brent johnson gets into the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day with a profile on an underrated yet influential Irish act: The Pogues …
Go ahead and play your U2 records today. They are Ireland’s patron saints of pop-music, and well they should be played on this St. Patrick’s Day.
But if you’re looking for something with more grit, with more lift-up-your-glass spirit, try The Pogues.
They’re not as famous, but they’re quintessentially more Irish. The ’80s indie icons played traditional Irish music — all folky melodies and violin-tinged energy — with a punk snarl. And their one-of-a-kind, perpetually alcohol-induced frontman, Shane MacGowan barely had any teeth.
Legend has it that Elvis Costello discovered them in the early 1980s and fell for their swirling songs and brash attitude. So much so that he offered to produce their breakthrough album, 1985’s Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. Well, not so much produce as document. Costello vowed that he simply wanted to get their kinetic sound on tape — all raw, with no adornments — before some professional producer screwed it up.
He later married their bassist, Cait O’Riordan.
If you’re looking for something to play while you down a Guinness today, here’s my favorite example of that record’s mix of brogue and punk:
‘The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn’
Ironically, a professional producer did helm the Pogues’ next record, 1988’s If I Should Fall From Grace Of God. Behind the mixing board was Steve Lillywhite, the man who made U2’s great first three albums and Dave Matthews Band’s great first three albums. But while Grace wasn’t as raw as Rum, Lillywhite’s studio polish allowed the cracked beauty of MacGowan’s songs to shine through.
The best example is the Pogues’ most famous song — the timeless, charming Christmas-time classic ‘Fairytale Of New York,’ a duet with the late Kirtsy MacColl (who was also Lillywhite’s wife):
My personal favorite Pogues song is the title track, a rousing romp that may work well around midnight tonight:
Anyway, the Pogues continue to make music, MacGowan continues to lose teeth — and they make a lovely, spruced-up St. Patty’s soundtrack.