Named after Alistair Cooke's seemingly eternal BBC Radio show (which I was researching when I discovered this song wasn't noded), Letter from America was the first song that brought twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reed, The Proclaimers to public notice. Playing on Channel 4's The Tube they were like nothing "pop" had seen or heard before.

For a start, they were geeky – they wore chunky sweaters, and chunkier glasses (probably the biggest, thickest glasses seen on musicians since the day the music died, Elvis Costello notwithstanding).

Secondly, and more arresting – they sang in their own thick Scots accent. Popular mainstream musicians from Scotland at the time put on an English accent or, even more likely, a homogenous one that indicated that they had grown up in Anytown, Middle America. The only time you’d hear an accent in music at that point was in folk or comedy songs where the 'Ethnic Element' was a key part of the humour or point (q.v. The Pogues or The Cheftains). Letter from America was acoustic, it was protest, but it most certainly wasn’t folk – the feel was entirely contemporary. There was no doubt, however, that the Reed twins gloried in their roots, and the richness of the accent added immeasurably to the power of the song.

And that was the third thing – Letter From America was powerful. Political, and passionate in a way that most artists, apart from perhaps the aforementioned Elvis Costello and Kirsty MacColl, had given up, the song is a lament for Scotland – for the thousands who emigrated, for the closure of the nation’s industrial heart, for Highland clearance.

The combination should have been a death knell – a pair of speccy Scots, shouting in thick accents about what had happened to the owd country – but they seemed to connect with the nation: these things matter they were saying, and people believed them. Their enthusiasm and the heartfelt nature of both lyrics and performance hurtled Letter to America to the top of the charts in December 1987. Of course, the fact that it’s a damn good song and the chorus is spectacularly singable might have helped...

Letter From America
The Proclaimers


Chorus:
When you go will you send back a letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack from Miami to Canada.

Well
broke off from my work the other day

I spent the evening thinking
About all the blood that flowed away.
Across the ocean to the second chance

I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land.

Chorus

I've looked at the ocean
Tried hard to imagine
The way you felt the day you sailed
From Wester Ross to Nova Scotia.
We should have held you
we should have told you

But you know our sense of timing
We always wait too long.

Chorus

Lochaber no more
Sutherland no more

Lewis no more
Skye no more!
Lochaber no more
Sutherland no more

Repeat last four lines

Lewis no more
Skye no more!

I wonder my blood
Will you ever return
To help us kick the life back to a dying mutual friend?
Do we not love her
I think we all tell you about

Do we have to roam the world to prove how much it hurts?

Chorus

Bathgate no more
Linwood no more

Methil no more
Irvine no more
Bathgate no more
Linwood no more

Repeat last four lines twice

Methil no more
Lochaber no more

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