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Best Proclaimers Songs: 10 Fiery Classics From The Reid Brothers
List & Guides

Best Proclaimers Songs: 10 Fiery Classics From The Reid Brothers

The best Proclaimers songs are pop anthems immune to fads and fashions – and they’re all the stronger for it.

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Mention the late 80s, and acid house, Madchester and the first whisperings of grunge usually spring to mind. Yet two bespectacled Scottish twins touting acoustic guitars were also right in the thick of it. Calling themselves The Proclaimers, Edinburgh-based Craig and Charlie Reid were blessed with big voices and even bigger hearts, and – as their smash hit singles Letter From America and (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles were to prove – they wrote impassioned, socio-politically aware songs that defined the times. Their second album, Sunshine On Leith, remains their best known, but the Reid brothers have now maintained an enviably high profile for over 30 years. To celebrate their enduring appeal, we present a countdown of the ten best Proclaimers songs.

Listen to the best of The Proclaimers here, and check out our best Proclaimers songs, below.

10: Throw The ‘R’ Away (from ‘This Is The Story’, 1987)

In their early days, The Proclaimers quickly found favour with like-minded socio-politically-inclined pop agitators, with Dexys Midnight Runners’ frontman, Kevin Rowland, producing their first demo, and The Housemartins offering them a crucial UK tour support slot. Initially, though, record companies baulked when they heard the Reid brothers’ rich Scottish brogue; as Charlie later told the Los Angeles Times, “They doubted that the accent would translate into record sales in England.”

The boys duly took the bull by the horns with their debut single, Throw The ‘R’ Away: an unrepentant yet wryly observed paean to their earthy vocal delivery (“I’m just going to have to learn to hesitate/To make sure my words on your Saxon ears don’t grate”). The song didn’t chart, but it introduced The Proclaimers to a wider audience – one that was only too delighted to embrace their seductive burr on their next single, the Top 10 smash Letter From America.

9: Dentures Out (from ‘Dentures Out’, 2022)

In the strictly commercial sense, the stats tell us The Proclaimers’ peak straddled the late 80s and early 90s, but Craig and Charlie Reid have maintained an enviably large fan base ever since. Indeed, their 2022 album, Dentures Out, suggests they may well have another surge in popularity on their hands, as it’s arguably their most resonant set to date.

One of the best Proclaimers songs of the 21st century, the album’s title track is enhanced by special guest James Dean Bradfield’s lead guitar, and its Manic Street Peachers-like sense of widescreen drama is matched by a finely wrought lyric about the divided nature of post-Brexit Britain (“Proof there is, if proof were needed/That the right-wing press succeeded”): a combination revealing that the Reid brothers remain as relevant as ever.

8: Then Again (from ‘Let’s Hear It For The Dogs’, 2015)

Many of the best Proclaimers songs touch on emotionally-charged subjects, and Then Again was no exception. One of a number of punchy highlights from 2015’s Let’s Hear It For The Dogs, this memorably outspoken vignette was written after the death of the notorious TV presenter Jimmy Savile, and it addressed the issue of sex offenders and the authorities’ often less than decisive response to such individuals with courage and guile. The lyrics pulled few punches (“How many more? What did they do?/Where were the girls and boys in blue?”), but it never preached, and put its point across eloquently with help from a humdinger of a tune.

7: Let’s Get Married (from ‘Hit The Highway’, 1994)

The lead single from The Proclaimers’ third album, Hit The Highway, Let’s Get Married was a heartstring-tugging, Buddy Holly-esue paean to the benefits of betrothal. In less skilful hands, lyrics such as “Let’s get married/We’re ready for tying the knot/… Set the seal on the feelings we’ve got” could sound mawkish, but – as ever – Craig and Charlie’s innate sincerity carried them through, and they sealed the deal with director Lindy Heymann’s brilliantly kitschy, Vegas-centric promo video.

