Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pogue mahone

Special St. Patrick's Day edition. Top 5 songs from the Pogues. Keep in mind, all of my selections are from either the 2nd or 3rd Pogues album, mainly because I don't know much of their later stuff. Also, what I have heard of the later stuff tends to kind of suck. Here goes:

5. Turkish Song of the Damned - Although the Pogues 2nd LP, If I Should Fall From Grace With God occasionally comes off as overly commercial and party-friendly, the album's stylistic excursions shouldn't be overlooked. Here Shane MacGowan and co. dabble in Middle-Eastern music. However, rather than appropriating the sound, they integrate it seemlessly into their punkish brand of Irish traditional, resulting in a rousing, anthemic rave-up.

4. The Broad Majestic Shannon - If you peak ahead on this list, you may notice that 'Fairytale of New York,' the Pogues biggest hit, is absent from my list. The reasons of this are 2-fold: first, it already hit-up my best of Christmas list. Second, 'The Broad Majestic Shannon,' from the same album as 'Fairytale', shares a near identical melody, but is, in my opinion, the more emotionally poignant of the 2 songs. "The last time I saw you was down at the Greeks', there was whiskey and soda and tears in her cheeks." MacGowan beautifully melds the gorgeous tune with a tale combining memories, past love, and the Irish countryside. So much better than a Christmas song with a string section and a piano solo.

3. Dirty Old Town - Writing this entry from my hometown of Ithaca, this song currently holds extra meaning for me. Although not penned by MacGowan, its mix of reverent nostalgia with hopeless disgust is perfectly suited to the thematic stylings of the Pogues. Its lazy tempo, minimalist instrumentation, and stellar MacGowan vocal performance lend it additional emotional resonance. There's no better song to play while driving around your hometown on a slow Tuesday afternoon than this one.

2. The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn - Might as well say it: this song is about getting wasted, and there's no better song about getting wasted than this one. What's amazing is how MacGowan is able to convey this simple theme through a mix of mythological/religous allusions and perverse imagery. Check the following lyrics: "Do you remember that fell evening/ When you heard the banshees wail?/ There was lazy drunken bastards/ Singing 'Billy's in the bowel'/ They took you up to midnight mass/ And left you in the lurch/ So you dropped a button in the plate/ And spewed up in the church." Of course, MacGowan's characteristically brilliant musings are accompanied by an ebullient, uptempo traditional Irish melody that goes extra heavy on the penny whistle.

1. If I Should Fall From Grace With God - Not just the best Pogues song, but one of the greatest pop songs of all time, in my humble opinion. Let's start with the music: a full on, punk-rock speed assault of snare drum, accordion, fiddle, penny whistle, and probably some guitar, congealed into an incredibly hooky approximation of what a great garage rock song would sound like if performed by a group of Irish traditionalists. Shane MacGowan snarls and spits out each verse with vengeful menace, and is joined at the end of each verse with a chorus of "Let them go, boys!" that sounds exactly like it's being sung-along by a choir of drunken regular at an Irish tavern. And goddamn, those verses. Read straight from the lyric page, they might sound like anti-Christian, xenophobic rants. However, when growled by MacGowan against the gloriously stirring musical backdrop, they come off as general declarations of righteous defiance, inviting you the listener to pick your own target: "If I should fall from grace with god, where no doctor will relieve me, bury me beneath the sod, where the angels won't receive me!" The icing on the cake is the electrifying 'banshee' scream MacGowan uses to punctuate the end of each verse. Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

1 comment:

  1. Thomas Wilson HolowkaMarch 29, 2009 at 10:14 PM

    And in the euston tavern you screamed it was your shout
    But they wouldnt give you service so you kicked the windows out
    They took you out into the street and kicked you in the brains
    So you walked back in through a bolted door and did it all again!