I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

I'm Gonna Be by krin.jpg

Date Aired
July 28, 2013
Running Time
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Todd plays "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" on the piano

A pop song review

Todd: Most of the bands I cover on One Hit Wonderland [brief clip of A Flock of Seagulls - "Space Age Love Song"] are a product of their time. The Proclaimers are not one of them.

Video for "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"
Proclaimers: But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more

Todd (VO): The Proclaimers exist outside of trends, outside of fashion, possibly outside of the realm of human knowledge and reason. It almost seems wrong to believe they were ever in our dimension at all, but they were, arriving in America in 1993 to proclaim that they would walk [in Scottish brogue] five hundred miles...

Todd: ...and they would walk five hundred more.

Craig Reid: When I'm lonely

Todd (VO): To say their success was unlikely is underselling it. You simply just do not see people like this in music except as [brief clip of...] joke contestants on Britain's Got Talent. Any sane person would tell you that these aren't really musicians, they're a [picture of...] Mike Myers character that somehow got brought to life and cloned.

Todd: And by the way, here is Mike Myers himself as half of the Proclaimers, because [clip from SNL sketch with Myers and Norm MacDonald as the Proclaimers] how the hell could he possibly not?

Mike: Michael Jordan
Norm: Michael Jordan
Mike and Norm: Michael, hey
Michael, ho
Michael Jordan

Todd (VO): It is kind of a singular anomaly in music. Very rare does the one-hit wonder even boast dozens of recognizable parodies. And yet the Proclaimers were instantly identifiable, with their intensely unfashionable image, their nigh indecipherable Scottish accent, and there's two of them. They were too unique to ignore, but too weird to keep around, and eventually we sent them back on the boat to Edinburgh.

Todd: But who exactly were these nerds with brogues thicker than Scrooge McDuck, and is there a secret meaning behind their biggest hit? (No.) Well, we're about to take a closer look at the pride and joy of bonny Scotland. [Singing with them...] Da dat da!

Charlie Reid: Da lat da!

Todd: Da dat da!

Charlie: Da lat da!
Proclaimers: Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da

Before the hit

Picture of the twins, with "I'm on My Way" playing in background

Todd (VO): The Proclaimers are identical twins Craig and Charlie Reid, which...quite frankly, that doesn't...that doesn't strike me as Scottish enough...

Todd: ...names to describe these guys. If it were up to me, they'd go by [album cover of Finest with these names] Angus MacHaggis MacDougal and Tam O'Shanter the Bruce, and they'd dress like [picture of...] Groundskeeper Willie. You know, that might be going overboard a bit. Or would it?

Video for "Make My Heart Fly"

Todd (VO): I mean, the Proclaimers is a pretty good name for them because they are proclaiming loudly and proudly without shame their identity. And that identity is two very, very Scottish dorks, or alternately, two very, very dorky Scots. And just to stack the deck against them even more in the music world, they were just an acoustic duo when they started. And they started in the mid 80s.

Todd: Like...mid 80s, did Scotland have a presence in pop music? Yeah, but they didn't sound like the Proclaimers.

Clip of Simple Minds - "Don't You (Forget About Me)"
Jim Kerr: Don't you forget about me
(Did you know these guys are Scottish? I didn't!)

Todd (VO): A Scottish band having a Scottish accent was itself kind of a big deal at the time. [Clip of "Throw the 'R' Away"] They were one of the few Scottish bands who sounded something other than English or American, let alone drew upon the traditions of Scottish folk music.

Todd: Again, in 1987. There was absolutely no pressing for these guys in the world. The closest [clip of "Come On Eileen" by...] were the very proudly Celtic ensemble known as Dexys Midnight Runners, who were a big inspiration to the Reid boys and were a previous feature on this show. You know, when you're being inspired by a one-hit wonder,...

Todd (VO): ...you can't be surprised if you don't have more than one big hit yourself, right? But then again, the Proclaimers probably couldn't give two craps about racking up tons of Billboard chart-toppers anyway, so whatever.

Todd: Like...that whole image did not happen by accident.

Craig: I've been so sad
Since you said my accent was bad

Todd (VO): Their entire first single is about how they're not going to change their accent.

Proclaimers: I'm just going to have to learn to hesitate
To make sure my words
On your Saxon ears don't grate
But I wouldn't know a single word to say
If I flattened all the vowels
And I threw the 'R' away

Todd (VO): You just don't see enough people using "Saxon" as an insult.

Todd: I'm gonna start doing that. [Picture of cosplayers] Look at that filthy Saxons.

