England’s largest county, Yorkshire breeds proud, resilient people who know a thing or three about survival. Famous for producing sporting heroes in cricket, football and rugby league, Yorkshire has been a creative hotbed for centuries, inspiring writers from The Brontë Sisters to GP Taylor, not to mention siring a wealth of sonically diverse Yorkshire musicians, from the 60s on.
Actually, the White Rose county is so deeply interwoven into rock and pop’s rich tapestry that we only have room to merely acknowledge the contributions made by many including Ed Sheeran, Kaiser Chiefs, Bill Nelson, Cabaret Voltaire, Comsat Angels, The Cribs, Embrace, John Newman, New Model Army, The Sisters Of Mercy, The Wedding Present, Black Lace (yes, ‘Agadoo’ is Yorkshire born and bred) and Spice Girls – the latter getting a wild card as Mel B’s a feisty Yorkshire lass. However, as Yorkshire Day falls annually on August 1, uDiscover is going one louder than the usual Top 10 and raising a glass to the Top 11 Yorkshire musicians that made a global impact.
First breaking through in the late 70s, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal stalwarts Def Leppard made their name in the US with their third LP, Pyromania (1983). However, the Sheffield quintet’s multi-million-selling fourth album, 1987’s Hysteria (given a 30th-anniversary reissue on 4 August) went supernova around the world, its five smash hits including the celebrated Billboard chart-topper “Love Bites.”
Synth-pop pioneers Soft Cell were technically a trans-Pennine duo, as vocalist Marc Almond hails from Southport. He met Dave Ball and formed the band at Leeds Polytechnic, though, so they qualify as Yorkshire musicians here. From platinum-selling 1981 debut, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, their transcendent version of Gloria Jones’ Northern soul staple, “Tainted Love,” was the first of 11 UK Top 40 hits.
The Human League
Sheffield-based electro-pop trailblazers, The Human League’s initial LPs Reproduction and Travelogue were critically hailed, but their sleek, Martin Rushent-produced third, Dare, skyrocketed to the very top. Its flagship hit, “Don’t You Want Me?,” topped the charts in both the US and the UK.
Led by the flamboyant Martin Fry, new romantic contenders from Sheffield turned new pop superstars ABC wowed all and sundry with their stylish 1982 debut, The Lexicon Of Love, which topped the UK charts. “The Look Of Love” was the third of the LP’s four UK Top 20 smashes.
Hailing from the West Yorkshire town of Batley, soulful singer-songwriter Robert Palmer originally teamed up with Elkie Brooks in Island Records contenders Vinegar Joe. His solo career began in the mid-70s, but his eighth solo LP, Riptide (1985), included his signature hit, US chart-topper “Addicted To Love.”
The Beautiful South
They modestly described themselves as “quite good”, but Hull popsters The Housemartins rocketed to No.1 with their inspired a cappella hit “Caravan Of Love” in 1986. Frontman Paul Heaton later enjoyed sustained success with The Beautiful South, whose 22 UK Top 40 hits from 1989-2006 earn them a place among this list of Yorkshire musicians. From 1990’s Choke, “A Little Time” was their lone UK chart-topper.
Hailing from gritty Yorkshire stock, Sheffield blues-rock belter Joe Cocker broke through with his emotive, UK chart-topping reinterpretation of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” in 1968. Also among his many accolades was the 1983 Grammy Award he won for US No.1 “Up Where We Belong,” a duet with Jennifer Warnes.
Blur and Oasis may have dominated the Britpop headlines in 1995, but that same year Sheffield dark horses Pulp came up on the rails, grabbing a UK No.1 with their influential, Mercury Music Prize-winning LP, Different Class. From it, the brilliant smash hit “Common People” finally made frontman Jarvis Cocker a household name.
Usurping early Y2K indie-rock superstars The Strokes and The Libertines, Sheffield quartet Arctic Monkeys built a massive grassroots following through MySpace and internet-related word of mouth, and their band’s phenomenal Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not became the fastest-selling debut album in UK history in 2005, proving that Yorkshire musicians still had something to say in the 21st Century. Based on nefarious goings-on in Sheffield’s red-light district, its second single, “When The Sun Goes Down.” also shot to No.1.
Born and raised in Bradford, Zayn Malik tasted major stardom with stratospheric boy band One Direction. His transatlantic chart-topper “Pillowtalk”(2016) and the success of his debut album, Mind Of Mine, showed he also means business as a solo artist.
With true Yorkshire grit, Sheffield’s Richard Hawley served his apprenticeship with The Longpigs and Pulp, before a slow-burning solo career caught light with 2005’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated Coles Corner. He has since become an inspiration for like-minded Yorkshire musicians, among them Arctic Monkeys. The sixth of eight acclaimed solo albums, 2012’s hard-edged UK Top 10 hit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, includes the brooding, psychedelia-tinged highlight “Down In The Woods.”