Yorkshire’s Finest: The Musical Legends that Hail from the White Rose County
The county of Yorkshire in the UK may be known for its rolling hills, hedgerows, dry-stone walls, and the tv series Emmerdale, but it’s been home, too, to some musical superstars that have dominated the global stage.
Reading the list below, you may be surprised at just how many well-known artists hail from the White Rose County – and begin to think that it’s only a matter of time before the next big thing bursts out of the Yorkshire music scene.
Serial soft-rock hitmakers Def Leppard have been releasing records since the seventies and broke the US with their third album, Pyromania, which hit the stores in 1983. Lead singer Joe Elliott was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, and the other band members are all Yorkshiremen, too. Def Leppard’s defining, multi-million selling album, Hysteria, will celebrate its thirty-fifth anniversary this summer, and the group is still releasing chart-topping tracks today.
The Human League
Also, from Sheffield, the Human League blazed a trail for the genre of electro-pop in the eighties, and their music is still regularly used in movies and commercials and as background music for video posts on social media platforms. The band’s third album, Dare, was a huge hit in the UK and the US, and the synonymous single, ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ topped the singles charts in both countries.
Formed at Leeds Polytechnic when lead singer Marc Almond met Dave Ball, Soft Cell were pioneers of synth-pop. Their 1981 debut LP, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret went platinum, and from it came the single that took Soft Cell to the stratosphere, ‘Tainted Love,’ a cover of a Northern Soul track by Gloria Jones. The band went on to have a further ten UK Top Forty hits.
Sheffield New Romantics ABC hit the airwaves in the early 1980s with their debut album, The Lexicon of Love, which quickly became a massive hit in the UK. The LP birthed four UK Top Twenty smash hits, including ‘The Look of Love.’
Legendary singer-songwriter Robert Palmer started his career in the band Vinegar Joe alongside songstress Elkie Brooks. The star hails originally from the town of Batley in West Yorkshire and ventured out on a solo career in the 1970s. His smash hit, ‘Addicted to Love,’ from his album Riptide was released in 1985.
Born and bred in Sheffield, Joe Cocker first began bothering the pop charts back in 1968 with his reworking of the classic Beatles track, ‘With A Little Help From My Friends.’ Fast forward nearly two decades, and the blues-rock ledge won a Grammy for his song, ‘Up Where We Belong,’ a duet with Jennifer Warnes that topped the US charts.
Sheffield Brit Pop band Pulp came to prominence in the mid-nineties, disrupting the scene that, until then, had been dominated by Oasis and Blur. Pulp’s seminal 1995 album, Different Class won a Mercury Music award, and the LP spawned the huge hit, ‘Common People,’ which propelled the band – and their strangely charismatic frontman, Jarvis Cocker – to superstardom.
Sheffield quartet Arctic Monkeys exploded onto the music scene in the early 2000s with their monster album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. The band had built up a huge grassroots following, and the internet and word-of-mouth made their LP the fastest-selling debut record in UK history when it was released in 2005. The second single from the album, ‘When the Sun Goes Down’, details some of the shady doings of Sheffield’s red-light district.
Another legend from Sheffield, Richard Hawley’s tenure with previous bands The Longpigs and Pulp, eventually led to a solo career in the 2000s. His album, Coles Corner was nominated for a Mercury Music prize in 2005 and has been referenced as an inspiration by other bands, including Arctic Monkeys. In 2012 Hawley released his sixth solo album, the critically acclaimed Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which features the stand-out and oft-referenced track ‘Down in the Woods.’ Hawley has released two LPs since, both to widespread praise from critics and audiences alike.
The Beautiful South
This Yorkshire band has enjoyed a string of hits from the 1980s to today. Hull-born frontman Paul Heaton was formerly a part of the group The Housemartins, which had a huge hit with its cover ‘Caravan of Love’ in 1986. To date, the group has released ten studio albums, five greatest hits compilation albums, and a staggering thirty-four singles.
From Bradford to global superstardom, Zayn Malik was formerly a member of the world-dominating boy band One Direction. His solo single, ‘Pillowtalk,’ was released in 2016 and topped the charts in the UK and the US. The album the track was taken from, Mind of Mine, received glowing critical reviews and debuted at number one both in the UK albums charts and the US Billboard 200. The LP set an iTunes record, too: it became the very first debut album to hit the top spot of the iTunes chart in more than seventy countries.