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I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles): The Proclaimers’ Signature Song Still Walks Tall
In Depth

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles): The Proclaimers’ Signature Song Still Walks Tall

It only took an hour to write, but I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) has become The Proclaimers’ definitive song.

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Many successful bands can fall back on the success of their biggest-selling chart hit, but few are lucky enough to pen a smash that can transcend fad, fashion and genre. The Proclaimers, however, can count themselves in this privileged elite, for their signature song, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), has found favour with music fans of all persuasions since it first cracked the UK Top 20 in 1988.

Listen to the best of The Proclaimers here.

“It enables us to get the rest of our music out there”

“Letter From America and I’m On My Way make good money,” singer Craig Reid told The Guardian in 2015, before revealing, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) makes about five times more than the rest of our songs added up. It enables us to make other records and stay on the road, getting the rest of our music out there.”

The Proclaimers had already chalked up their bona fide breakthrough hit – 1987’s Letter From America – when they first issued I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) as the lead single from their second album, Sunshine On Leith. In fact, it’s often forgotten that Letter From America was actually the bigger hit at the time, reaching No.3 on release compared with I’m Gonna Be’s initial chart peak of No.11.

In terms of longevity, however, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) has won hands down. After its first flush of success, the song again bathed in the limelight, in 1993, soaring to No.3 in the US after featuring in the soundtrack for the romantic comedy Benny & Joon, starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson. It then enjoyed another homeland success in 2007, topping the UK singles chart after being reissued in conjunction with Comic Relief. Not a bad return for a track The Proclaimers’ songwriting siblings, Craig and Charlie Reid, knocked out as they whiled away some downtime during an otherwise average afternoon in 1988.

“We had an hour to kill… I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) came straight away”

“We were sitting in a flat in Edinburgh, waiting to go up and play a gig in Aberdeen,” Craig Reid recalled in 2015. “We had an hour to kill before our lift, so I started playing some chords on the electric piano – and I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) came straight away…

“I can’t play guitar, so I played it to Charlie, and he changed it to those Buddy Holly-type downstrums,” he added. “It’s not a hard song to play. Right from the start we knew it was catchy, but when we started playing it live the reaction was tremendous.”

The feedback was so positive that the Reid brothers soon realised I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) was the obvious contender to launch their second album, Sunshine On Leith. In addition to its UK high of No.11, the song topped the charts in Iceland, Australia and New Zealand as it helped its parent album reach multi-platinum sales in numerous territories. However, while I’m Gonna Be’s rousing, anthemic qualities seduced an international audience, many listeners have been wide of the mark when it comes to the song’s meaning.

“Pretty much anyone can relate to it”

“People make all sorts of interpretations of the lyrics,” Craig told The Guardian. “Especially the supposed religious significance of 500 miles – but it’s just a love song… I’ve never actually walked 500 miles. I like walking, but that’s a bit much for me!”

Whatever fans have taken from the song, it seems that future generations will continue to embrace this fiery folk-rock classic. Since it was picked up for the Benny & Joon soundtrack, it has appeared in US TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and How I Met You Mother, not to mention all manner of sporting events, including regular airings on the terraces at Easter Road – the home of at The Proclaimers’ favoured Edinburgh football team, Hibernians, who have also taken another Proclaimers song, Sunshine On Leith, to their hearts. It’s a done deal that I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) will march on for years yet to come.

“I never set out to write a song with universal appeal,” Craig reflected in 2015. “But it does mention working, drunkenness and travelling, so pretty much anyone can relate to it.”

“People say they love the song for lots of reasons: its marching beat, the stop-start rhythm, that call and response bit. I think it’s a bit of everything,” Charlie added. “The band is nowhere near as famous as the song and we never will be. When they write our obituaries, whether in Scotland or Kazakhstan, they won’t mention much else.”

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