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.