Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

Spirit of the Glen

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Back in 1972, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards or, to give them their full title, the Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, had one of the surprise hits of the year, even one of the surprise hits of the whole decade with a bagpipe version of "Amazing Grace." It turned out to be the biggest selling single of the year and they followed that with the album Farewell to the Greys, which became one of the biggest selling albums of 1972, although ineligible for the main charts due to its low price and the chart policy on pricing at that time. It spent 14 weeks at number one on the separate mid-price charts in the early 1970s. Bagpipes had been used in mainstream pop records before, but never as the main instrument (or the only instrument) and certainly not by a real military band. After a couple of further minor hit singles, "Heykens Serenade" and "Little Drummer Boy," they disappeared back to their barracks (and Iraq), but continued performing at tattoo and military band festivals all around the world. 35 years later, the public's insatiable appetite, especially at Christmas, for soft MOR albums featuring a variety of ethnic instruments whether they be pan pipes, saxophones, or bagpipes, was strong enough for Universal Classics and Jazz, the specialty record label for anything slightly off the wall, classical, jazz, opera, instrumentals, or MOR, signed the band to a lucrative deal at the end of November, and released Spirit of the Glen. Opening the album with the most obvious of tracks, their big hit "Amazing Grace," set the scene for a different type of bagpipe album altogether, for unlike Farewell to the Greys, this was an album that added strings and horns where appropriate, other instruments, and, horror of horrors on "Mull of Kintyre," even a lilting vocalist. So it was a little misleading to show a lone piper on the cover set against a background of wild and rugged country and a Scottish loch at sunset. That was not to say that the album didn't deliver what it said it would, for the drone of the bagpipes was undoubtedly the major sound, just not the only one, turning Spirit of the Glen into a free-for-all, MOR instrumental album (with some vocals) but one not really all that evocative of Scotland, especially when the tracks included "Last of the Mohicans," "Dances with Wolves," and Pachelbel's "Canon," although there was a Scottish medley featuring "Flower of Scotland," "The Skye Boat Song," and "The Dark Isle," as well as other very traditional tracks in "Highland Cathedral," "Over the Hills and Far Away," and "The Green Hills of Tyrol," but what would at first glance appear to be a Scottish song, "Caledonia," was a vocal performance with hardly a bagpipe in sight.

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