Video for "Letter from America"

Todd (VO): Don't think that they were only a bunch of silly goofballs, though; they had their serious side too.

Proclaimers: When you go will you send back
A letter from America?

Todd (VO): Their first major hit was "Letter from America", which was about how most of the Scots in the world were living far away from the home country, which, you know, was not doing so well at the time.

Proclaimers: From Miami to Canada

Todd (VO): [album cover of...] A year later, they released their second album, Sunshine on Leith. [Video for...] Their first single was the title track, and it remains very popular in Scotland.

Proclaimers: While the Chief puts sunshine on Leith

Todd (VO): Leith is a section of Edinberg...Edinburgh. Like I said, they weren't particularly concerned about being sensible outside of Scotland.

Live performance of "Then I Met You"
Proclaimers: I met you

Todd (VO): You'll notice they decided to mix it up a bit by becoming an electric band. I like this one. But it was their second single off that album that would be the one that would bring them to the forefront of pop culture.

Todd: The awkwardly parenthesed classic, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)".

Performance on Late Night with David Letterman
Proclaimers: But I...

Not a hit

Todd: This was not big.

Craig: When I wake up

Todd (VO): This was 1988, America was not ready for the Proclaimers. Did pretty well in the UK though.

Todd: After that, the Proclaimers were pretty quiet for a while.

Video for "King of the Road"
Craig: Trailer for sale or rent

Todd (VO): Except for a single EP where they covered the country classic "King of the Road", they basically released nothing for many years and their biggest concern appeared to be saving their [poster of Hibernian Football Club] favorite soccer team from shutting down. But eventually, they did put together a real album, and by 1993, were just putting the finishing touches on it.

Todd: But before they released it, this happened.

Okay, now the hit

Todd: The entire reason you've heard of the Proclaimers is a Johnny Depp movie from 1993 called [album cover of soundtrack for...] Benny & Joon.

Trailer for film, with the song in the background

Todd (VO): In it, Johnny Depp plays either Benny or Joon (He plays neither.), and ends up romancing Mary Stuart Masterson. You know, it's one of those quirky, kooky romance movies; by "kooky," I mean that one of the lead characters has an actual, diagnosed mental illness. Not really one of Johnny Depp's better-remembered films, but I remember liking it. Mary Stuart Masterson was allegedly such a fan of the band that she lobbied to include one of their songs in the movie. If you just want to watch the movie to see where the Proclaimers crop up, it's the first scene, so you don't have to wait that long.

Video for "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"
Craig: When I wake up, well, I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you
When I go out, yeah, I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you

Todd (VO): Okay, having now perused my way through the Proclaimers' discography, I would say solidly that "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" is the simplest, ...

Todd: ...even, dare I say, the stupidest song they ever made.

Craig: When I'm working
Proclaimers: Yes, I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who's working hard for you

Todd (VO): I mean, that's basically its entire appeal—how dopey and corny and happy in love it is. All the lines in the verses are basically the same.

Todd: When he...performs an action, he's gonna be the one who performs that action next to you.

Todd (VO): When he goes out, when he does anything.

Proclaimers: If I haver, hey, I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you

Todd (VO): [with brogue] When they haver, they're gonna haver next to you.

Todd: They would haver for a thousand miles if they could haver next to you.

Todd (VO): Seriously, "haver"? What the hell does that mean? Does that mean...

Todd: ...babbling out nonsense words?

haver [ˈheɪvə]: vb (intr) Brit 1. (Scot and northern English dialect) to talk nonsense; babble

Huh. Okay, that's exactly what it means.

Proclaimers: But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more

Todd (VO): They're called the Proclaimers for another reason—they are proclaiming. I mean, listen to them. They are just hollering, like, at the top of their lungs. You know...Da dat da!

Charlie: Da lat da!
Proclaimers: Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle...

Todd (VO): You can't say it wants for enthusiasm. They've got conviction. You genuinely believe that they would literally walk 500 miles, probably while singing this song without stopping. It's...it's exuberant.

Todd: And, I'll be honest, it's a little obnoxious.

Todd (VO): There is probably a version of Hell where this song plays on loop, but at the same time, you would have to be some kind of seriously insufferable grumpy-pants to say you didn't like this song at least a little.

Proclaimers: I'm gonna be the man who comes back home with you
Craig: I'm gonna be the man who's coming home with you

Todd: I'm...I'm not sure what exactly there is to say about this song. It's just this big, upbeat, doofy karaoke singalong.

