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.