The Pogues Singles, 21-29

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Because I was a huge fan of Elvis Costello in 1985, I became a huge fan of The Pogues. He produced their 1985 album Rum, Sodomy and The Lash and I almost certainly read about his work on that album in some music magazine or in CMJ. That album was probably the first one I recorded in its entirety at WRBC in 1985 – I still have that cassette somewhere. They continue to be one of my favorite all-time bands.

My love for The Pogues is balanced out somewhat by the fact that nearly everyone I dated from 1985 and onward has loathed the band. I don’t know if it’s just a general loathing for Irish folk music even in this punk form or whether it was specifically aimed at Shane MacGowan’s – shall we say – non-standard singing voice. Mind you, I think his voice is a glorious, expressive instrument, but I also think Bob Dylan sounds pretty amazing and I recognize he’s an acquired taste for some people, too. Anyhow, I’m not certain what my wife’s opinion on the band is but, to her credit, she’s not objected to me listening to them so I am guessing she at least doesn’t mind them.

The name “The Pogues” is a shortened version of their original name Pogue Mahone, which is an anglicization or the Irish Gaelic “póg mo thóin,” which in turn means “kiss my ass.” So, the bands name means “The Kiss.” We used to joke that they were called Kiss, because we were in our late teens and thought that was hilarious.

Figuring out which songs to include from The Pogues was complicated by the fact that two of their EPs charted as singles in the UK (a common thing and one that will especially plague me when I start working on ranking the singles of Belle & Sebastian). I decided to include all four tracks from Poguetry in Motion (because none of them were released as singles on their own) but only the title track of Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah (because it was released as a single before it was released as an EP and because two of the other tracks on that EP were released as singles as well). I suppose this suggests I should also rank B-Sides of singles, but I’m not going down that particular rabbit hole.

I’ve also included a “planned but not released” single just in case copies of it were actually printed. I genuinely try to err on the side of inclusion though honestly including that theoretical single is a bit of a stretch even for me.

And now…

29. Planxty Noel Hill

From the EP Poguetry In Motion (1986)

The Pogues played some amazing instrumentals – their “Repeal of the Licensing Laws,” for example, is one of the tunes they’ve played most frequently at their live shows. I suppose I should write “The Pogues played some instrumentals with amazing skill.” They were a first-rate live jam band (they had to be in part because Shane MacGowan was sometimes too wasted to contribute the vocals – when I saw them in Great Woods, I recall him spending a portion of the set laying down against the drum set). I don’t feel like the amazing energy of the live performances always translated well to the studio recordings. I can find no evidence that “Planxty Noel Hill” was ever played live so there’s no way for me to gauge whether this piece becomes more exciting in front of an audience. It’s fine but it’s not going to set your world on fire. What I do like about the song is that it’s a bit of a thumb in the eye of one of their critics, the great Irish concertina player Noel Hill, who called their music “an abortion.” “Planxty” is sort of a way of saying “cheers,” so the instrumental is basically a bit of a sarcastic tribute to the musician. Seriously, Noel Hill’s music is great, but I vehemently disagree with him about the quality of The Pogues’ work. Pogues bassist Cait O’Riorden argues that Hill (and Ireland is general) didn’t understand the band because they couldn’t understand what it was like to grow up as an Irish person in London in those years.

28. Sayonara

European single from Hell’s Ditch (), released as a single in 1991

Hell’s Ditch was the last Pogues album before the band expelled Shane MacGowan for being an unreliable performer due to drinking and drug use. His drinking and drug use were not new things, but as I mentioned in the last entry he was increasingly unable to perform. When the band first formed, the plan was for MacGowan to share vocal duties with Spider Stacy (who generally played tin whistle after it was decided MacGowan would be the primary vocalist). Stacy ended up being the full-time vocalist on the next two albums (Joe Strummer – who produced Hell’s Ditch – briefly replaced MacGowan on tour). Anyhow, I think there was also a decline in MacGowan’s songwriting around this time. “Sayonara” is a piece with a slight generic Asian flavor and lyrics that seem to be out of a 1940’s John Wayne-goes-to-Japan movie, except one with a lot more drinking. I don’t skip over it when it comes up randomly on my iPod (I don’t skip over any of The Pogues’ songs) and I applaud the band for their stylistic explorations – this one just isn’t a deep enough dive to really bring up any pearls.

27. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Stand-Alone single released in 1988

I have always been confounded by “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” The song was their first US hit and it’s not that it’s not catchy, but its a huge left turn from If I Should Fall From Grace With God. I’ve always assumed it was meant to be a sort of over-the-parody of rock songs or even a piss-take, but’s Stephen Thomas Erelwine writes that the song “was one of The Pogues finest moments.” So let’s just say I don’t get the tune. The verse that goes “I gave you misery I gave you lies/And if I hurt you, apologize/I love your lips I love your eyes/I love your breasts I love your thighs” irks me in particular. I sing in a band where we improvise lyrics and this sounds like something I’d improvise only when I was desperate and needed a rhyme. So judgemental! Please make sure to pour one out for talented drummer Andrew Ranken when you listen to this song because it sounds like he was asked to play perhaps the most boring drum line ever. I imagine he must have had a fairly good sense of humor to play it in the first place.

