Scottish bands are some of the greatest U.K. bands of all time, so, as you can imagine, it’s insanely difficult to choose the best. That being said, here is our list of the top 10 Scottish bands of all time based on quality, influence, popularity, and success. Check out our list, in no particular order below:
Simple Minds were formed in Glasgow in 1977. The band is one of the first to embrace electronic rock. Fronted by charismatic singer, Jim Kerr, with Charlie Burchill on guitar, the band became household names overnight. In the early ’80s, The took the charts by storm in the U.K. with hits like: “‘Love Song” and “The American” before having hits with “Promised You a Miracle” and “Glittering Prize” This was just the start for the band though. In 1983, director John Hughes decided to use the track in his movie The Breakfast Club, from there the band conquered America with their classic song, “Don’t You Forget About Me“, which was a No.1 hit. This\ was followed swiftly by the anthemic “Alive and Kicking“, which reached No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2016, they received the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors.
You don’t get more rock n roll than Nazareth. True legends of the Scottish rock scene, the band were formed in 1968 in Dunfermline, and are admired throughout the world by the likes of Guns n’ Roses, who even included Nazareth’s track “Hair of the Dog” on their 1993 album, The Spaghetti Incident. In the UK the band had a string of hits with tracks like Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight,” “Love Hurts” and “Bad, Bad Boy.” “Love Hurts” gave the band their only Top 10 hit in the USA and went platinum. So influential are Nazareth to rock music, Guns and Roses singer, Axl Rose invited the band’s singer Dan McCafferty, to perform the song at Axl Rose’s wedding in 1990, but Dan turned it down. The band have maintained a presence in the music scene for over 40 years, and are appreciated by lovers of raw and honest hard rock music as possibly the greatest Scottish rock band ever.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
If there was any competition for Nazareth’s crown of the greatest Scottish rock band of all time, that band would be The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Right in their prime, singer Alex Harvey died of a heart attack in 1982, only a day before his 47th birthday. Harvey was larger-than-life, a real showman, and had a band backing him that was second to none: The colorful Zal Cleminson on guitar, Chris Glen on bass, Ted McKenna on drums, (both of whom later joined the Michael Schenker Group), and Ted’s cousin Hugh playing keys. The band’s only real hits of note were their memorable live rendition of Tom Jones’ “Delilah“, which was a huge hit in 1975, and the track “Boston Tea Party”, this did well for the band in 1976, gaining the band period of national fame.
Hailing from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Biffy Clyro were formed in 1995. The trio of Simon Neil and the brothers Ben and James Johnston are like many of the great bands, slow but sure wins the race. The band appeared at the Scottish music festival, T-in-the-Park Festival, in 2000 and were spotted by Beggars Banquet and signed. The band’s first three albums, the first of which was 2002’s Blackened Sky, sold respectably on the U.K. charts. Their fourth album called Puzzle was the game changer. The band had switched labels and Puzzle was released in 2007 by Warner Brothers subsidiary 14th Floor. The album went platinum in the U.K. and set the trend for huge hits both in the U.K. and Europe that include: “Folding Stars“, “Mountain“, and “Many of Horror“. Selling in excess of 1,240,000 albums and 400,000 singles in the UK alone, the band has also spent 155 weeks in the top seventy-five of the UK Album Charts, with two of those weeks sitting at number one. When you add seventy weeks on the main top forty of the albums charts and the fact that the band’s singles have spent a total of seventy-nine weeks in the UK Singles Charts, Biffy Clyro are a serious Scottish rock band.
You can’t mention Scottish musicians and not mention Charlie and Craig Reid. The two identical twin brothers from Fife broke with tradition by singing with their broad Scottish brogue instead of adopting the mid-Atlantic style accents many U.K. bands do. Surprisingly, the world got it, and the duo became an international success. Politically aware, they released “Letter from America“, which about the social decline of industrial Scotland during the recession years of the 1980s.”Letter from America“, reached No.3 in the UK charts in 1987, but it’s the classic song: “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)“, that has become the duo’s barn-storming signature tune. The song became so well know that actress Mary Stuart Masterton requested that the song was used as the theme song in the opening titles of the 1993 Hollywood movie Benny and Joon. That propelled the song toNo.3 in the Billboard Hot 100 giving the Reid twins a hit and career for life.
