lived full-time in America for decades, making frequent appearances on stage in Las Vegas.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This): Eurythmics (1983)
WHEN their band The Tourists split in 1980, lovers Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart ended their relationship, too.
Yet their most creative period together was just beginning. By 1981, Aberdeen-born Lennox and Stewart, from Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, were a synth-pop duo combining instantly memorable songs with striking, video-friendly fashions. Lennox, the singer and the ‘face’ of the band was soon an international star and Sweet Dreams proved their commercial breakthrough across the world.
Ironically, the band’s record company did not think the song was single material because there was no chorus. Only on the back of a strong response to radio plays of the song did the label relent and release it.
A string of hits followed, including There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart), Here Comes the Rain Again and Who’s That Girl?, before the duo split in 1990 to pursue solo interests.
Don’t You (Forget About Me): Simple Minds (1985)
THE first time Simple Minds heard the song that writer Keith Forsey wanted them to record it was a straight no.
As singer Jim Kerr recalled, ‘We are Simple Minds – we don’t do songs that sound like Simple Minds. We do our own songs.’
Bryan Ferry passed on it, too. So did Billy Idol.
Only after persuasion from Kerr’s then wife Chrissie Hynde and record label A&M did the band relent, knock off a version of it in a North London studio and promptly forget about it.
The song, which featured in the movie The Breakfast Club, proved the band’s biggest hit and gave them the American breakthrough they had hungered after for years.
Indeed Don’t You (Forget About Me) became the dividing line between the old Simple Minds – arty, alternative, cult – and the mainstream stadium rockers they became.
We Found Love: Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris (2011)
NO Scot had been seen at the top of the Hot 100 for more than a quarter of a century by the time Dumfries-born Calvin Harris teamed up with vocalist Rihanna for this electro-pop tune.
Written and produced by Harris, whose instrumentation also forms the backing track, it was somewhat unfairly billed as a Rihanna track featuring the Scot, rather than the other way round.
Whatever the crediting, it proved a massive smash, rocketing to number one in almost every nation with a pop chart. The song later appeared on Harris’s 2012 album 18 Months, which boasted no fewer than nine hit singles.
On the strength of that release, the 6ft 5in former fish factory worker became one of the highest earning musicians on the planet, earning £40million in a single year.
Now 34 and living in Los Angeles, he continues to have the world at his feet.
Someone You Loved: Lewis Capaldi (2019)
ON learning his song had reached number one in the Hot 100, Lewis Capaldi painted his face as the stars and stripes and declared: ‘I feel like I’m a wrestler, and I’m just walking out [to the ring] and there’s an American flag, and I’m saying, “USA! USA!” That’s what I feel like, a wrestler.’
Who can blame him? He says it took six months to write the song and it spent a further six months in the US chart before reaching the number one spot.
The 23-year-old, who was born in Glasgow, is a second cousin once removed to actor Peter Capaldi, who stars in the video for the hit.
Someone You Loved features on Capaldi’s debut album Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent – which, despite its bizarre title, is also now selling by the barrowload in the States.
The star, who topped the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks earlier this year, quipped this week: ‘I’ll be able to pay the rent for the next few months.’
THOUGH more an honorary Scot than a real one, Rod Stewart has topped the US Hot 100 three times. There was Maggie May/Reason to Believe in 1971, Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright) in 1976 and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? in 1979.
Dire Straits, who went to number one in the US with Money for Nothing also have a strong Scottish connection. The band’s frontman Mark Knopfler was born in Glasgow, though he considers himself a Geordie.
Finally, Glasgow-born BA Robertson co-wrote the Mike and the Mechanics hit The Living Years with Mike Rutherford. The 1989 US chart-topper was about the loss of Robertson’s father.
Coming to America: Scottish stars who’ve had the ultimate stateside single success