6: King Of The Road (standalone single, 1990)

Craig and Charlie made Texan country singer Roger Miller’s ode to his freewheeling, dirt-poor-but-happy hobo into one of the best Proclaimers songs when they recorded a suitably spirited, rootsy rendition of his 1964 hit in the early 90s. Rewarding the twins with their third Top 20 UK success, King Of The Road took The Proclaimers back onto Top Of The Pops and it also featured in the soundtrack for Australian director George Ogilvie’s romantic drama The Crossing, starring an up-and-coming Russell Crowe.

5: Cap In Hand (from ‘Sunshine On Leith’, 1988)

One of the many standouts from The Proclaimers’ storied second album, Cap In Hand offered Craig and the Charlie the opportunity to spell out their Scottish nationalist convictions. The music’s attractive, Pogues-esque lilt provided the perfect counterpoint to a well-honed lyric which was eloquent, yet defiantly steely (“I can’t understand why we’d let someone else rule our land/Cap in hand”).

Undeniably one of the best Proclaimers songs, Cap In Hand attracted further attention in 2014, when it became an unofficial peoples’ anthem during the Scottish Independence Referendum – and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine it reprising that role in the future.

4: What Makes You Cry? (from ‘Hit The Highway’, 1994)

As the likes of Let’s Get Married, Life With You and I’m On My Way all reveal, the importance of family is a recurring theme in The Proclaimers’ songbook. However, on What Makes You Cry?, the band examined what happens when love breaks down – seemingly terminally. By Craig and Charlie’s standards, this classy, 50s-style pop ballad is especially melancholic and blue, but it is streaked with humour (“I thought you liked football? You didn’t mind those videos/And my dog didn’t mean to ruin your clothes (he can’t help it)”), and it’s nigh-on impossible not to raise a smile at the song’s wry promotional video, filmed primarily in Paris.

3: Sunshine On Leith (from ‘Sunshine On Leith’, 1988)

Though you shouldn’t judge a band on their chart placings, it still remains one of British pop music’s great mysteries why The Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith song stalled at No.41 in the wake of the seemingly omnipresent (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles. Eternally their greatest ballad, this glorious, swaying paean to love, endurance and the human spirit (“While I’m worth my place on this earth/I will be with you”) simply doesn’t age – and it’s seemingly immune to cynicism, too. Despite failing to seduce the charts, Sunshine On Leith has since taken its rightful place in Proclaimers lore as the unofficial anthem on the terraces at Edinburgh’s Easter Road, home of Craig and Charlie’s beloved Hibernians FC, where there’s rarely a dry eye in the house when it airs.

2: Letter From America (from ‘This Is The Story’, 1987)

In the same way The Pogues’ Thousands Are Sailing, from Shane MacGowan and co’s third album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, struck a chord with the Irish diaspora, The Proclaimers’ second single, Letter From America, chimed with the latest generation of Scots forced to start new lives in the US and Canada (“The day you sailed from Wester Ross to Nova Scotia”) to escape economic depression and the Thatcherite policies of the 80s. Indeed, the single’s artwork drew a direct comparison with the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries to the modern day, depicting the then recently-closed Gartcosh steel works overlaid with an image of a dispossessed Scottish couple from the 19th century.

The Proclaimers initially recorded a stripped-back, acoustic take of Letter From America for their debut album, This Is The Story, but the song really came into its own after the album’s co-producer Gerry Rafferty oversaw a potent full band re-recording of the song, turning it into a fiery, chart-busting anthem which rose to No.3 on the UK charts in December 1987 and made mainstream stars of Craig and Charlie Reid.

1: (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles (from ‘Sunshine On Leith’, 1988)

In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, Craig Reid spoke of the impact of The Proclaimers’ second major hit, (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles, suggesting, “The band is nowhere near as famous as the song and we never will be.” You’d like to say he was being typically modest, but the evidence is overwhelming in support of his claim. This glorious, stirring anthem, with its irresistible call-and-response chorus, has gone on to define the band, and it’s also enjoyed a remarkable afterlife thanks to an appearance in the soundtrack to 90s US box office smash Benny & Joon and a Comic Relief reprisal which took the song to No.1 in 2007. When considering the best Proclaimers songs, (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles is the one that walks the walk – and it still has legs today.

Find out where Sunshine On Leith ranks among our best football songs.

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