The Average White Band
Hailing from Dundee, Glasgow, and Perth. The Average White Band were the Kings of funk, soul, and R&B, and were hugely popular in the 1970s. Alan Gorrie, Hamish Stuart, Owen “Onnie” McIntyre, Malcolm Duncan, Robbie McIntosh, and Roger Ball found their breakthrough after signing to Atlantic Records and relocating themselves in New York. Their debut album AWB had an instant impact and was No.1 in the USA in 1974, establishing them as one of the biggest bands at the time. Best known for their hits: “Let’s Go Round Again“, “Cut the Cake”,“Queen of My Soul“, and the mostly instrumental “Pick Up the Pieces.” AWB has been sampled by various musicians including the Beastie Boys, TLC, Ice Cube, Eric B. & Rakim, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, and many more, making them the 15th most sampled act in history.
Coming from another Scottish band, The Skids, Stuart Adamson built his new band Big Country around a distinctively Scottish sound and style where the guitar riffs were played to resemble the sound of bagpipes or fiddles. Boom, it worked, and to great effect, giving the band success in the USA with their album “The Crossing” in 1983. Ironically none of the members of Big Country were actually born in Scotland. Even Adamson was born in Manchester but to Scottish parents and he was raised in Dunfermline from the age of 4 years old. The band had hits with: “Fields of Fire,” “Look Away,” “Chance,” “In A Big Country,” “One Great Thing,” and “King of Emotion” But tragically Adamson struggled with alcoholism and was found dead in a Honolulu hotel in 2001 at the young age of 43 years.
Del Amitri stands out in our list quite simply because this Glasgow band are excellent songwriters. You only have to listen to tracks like: “Nothing Ever Happens“, “Kiss This Thing Goodbye“, “Always the Last to Know“, “Right Time“, “Move Away Jimmy Blue“, and “Roll to Me“, which was incidentally a Top 10 hit in America. Even with their depth of songwriting, the band never cracked the Top 10 in the U.K. However, in the late ’80s and early ’90s they started winning over fans in the U.K. One highlight for the band was the accolade of recording the Scottish football team’s official song for the 1998 World Cup. As you can imagine, the song, called “Don’t Come Home Too Soon” was a major hit with fans throughout Scotland. The band has never officially split-up, but Del Amitri has not released an album since 2002. Singer Justin Currie remained active in recording and performing, and the band got back together again in 2013 and released a live album the following year.
Formed in Glasgow, the band wears its influences on its sleeve showcasing a sound reminiscent of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. When you add a mixture of garage rock, indie, and even dance music, the band forged a sound and style of their own. There is no better example than their seminal album, Screamadelica, released in 1991 to critical and popular acclaim. The band seriously bring it when playing live and are fronted by the enigmatic Bobby Gillespie on vocals. The band has some seriously catchy party-stomping tracks including: “Rocks“, “Movin’ On Up“, “Kowalski“, “Country Girl“, and their psychedelic dance classic “Loaded“.
A prolific band when it comes to writing and recording, they released nine albums on a regular basis between 1987 and 2008. The last of those, Beautiful Future, was a Top 10 hit in 2008. Since then the band released More Light in 2013 and Chaosmosisin 2016. Both albums reached the Top 20 in the U.K. and proved the band hasn’t lost its touch.
Travis was formed in Glasgow in 1990. They took their name from the movie Paris, Texas, from the character Travis Henderson, played by Harry Dean Stanton. The band released their debut album, Good Feeling (1997) where it debuted at number nine on the UK Albums Chart and went onto achieve a silver certification from the BPI in 2000. Their second album, The Man Who (1999) was a game changer for the band spending nine weeks at number one on the UK Albums Charts.In 2003, they released The Man Who. The album was certified 9x platinum with sales of over 2.68 million in the UK alone. Following the album’s success, the band released The Invisible Band in 2001. TheThe album debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart and spent a total of four weeks at the number one spot, fifteen weeks in the top ten and a total of fifty-five weeks in the top one-hundred chart. It was eventually certified 4x platinum, and in the US the album peaked at thirty-nine on the Billboard 200. Travis has twice been awarded best band at the BRIT Awards and in 2016 were honored at the Scottish Music Awards for their outstanding contribution to music.