Gerry Rafferty, Euphoria and the Scottish classic given a Gen Z lease of life

Legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty
Legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty

Mention Gerry Rafferty to someone and they’ll probably hum a distinctive sax solo or sing about clowns being to their left and jokers to their right.

Fans of a certain vintage might also recall Rafferty’s partnership with Billy Connolly in folk rock act The Humblebums.

Somewhat less predictable would be numerous American teenagers referring to one of Rafferty’s songs as a ‘bop’.

Right Down The Line immediately follows Baker Street on 1978’s ‘City to City’ and has traditionally been overshadowed by the blockbuster hit and its iconic sax solo, but now it is finally enjoying its day in the spotlight.

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The right soundtrack placement can result in a sudden and unexpected bump in sales for heritage artists, as was the case earlier this year when the inclusion of Running Up That Hill in Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things gave Kate Bush her first number one since 1978.

Used twice this year in the hit HBO drama Euphoria, Right Down The Line has also recently appeared in Netflix’s multiple-award-winning Ozark and Apple TV+’s Shining Girls. Embraced by ‘Gen Z’ (typically aged between 10 and 25), the song has trended on TikTok while accumulating over 145 million Spotify streams.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that Euphoria introduce me to the absolute BANGER that is Right Down The Line by Gerry Rafferty” tweeted @JSaraka, while @aaryamz10 said: “Right Down The Line by Gerry Rafferty was the anthem of my last year of high school, and in my opinion is a 10/10 song”.

Multimillion-selling Scottish singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald told me “He has such an incredibly distinctive and unique voice, and he’s an absolutely incredible lyricist”. Of Right Down The Line, she said “For a song that’s over 40 years old it sounds so incredibly fresh and exciting. The production is sublime”.

Although Macdonald has been aware of the Paisley-born musician “for as long as I can remember” thanks to her dad being a fan of the Humblebums, it was DJ Grant Stott playing Rafferty’s ‘Slow Down’ on his Vinyl Collective BBC Radio Scotland show that prompted her to delve into his back catalogue.

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Referring to Rafferty as a “genius”, Stott told me “Right Down The Line is quite possibly one of the most beautifully written and performed love songs. It’s special in our house, one of those songs that my wife and I will play for each other, and no matter where you are in your relationship with somebody it sums it up”.

Stott vividly remembers his first time hearing the song. “I was doing a late-night radio show in the early ‘90s on Radio Forth”, he recalled, “and our music programmer Colin Somerville dropped in this Gerry Rafferty track Right Down The Line. I remember sticking it on and, as I played it on air, it was pretty much the first time I heard it in its entirety.

“When you’re working on the radio, there’s only a few songs that will stop you and you keep the headphones on, and you just sit and listen in the studio. Normally you’ll introduce a song, your headphones go off and you’ll carry on with your cup of coffee or make notes on what you’re going to do next, but as soon as this started I was thinking “How have I not heard this before?’.

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“I just sat and listened with the headphones on, and it’s still one of those songs where if I play it on the radio, the headphones don’t go off. You sit and you listen, and you have to. There’s certains songs that demand your full attention if you’re in a position like that to just take it in, and that’s one of them”.

This, of course, is not the first time soundtracking a scene has brought Rafferty’s work to a new audience. There are few more memorable needle drops than Stuck In The Middle With You being the last music one unfortunate cop hears out of his right ear in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 hit Reservoir Dogs.

Slow Down appeared on 2021’s ‘Rest in Blue’, a project completed by Rafferty’s daughter Martha based on demos he had recorded. Speaking to Stott upon its release, she gave some background on that memorable soundtrack moment.

Stott explained: “He never knew it was going to be a smash hit when it was in production - hardly anyone knew Tarantino at this point - but he always said yes when people asked for a Stealers Wheel track because he knew the royalties would help (Stealers Wheel bandmate) Joe Egan, and it was his way of supporting his pal. It was such a lovely touch”.

READ MORE: 10 years after his death, Gerry Rafferty's daughter releases a posthumous album tribute to her dad

The influence of Rafferty, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 63, has been considerable. Right Down The Line alone has been covered by the likes of blues artist Bonnie Raitt, indie band Local Natives and alternative folk singer-songwriter Aldous Harding, who performed a mesmering rendition at Glasgow’s Art School in 2019.

Appearing on legendary American music store Amoeba’s ‘What’s in my Bag? series’, musician and actress Alana Haim picked Rafferty’s City to City album and singled out ‘Right Down The Line’, saying: “This song I always put on when I need to just chill. It’s a very decompressing song. It honestly never gets old. I think I play this song maybe once a day. Gerry Rafferty, love this record. Thank you for making it”.

Bon Iver founder Justin Vernon, meanwhile recently featured ‘Right Down The Line’ on the first episode of his Song Chest Radio Hour show.

“Is there any other Scottish artist that is as underrated?” asked Macdonald, and the fact that a new generation has discovered and embraced Rafferty’s music suggests its quality resonates with all ages. Stott added: “Certain songs will stand the test of time, and Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down The Line has proven that you cannot beat a beautifully written song. For it to stand out as it does now is testament to that”.

Appearing on The Adam Buxton Podcast in 2019, Connolly recalled his time in the Humblebums and cast himself in the role of Ringo to Rafferty’s Paul, bringing in Octopus’ Garden only for his bandmate to unveil Yesterday.

The legendary comedian told Buxton: “He couldn’t help his talent, it was bursting out of him. He was so much better than me. He was a better songwriter, a better guitarist, a better singer, and he kept getting better. He was just always years ahead of me”.