Every time a controversial international political issue takes hold in the mainstream, it inspires me to learn something about the place in question. Perhaps this silly obsession is a result of knowing so very little about the world at large, despite being a citizen thereof.
The Scottish independence referendum is a matter to be decided between Scotsmen, no doubt; but we’re all welcome to discuss the potential implications of the outcome, aye or nay.
No matter what happens, it’s still going to be called Scotland and I’m still going to think Big Country’s second album, Steeltown, is my favorite Scottish rock record of all-time. Feel free to argue.
Before we proceed, even though Bon Scott, Angus and Malcolm Young were born in Scotland, AC/DC is an Australian band. Bagpipes notwithstanding.
That said, some of the greatest music ever made was political in nature and design. The problem with overtly political music is that often times it’s merely a reaction to a particular incident or social condition, instead of a solution. Without the Vietnam War, 1960s protest music would have increased its focus on Civil Rights, which was ultimately the much more important issue, and something that still hasn’t been resolved. That’s simply my perspective, having grown up in the aftermath of the Summer of Love.
On the home front, music and specifically American political issues are uneasy bedfellows at best. For the most part, I don’t want either one in, on, or around the other. Artists with political agendas are Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. They matter, but the world and everything in it would still be a fantastic, wonderful place, even if chocolate and peanut butter hadn’t come together in 1980.
So rock bands – musicians in general – are really good about pointing things out like injustice and corruption, but generally unable to do anything about it. “Rock the Vote” is a great idea but it fails to address the underlying truth – every election is a choice between the lesser of many evils. Likewise, musicians have little or no credible advice on how to go about changing the world to make it a better place, other than starting your own band. I’m not even sure that’s the best advice, either.
Via this prolonged interpolation, I claim political neutrality not just as a creed or motto, but an indifference that pervades every fiber of my being. It’s the been over a decade since I have voted for anything except opinion polls on CNN and ESPN, and Zagat restaurant ratings – don’t ask – and even then, it was out of a sense of civic duty, which I really didn’t appreciate getting jammed on. As many pundits are quick to point out, my lack of participation only makes your vote count that much more. You’re welcome.
It’s not that I don’t care. I care a whole bunch. I just know the level that I’m eligible to participate – as a citizen living overseas – the only thing that really matters to me is that our President isn’t a psychopath. If I were voting in California general elections, which I could if I really wanted to, who or what would I be voting for or against? I dunno. Probably would ask a bunch of my friends what they think, and therefore, my vote would be shaped not by active participation and interest, but what my friends are supporting.
Here’s what I voted on the other morning:
Which Saturday college football result was more surprising?
#1 Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31
#2 Alabama 33, West Virginia 23
My heart was saying Florida State, because the football team – as opposed to the loose-cannon basketball team – usually covers the spread; and nobody thought Oklahoma State, an 18-point underdog, could hang. The Cowboys lost by six points, beating the spread by 12 points. West Virginia was a 26½-point underdog and lost by 10. So my head was saying, “West Virginia, West Virginia…” All day. The unranked Mountaineers chopped 16½ points off the line, and they went 4-8 last season. Therefore, that kind of sweetens the deal in their favor. OSU is never really “bad”; they haven’t had a losing season since 2005. All in all, I think Alabama is almost always over-ranked, and probably definitely not the #2 team in the country. Alabama’s coach is great at recruiting, but not so much at actually playing the game. So…that score is not surprising. In a way, I’m surprised WVU didn’t win the game. How did I vote? Guess.
Upon reading about the recent independence referendum, the first thing that popped into my mind was: for such a relatively small country, Scotland has produced a disproportionate amount of good rock music. Scottish rock first appeared on my musical map in 1975 when the Bay City Rollers broke the U.S. market with “Saturday Night” – all of which, the year, the band and the song – I loathed from the minute my sister saw them on the cover of Teen Beat and ran out to buy the single. At some point, I was given a pair of tartan pants to wear with my white patent leather shoes. That was a dark day in Christian history.
Despite not being a fan of the most popular Scottish bands: Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, Belle and Sebastian, Deacon Blue, Del Amitri, and Primal Scream, they clearly create music that makes a lot of people happy. Huzzah, fans of Billy Bragg! Meanwhile, some of the newer bands like Biffy Clyro and Admiral Fallow sound great, but they’re not really my thing – whatever my thing is. However, I’ll have you know that prom theme song for Hinsdale South High School Class of 1986 was “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds, perhaps the most “Eighties” of all rock bands in general.
I bought Simple Minds’ Sparkle in the Rain when it came out despite their earlier singles (i.e. “Promised You a Miracle”) because I liked Big Country and U2; and one super extra big reason: it was produced by Steve Lillywhite, who is unfortunately not Scottish, but a god nonetheless. Like Roy Thomas Baker, Lillywhite has the Midas Touch. Nearly every record he’s been involved with is sonic gold. Here’s a list of records made under Lillywhite’s watch – limited to a single decade, 1980-1990, with the ultimate caveat in that I owned and enjoyed every one of these records (though some were much more enjoyable than others, for sure) at some point in life, back when I still had a record collection.
[Personal Top 100 Album selections in green].
