Tag Archives: Pogues

Songs For St. Patrick’s Day

Van Morrison – Cyprus Avenue

A centerpiece of Morrison’s landmark Astral Weeks album, Cyprus Avenue finds Morrison wandering Belfast, remembering his past and his life as child.  Only a singer like Morrison could sing about tongue tied, and actually sing in a stutter, and make it sound transcendent and beautiful. The album version unfolds like an Impressionistic painting put to music.  The more you listen to it, the deeper you get into Morrison’s soul and psyche.  The live version found on “It’s Too Late To Stop Now” completely transforms the song into a mixture of soul, jazz, revealing that if Morrison ever played on song ever live, he would still be a phenomenal performer.

The Waterboys – “The Stolen Child”

Technically, The Waterboys are Scottish, but this closing song on Fisherman’s Blues includes lyrics taken from the Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child”.  Over a collage of piano and flute, Tomás Mac Eoin delivers the poem in spoken word, while Waterboys singer Mike Scott gives a haunting background vocal.  I used to listen to this song on my headphones on repeat when I was hung-over and had some pretty bizarre dreams as a result.

The Pogues – “Poor Paddy”

Shane MacGowan has written many great songs about Ireland and Irish identity, and they’ve also covered numerous traditional Irish folk songs.  Their cover of “Poor Paddy” is particularly spirited.  At the time of Red Roses For Me release, The Pogues were ushering in a new form of music with their mix of punk and traditional folk-music.  “Poor Paddy” shows that The Pogues were cemented in the past, never forgetting the struggles of the working class and their own national identity.  It also shows that in the process they were creating their own version of what it meant to be Irish by adding a new spin on old themes.

Stiff Little Fingers – “Alternative Ulster”

Ireland’s answer to The Clash – Stiff Little Fingers hailed from Belfast and like The Clash, many of their songs dealt with weighty topics including the troubles in Northern Ireland.   Case in point, their 1978 single “Alternative Ulster” was a rallying cry against the war-torn area of Ulster.  “Is this the kind of place you wanna live? Is this were you wanna be? Is this the only life we’re gonna have?” Singer Jake Burns demands over a wall of buzz-saw guitars.

Kate Bush – “The Sensual World”

Kate Bush’s “The Sensual World” draws its inspiration from Molly Bloom’s famous internal monologue at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Originally, Bush decided to take some of the actual passages from the book, but was refused by the Joyce estate, so she wrote original lyrics inspired by the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pogues Show Recap

Have I said how much I love the 930 Club?  According to my friend, artists love playing there as well.  I have no basis other than my friends’s word, but I’d say that The Pogues love playing there as well considering they played two shows there this week.

There have been numerous times that I have been subjected to terrible opening bands, but I still like to show up and check whoever the supporting act is.  To me, it’s part of the show.  And Tuesday’s opener Titus Andronicus was one of the better openers I’ve seen in a while.  The lead singer could have been mistaken for Devendra Benhart, but he definitely had a stage  presence that took more from Iggy Pop – though nowhere near as extreme.  While it definitely hard to make out the lyrics, they definitely nailed it when they stuck to jamming out.  Perhaps I’ll actually check out some of their stuff sometime soon.

As for the Pogues, once again they failed to disappoint.  Shane MacGowan may have started the first few songs off-time with the rest of the band – “Stream of Whiskey” and “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” were a little rocky, and he completely messed up the lyrics to “The Broad Majestic Shannon” – the rest of the band seemed as tight as ever.  The songs aren’t quite played with the reckless abandon of their youth, but the band never seems fully energized especially on “the faster songs like The Sunny Side of the Street” and “Bottle of Smoke” .  Going through the motions is something The Pogues never do.  The biggest surprise of the night of the night was a full band treatment of “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda“.  MacGowan seemed particularly into the performance of this anti-war anthem.

While The Pogues stick to a fairly standard set-list, there’s still an air of unpredictability to the show.  It’s kind of hard to tell which way it will go.  Will the band grow tired of MacGowan’s antics?  How many songs will he be off stage for?  MacGowan often announces a what the next song is, only to be told by Spider Stacey, that is it something different.  His onstage banter is kind of warbled, but once he starts singing in his warbled voice, it’s still with the same conviction and belief that he had in his younger (and more focused days).  And that is what truly matters, and why people keep coming back to their shows despite no new music in nearly two decades.

 

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5 Great Pogues Songs

Since Winter is officially here, and the Holiday has come and gone – it’s time to listen to the Pogues.  I rank them among my 10 favorite artists, but I don’t really listen to them outside of this season.  To me, The Pogues are one of the most criminally under-rated artists – and it’s a fucking shame that they get overshadowed by bands like Dropkick Murphys, when they practically invented the genre of Irish/punk.  So here are my top 5 favorite Pogues’ songs.  (I’m sure that some people I know will say I left out tons of great songs, but so be it.)

“The Sunnyside of the Street”

The best use of Spider Stacey’s tin-whistle by far.  Shane MacGowan mumbles his way through the lyrics.  The title would suggest that it is a song about redemption, but MacGowan’s claim that he “will not be reconstructed” near the end, make it clear that he’s enjoying his life as a libertine, and the sunnyside of the street is his steadfast defiance.

