Number Ones: Walking 500 Miles – and 500 more – for a hit

proclaimers

I’M GONNA BE (500 MILES) –THE PROCLAIMERS
#1 FEB 20 – MARCH 19, 1989

There was a recurring storyline on How I Met You Mother where it is revealed that the character of Marshall has had a cassingle of ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ stuck in his car’s tape deck for years. The point of the gag could have easily been the bad luck of such a cheesy song being forced upon him every time he drives anywhere, but instead it is played as a testament to the song’s undeniable repeat value. Even a brief lull of excitement at the song is shown to pass quickly – cut to the characters blasting the tune out joyously hours into a road trip.

There’s an even better – if almost certainly spurious – story picked up a few years ago by the sorts of tabloids who report ghost sightings and international rights breaches side-by-side as ‘news’, where a Chinese Proclaimers fans told her lover she would only marry him if he walked 500 miles (and 500 more) in order to propose. The poor guy, not realising that sarcasm exists and feelings are transient, travelled six weeks from Henan Province to the Guangdong Province, which you obviously already know is roughly 1000 miles apart.* King of the road, indeed.

If this column teaches you one main thing from week to week, it’s that 90210‘s Brian Austin Green was a criminally-under-rated actor and rapper. If it teaches you two things, it’s that the most unlikely songs manage to hit number one in Australia, for reasons quite divorced from the rest of the world, and often impossible to decode – even decades later.

Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid – who make up The Proclaimers – seemed beamed in from Muppet Labs when they hit Australian television and radio in 1989: twin bespectacled Beaker characters with cartoonishly exaggerated Scottish accents, and a chugging, repeating tune which offered up both an ultra statement of love** and a wordless, sing-along section that guaranteed inclusion on wedding playlists forevermore.

The single hit #11 in the UK, and #14 in Ireland – no doubt being halted by the lack of novelty in the twins’ accents, and Rod Stewart’s then-recent flooding of this market. Over in Australia, however, we loved it!*** The song debuted at #42, climbing steadily over the following weeks, before hitting #1 on February 20, 1989, and staying there for a month. The sunny song’s success even propelled their album into the top ten (during the same week the single reached #1), where it bounced about for 15 weeks – or 75 episodes of Home and Away, if that’s how you measure time these days.

Follow up single ‘I’m On My Way’ was equally bouncy, equally travel-related – if only in the metaphorical sense this time – and also included a weird, wordless, singalong part. While the song didn’t hit the UK top 40 (c’mon lads!), the song reached #3 in Australia and was arguably a more enduring hit for the duo on Australian radio, still enjoying regular play on heritage radio in 2001 – until Shrek brought the song to a whole new generation of kids raised on CGI and MSG.

In 1993, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ featured in under-rated Johnny Depp film Benny and Joon, which saw the single released in the US, where it hit #3. Not to be beaten, a smattering of British comedians re-recorded the song in 2007 – with the song title parenthesis reversed, because nothing is sacred – whereupon it finally reached #1 in ol’ England.

Of course, this all proves the song’s evergreen appeal almost as well as Marshall’s aforementioned cassingle does – or maybe it just shows the best song doctor in the game is Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas.

 


*Also, Scottish darts player Robert Thornton uses the song as his walk-on song – which is obviously all kinds of hilarious, and spawns at least ten follow-up questions.

**Travelling long distances for love is such a proven song trope that way back in sepia-stained 1968, The Beatles parodied the idea with White Album track ‘Honey Pie’ – which bemoaned distance while offering up the hilariously feeble, “I’m in love, but I’m lazy, so won’t you please come home.”

***Years of decoding Barnesy TV interviews, mid-song banter and Hey Hey appearances prepared us for this moment.

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