If I Should Fall from Grace with God, The Pogues
Naked, Talking Heads
The Joshua Tree, U2
Dirty Work, The Rolling Stones 
Get Close, Pretenders
Reggae Greats, Steel Pulse
Steeltown, Big Country
The Crossing, Big Country
Wonderland [EP], Big Country
Field Day, Marshall Crenshaw
Under a Blood Red Sky, U2
Talk Talk Talk, The Psychedelic Furs
Walk Under Ladders, Joan Armatrading 
Black Sea, XTC
Peter Gabriel , Peter Gabriel 
The Psychedelic Furs, The Psychedelic Furs
Drums and Wires, XTC
So Alone, Johnny Thunders
The Only Ones, The Only Ones
The Scream, Siouxsie and the Banshees
Simple Minds had a lot of the same qualities and characteristics as U2, and for that reason they may have been overlooked. Jim Kerr was a great frontman, and the fact that he married Chrissie Hynde, the greatest frontwoman of all-time, gives his credibility a solid boost. “Up on the Catwalk” was the big hit from the record, but this is my favorite SM jam.
Simple Minds – Waterfront
Taking what little I know about Scotland other than the most prominent and well-known stuff – Scotch whiskey, Groundskeeper Willie, bagpipes, peat moss, and haggis – it never fails to amuse me that one of the funkiest bands of 1976, the Average White Band, were Scottish. Haha. Anyway, before we go any further, here’s Bert Jansch. Let’s hope Jimmy Page has cut him a really nice check.
Bert Jansch – Black Waterside
The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet
I’m almost positive I acquired this jam during a raid of our high school’s radio station circa 1982-83.
The Skids – Working for the Yankee Dollar
Before Stuart Adamson was the voice and face of Big Country, he was the lead guitar player the Skids, perhaps the most criminally under-rated band this side of John Foxx-era Ultravox.
The Skids – The Saints are Coming
The Skids – Into the Valley
Aztec Camera – Jump
The best cover version of any 80s rock song, ever. Here’s something I’ve always wanted to say. Eddie Van Halen claims to have written the now-infamous synth riff and arrangement for “Jump” several years before 1984 was recorded, and furthermore, that David Lee Roth had rejected the now-infamous riff for at least two years. Meanwhile, it’s common knowledge that both Roth and producer Ted Templeman were opposed to keyboards in Van Halen’s music.
Eddie Van Halen is a competent keyboard player. No more, no less. When 1984 came out, everybody loved this jam – it’s the only VH song to reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – but I was outraged. Until I heard the rest of the record, which in my mind contains five great songs: “Panama”, “Hot For Teacher”, “I’ll Wait”, “Top Jimmy” and “Drop Dead Legs”. The point is, DLR and Templeman were right. Keyboards had no place in their music, especially cheesy synth sounds from an Oberheim OB-Xa.
“And the Cradle Will Rock” and “I’ll Wait” remain the only two VH songs to feature keyboards that I can stomach. And a little known fact is that “I’ll Wait” was written as a collaboration between Van Halen and Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald. Just…ew. Yuck.
Back to Scotland’s rich and oft-overlooked musical legacy. If you didn’t know Al “Year of the Cat” was a Scotsman, you do now. And no, I’m not going to post the video.
The Incredible String Band – The Half-Remarkable Question
Love these cats. Wonder whatever happened to them.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Only Happy When It Rains
Frankly, I was never into this band – ever – even though I bought the cassette of Psychocandy on the strength of its associated 80s indie cred. Thus, it was quite difficult to find a song I would feel comfortable posting here.
Gerry Rafferty – Stuck in the Middle With You
I’ll forgive Gerry Rafferty for “Baker Street”, which despite Foo Fighters spot-on cover version, is one of my least favorite songs in existence – right up there with “Sultans of Swing”, “Year of the Cat”, “American Pie”, and “Sailing”, rounding out a really solid Top Five of unfortunate radio songs. On the other hand, “Stuck in the Middle” is the best Dylan song since “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”), and well, the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. Enough said.
Ultravox is not really a true Scottish band, but Midge Ure was born in Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, a suburb of Glasgow, and was lead singer during the band’s most commercially successful period. But Ultravox as a band is an interesting story, and very much A Tale of Two Cities.
Ultravox – Young Savage
Now, Ultravox with Midge.
Ultravox – The Man Who Dies Every Day
Without Kurt Cobain, few people outside of the U.K. would have ever heard of The Vaselines. It’s kind of shame. They were pretty good. They Might Be Giants ripped them off all day, all night. Fuckers are writing songs for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Catchy tunes either way.
The Vaselines – Son of Gun
The Vaselines – Lithium
Gun – Word Up
I know less than zero about this band except they’re Scottish, and this version of The Cameo jam is straight-up brilliant. Very very very 1994.
Donovan – Did you know Donovan was a Scot? Me neither.
Sheena Easton – For a year or two there, Ms. Easton was seriously smoking.
Teenage Fanclub – Do these guys even have a “best song”?
The Beta Band – Dry the Rain
Kind of Beck-ish. Folks rave about this band, but despite owning a couple of their records, they never really did much for me. This is the best song in their catalog.
Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You
This cat was Amy Winehouse before Amy Winehouse became a household name. When this song came out, it was like of like, “Who the hell is this guy?” As it turns out, Collins was a member of Orange Juice.
Orange Juice – Rip it Up
Now I know why they never “made it”.
 This is nowhere near my favorite Stones record, not even by a long, long, long-ass shot, but it does contain IMHO one of their few really good songs of the 80s, most notably “One Hit (to the Body)”, which, Trivial Pursuit fans, features Jimmy Page (guitar solo).
 The Queen of the Cut-Out Bin. You’ll find more $1.00 Joan Armatrading records than Pablo Cruise, the Carpenters, and Little River Band combined.
 Definitely my favorite Peter Gabriel solo record.
 True story: The ONLY reason I owned this record for a brief amount of time is that I was looking for an obscure song by what I thought was the New York Dolls, but to this day, still haven’t tracked down. I can tell you this: it sounds like T. Rex, but just a little more “fruity”; and Johnny Thunders couldn’t have been anywhere near the studio when it was tracked.