“The Body of an American”

For the un-intitiated, this would be the song I would play them.  It’s got all of the best elements of a Pogues song.  It starts off as a ballad, but quickly builds into the trademark mix of traditional Irish music played by a bunch of punks.  It also contains some of Shane MacGowan’s best lyrics (which is saying a lot considering he is one of rock’s best lyricists) about an American whose body is taken back to Ireland for a wake.  The song was given a new life on The Wire, when the song was used for policemen wakes.

“Boys From the County Hell”

The Pogues have a lot of angry songs, but “Boys From the County Hell” is among the angriest.  If “Sunnyside of the Street” finds MacGowan being defiant, in “Boys From the County Hell” he’s just violent.  He and his gang take care of his “bastard” landlord by grabbing “his fucking balls”.  He’s so drunk that he can’t recall whether it actually happened or not, but all he knows is that he doesn’t didn’t have a penny.  Throughout the song you’re left wondering what makes him so pissed until MacGowan reveals that, “me daddy was a blue shirt, my mother  madam, my brother earned his medals at mei lei in Vietnam”.

“Bottle of Smoke ”

Probably the Pogues’ best fast song.  It’s all about betting on a horse named after a bong – what else could a horse named Bottle of Smoke be named after?  It also have James Fearnley’s best use of the accordion – it practically drives the song.  Never has betting on a horse sounded so glorious and fun.  When MacGowan screams in jubilee during the bridges, you wonder if the tale about betting on the horse and winning is actually true.

“Thousands Are Sailing”

The only song on here not written by MacGowan, and perhaps the Pogues’ most heartbreaking song.  A devastating song about Irish immigration, it spans different decades – from the late 1880s until to the present day.  Those who died on the long-trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Ellis Island are not forgotten as “their ghosts still haunt the waves”.  I was recently lectured by a friend of mine for thinking that the hats tipped to Mr. Cohan was Leonard Cohen, instead of George M. Cohan.  But they’re in Times Square, and Leonard Cohen is associated with New York City so it made sense to me.

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Christmas/Holiday Theme Week: “Fairytale of New York”

The Holiday season is a magical time, and for many New York City is one of the most magical places during this time of year.  It’s supposed to be a time of coming together.  A time of “gifts and giving”.  Naturally, The Pogues would be the ones to deconstruct their myth with their classic “Fairytale of New York”.  It’s a song about two ex-lovers (most likely immigrants) remembering the happy times they had in New York, only to see it blow up in their face.

The song weaves in and out of the past and present, each part of their relationship represented by events that occurred on Christmas Eve.    There’s MacGown lying drunk at the beginning on Christmas Eve sometime after their relationship failed.  He then remembers a past Christmas Eve which found the two lovers wandering around New York City, hand in hand.  At first it seems like McColl’s appearance in the song is a conversation between the two.  But it’s more likely that it is an internal monologue.  MacGowan is probably slipping in and out of consciousness reflecting on real conversations and events, and later what she would most likely tell him if she saw him lying in a drunk-tank.

Sometime before, the two lovers came to New York City in search of a better life.  The lure of New York City during Christmas had a profound effect on them.  MacGown promised that Broadway was waiting for her.  They listened to Sinatra, held hands and walked around Manhattan on Christmas Eve.  They built their dreams around each other, as many lovers do.  And then the fall-out happens.  He finds her overdosed “lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed.”  It’s likely that she threw him out calling him a “scumbag, a maggot”.  “Happy Christmas your arse!” She tells him.  “I pray God it’s our last!”

And it was most likely their last.  In the drunk-tank MacGowan is forced to reconcile with himself.  “I could have been someone,” He laments. Real or imaginary, McColl tells him, “well so could anyone.  You took my dreams from me, when I first found you.”  “I kept them with me babe,” He says, perhaps more to himself than to her.

 

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Artists and Songs Used in Commercials

Last night I was shocked to see that Subaru was using The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” in a commercial revolving around a mother driving her kids to pee-wee hockey.  In an age where record sales are declining, it’s somewhat understandable that artists would give away their rights to commercials such as these, but as fan it does take away from the integrity of the specific song.  “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” at least musically has a celebratory tone (as do a lot of Pogues songs) but the title alone would at least give an indication of what the song is about.  “If I should fall from grace with God, where no doctor can relieve me,” Shane MacGowan growls through the first line.  “If I’m buried beneath the sod, but the angels won’t receive me.”  This is the song of a man owning up to his demons, admitting that perhaps he is damned after all, and seeming content with that.   The Pogues’ lyrics have more in common with The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty driving wasted and wrecking his car underneath a Baltimore over-pass then a suburban mother driving her kids to hockey practice.

It’s kind of a moot argument to cry foul and accuse artists of “selling out” when lending their songs to commercials.  I just have a problem with the context in which many of these songs are used.  I recently went to the Notre Dame/Navy game last weekend, and I was surprised that Navy actually came out to the field to Rage Against the Machine’s “Testify” – a song that criticizes mass media, Big Oil, and makes numerous references to George Orwell’s 1984.  Rage’s music is bombastic and can get a crowd moving, but did anyone involved in the sound for Navy think about the meaning behind the song?

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