26. Love You ‘Till the End

Unreleased second single from Pogue Mahone (1996)

I was a Pogues completist and since 1) The title of Pogue Mahone suggested a return to their roots and 2) I had been pleasantly surprised by their Waiting for Herb album so I bought this on cassette when it came out in 1996. That’s kind of me hedging my bets – cassettes were cheaper and were very much on their way out by then. I listened to it maybe once or twice and then shelved it, never to take it down again. The other members of The Pogues are all decent songwriters in their own rights, but MacGowan tended to hit higher highs (and even his lows were pretty good). The album isn’t bad, just not especially memorable. “Love You ‘Till The End” was not ultimately released as a single (though I believe some pressings may exist) because the album was already tanking by that time. The band called it quits soon thereafter. Anyhow, this is a pretty but lightweight ballad sung by Spider Stacy and written by bass player Darryl Hunt.

25. Summer In Siam

First single from Hell’s Ditch (1990), released as a single in 1990

“Summer in Siam” is a breezy, jazz influenced Shane MacGowan number from Hell’s Ditch that yields up some quiet little pleasures here and there. There’s almost nothing to the lyrics – which MacGowan sings as if waking from an opium induced slumber – but they effectively convey an image of a torpid night in the tropics. The music compliments the dream-like imagery. Its not necessarily one of their more memorable songs, but its a nice little addition to their catalog.

24. The Irish Rover (feat. The Dubliners)

Single from The Dubliner’s 25 Years Celebration (1987), released as a single in 1987
Cover of a traditional Irish folk song

My understanding is that The Pogues divided the traditional Irish music world. Some loved that the band was bringing traditional songs back for the younger generations and some were horrified by the punk rock attitude. The Dubliners were one of the most popular and influential of the first wave of modern Irish folk musicians and are cited as influences by The Pogues, Dropkick Muphys and Flogging Molly. While you wouldn’t necessarily be able to judge from the look on Shane MacGowan’s face in the linked video, The Pogues were apparently honored to appear alongside these legends on two different singles. This song brought The Dubliners back onto the UK top ten and Top of the Pops for the first time since “Seven Drunken Lights” in 1967. I really enjoy the contrast between MacGowan’s vocal and that of The Dubliner’s Ronnie Drew. A fine performance of a traditional folk song (this is the earliest recorded version I could find and its not very old) and if it plays it a little conservatively, well, that’s appropriate for a Dubliner’s tune.

23. How Come

First single from Pogue Mahone (1996), released as a single in 1996
Cover of a song originally written and recorded by Ronnie Lane (1973)

Putting aside for the moment that this cover of a Ronnie Lane tune involves drowning a cat, it’s the better of the two singles (and the only official single) from Pogue Mahone. If it sounds like 70’s rock, well, the song was a 70’s rock tune. The band is again in fine form and the song is catchy, but there’s not a lot about it that’s particularly outstanding. None-the-less, I find myself singing along enthusiastically with the chorus and really enjoy the guitar work (by either Jem Finer or James Fearnley) so I can’t be too critical of the tune. Essentially, it’s about a man who thinks his wife might be a witch and over reacts. Moral: if you can’t handle goth women, don’t date one.

22. Jack’s Heroes (featuring The Dubliners)

Second single from the EP Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah, released as a single in 1990

This is the second collaboration between The Pogues and The Dubliners. It’s a tune written by Spider Stacy celebrating the Republic of Ireland football squad. This is also the second song celebrating football that I’ve written about, the first being New Order’s “World in Motion.” (#39). I have listened to this song for years and have never paid enough attention to realize that the song was about football, but of course it is. While “Irish Rover” sounds like The Pogues guesting with The Dubliners (they were) this track sounds like The Dubliners guesting with The Pogues and it sounds like both bands are having an absolute blast.

21. Fiesta

Third Single from If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988), released as a single in 1988

With this song, we move into the realm of songs that I rather like quite a bit. While the band was filming the movie Straight to Hell in Almeria, Mexico, Jem Finer apparently heard the central motif of this song over and over from his hotel room and felt that “the choice was to inflict it on the rest of the world or go mad.” One verse is in Spanish (which I don’t speak) and for years all I knew about it is that it was in part about former Pogue bassist Cait O’Riorden, then-current accordion player James Fearnley and Pogues producer Elvis Costello the “king of American” (one of his then-contemporary albums). Fortunately, all these years later, Genius has me covered with the translation and… apparently Fearnley drank a bunch and Costello and O’Riorden might have fought some? No idea.

Anyhow, the song is culturally problematic (which docks it a few ranks), but holy cats is it fun. When I saw the band in Great Woods, this is the tune they ended with – and apparently it was a regular concert closer including at their final ever performance in France in 2014. Enjoy this video of that performance featuring Spider Stacy adding percussion with a beer tray against his head and Shane MacGowan barely moving. The rest of the band is loving it as near as I can tell.

Coming Soon: Everything after this would go on my “ultimate Pogues mixtape” and, in fact, has.

The Pogues Singles Ranked – 21-2911-201-10

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