Proclaimers: Da lat da, da lat da, da lat da, da lat da
Da-da-da dun-diddle...

Todd (VO): Certainly Craig and Charlie, they were very happy about its success. After such a long break, what better hype could they have hoped for for their upcoming album?

Todd: Truly the 90s would be the era of the Proclaimers.

The failed follow-up

Todd: Okay, let's be serious. There was never going to be a second hit for the Proclaimers.

Video for "Let's Get Married"
Craig: We've been going together

Todd (VO): You can't really call it failing when the Proclaimers don't have another hit in America. That's like saying Garth Brooks failed to have a hit in Thailand. That said, why did "500 Miles" become a hit and not anything from their next album?

Todd: Well, they didn't seem to have that knockout single like "500 Miles" was. They just weren't a pop act, they weren't...

Todd (VO): ...designed to have hits. The singles did try and follow "500 Miles" by playing up the silly love song aspects of their personalities.

Proclaimers: Let's get married

Todd (VO): Their first single was a sincere proposal song called "Let's Get Married", but after "500 Miles", it's just a little underwhelming. [Video for "What Makes You Cry"] Their second single was even more of a joke song, but it didn't do well at all. Those suits are as fashionable as they ever got, by the way.

Craig: I thought you liked football
You didn't mind those videos
And my dog didn't mean
To ruin your clothes

Todd (VO): I just really can't be surprised that these songs didn't really catch fire. Yeah, I think ultimately, they were just too folky and too foreign to really ever be big in the States. This album didn't do all that well in England either. Like I said, they were just not ones to care all that much about crossover appeal. Their final single off that album was a cover of an old Otis Redding song, and...

Todd: ...after that, they once again disappeared from music altogether.

Did they ever do anything else?

Video for "There's a Touch"

Todd (VO): Their dad got sick and they went on a very long hiatus while they took care of him, not recording another album until 2001.

Todd: But they've recorded like clockwork ever since, [album covers of Persevere, Life With You, Born Innocent and Restless Soul] like, a new album every couple years.

Proclaimers: There's a touch upon my lips
Left by memory's fingertips

Todd (VO): Weird to think that they recorded then majority of their output in their 40s, but then again, they both looked like someone's dad even when they were young. This is my favorite song by them, by the way. They never changed their MO very much, they still alternate between sincerity and outright silliness.

Video for "The Doodle Song"
Proclaimers: Doodle-oo-do
Doodle-oo-do-do, doodle-doodle-oo

Todd: Actually, I think that this might be the stupidest thing they ever recorded.

Clip for "Whole Wide World"

Todd (VO): They also show up on movie soundtracks all the time; you may remember hearing them in the background of Shrek and in Dumb and Dumber and in literally, like, a dozen other movies.

Todd: Christ, they've just been really productive.

Footage of...

Todd (VO): In Scotland, there's an entire musical based around their songs—it's called Sunshine on Leith, and it's got great reviews.

Promo for musical, with blurb from the Guardian: "A Show Worth Walking 500 Miles For, If Not 500 More"
Cast: Walk 500 miles and...

Todd (VO): Now, there's a quote. And it's getting made into a movie, it's being released in, like, a few months.

Todd: Also, in 2007, they had their first #1 hit in the UK when they [clip of...] re-recorded their only hit with some comedians for the charity Comic Relief. UK, I gotta ask, is it just for charity you buy these awful Comic Relief singles? 'Cause you've got all these Comic Relief songs, they're...oh, it's just terrible. Whatever.

Did they deserve better?

Todd: Better? They seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.

Todd (VO): Look, it should come as a surprise to no one that the Proclaimers are still hometown heroes in Scotland, where they regularly sell out concerts all the time. But also...you know, they're just the definition of a band you'd want around. They weren't redundant, they had a unique style and a unique image, they were pretty talented songwriters, and they had one giant hit that has kept them working and will pay their rent for the rest of their lives. The fact that they never bent to trends has served them well; that's a big reason their careers have persisted far longer than most of their contemporaries. Then again, I can only imagine the colossal failure that would've happened if they tried to be hip in the 80s or in the 90s. They just were who they were and still are. Soon, I imagine the Proclaimers will be called back to their home planet, and that will be a tragedy when it happens.

Todd: But for the time being, I am proud to proclaim, yes, the Proclaimers are a good band. I salute you, Proclaimers. May you continue walking those 500 miles

Proclaimers: Walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

Closing tag song: Down by Law - "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

"I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" is owned by EMI Music
This video is owned by me

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