100 best covers: #81 The Pogues “Dirty old town”

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Ok. So it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted one for this series, well over three months for sure. And this is another that I didn’t know was a cover for the longest time. The Pogues recorded “Dirty old town” for their second album, 1985’s “Rum, sodomy, and the lash”, and it’s here that I’ve heard and sung along to these words countless times.

It was originally written in 1949 by actor, poet, playwright and songwriter, Ewan MacColl, who is, incidentally, the father of Kirsty MacColl. (I’m sure you all see the connection.) He wrote it for one his plays, “Landscape with chimneys”, as an ode of sorts to Salford, the town of his birth. He later recorded it in 1952 and it has become a folk classic, apparently covered dozens and dozens of times. Perhaps it was most famously done by The Dubliners in 1976, whose version (check it here) was upbeat and raucous, with banjos, fiddles, and shout along vocals, and likely influenced that of The Pogues.

MacColl’s original, at least the recording in the video below, is by contrast scratchy and hissing and full of cobwebs, sounding forgotten in the darkest corner of your grandparents’ attic. It is a soft strum on the guitars, almost an afterthought to the sorrowful vocals, MacColl warbling all over the place. It is only 2 minutes 45 but feels a whole lot longer.

The Pogues’ cover is also sad but decidedly more upbeat. It is not hoarse and roaring like The Dubliners do it, nor as punk-influenced as other tunes in The Pogues back catalogue. It is a song to sway to with a frothy pint in hand, the band off in the pub’s corner, a harmonica crying sadly, the mandolin waffling and sniffling, the fiddles creaking like a squeaky old door, and Pogues’ vocalist Shane MacGowan slurring roughly, as he is wont to do. All in all, there’s plenty of memories and regret in each note and tap on the drums.

So in sum, I think all three of the versions here are great but the one by The Pogues is my preference. Thoughts?

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

Vinyl love: The Sisters Of Mercy “Some girls wander by mistake”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Sisters Of Mercy
Album Title: Some girls wander by mistake
Year released: 1992
Year reissued: 2017
Details: standard black, 4 x LP box set (includes 2 x 12″ singles at 45 rpm)

The skinny: I thought I had already bought the only Sisters of Mercy vinyl box set in “Vision thing” and had no intention of getting this reissue of the early singles compilation, “Some girls wander by mistake”, when I first caught wind of it. Then, my friend Tim, whom I’ve already credited a few times in these pages with turning me on to this band, pointed out that the 12″ singles being reissued with the box were the final two singles ever released by the band. The fact that these two, “Temple of love (1992)” and “Under the gun”, are two of my favourites really sold this one. And now, I really don’t know what I was thinking when I first considered taking a pass. Every time this hits my turntable, I remember how essential this box is to my collection.

Standout track: “1969”

Vinyl love: The Sisters Of Mercy “Floodland”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Sisters Of Mercy
Album Title: Floodland
Year released: 1987
Year reissued: 2013
Details: standard black, remastered by Mobile Fidelity, limited edition, numbered 4074

The skinny: A week and a half ago, I hinted in a post featuring my top five favourite tunes by the group, that I would be featuring more Sisters of Mercy themed posts over the course of October. Well, this is the first of three vinyl posts I plan to share with you in the coming weeks. First off, this pressing of 1987’s “Floodland” is the only Mobile Fidelity remaster in my collection thus far, but it sounds so great so I’d love to have more. Secondly, you might remember that this album appeared at number six in my top albums of 1987 list recently and two of its singles, “This corrosion” and “Dominion/Mother Russia”, appeared on the aforementioned top five tunes list. So yeah, great album. The track below goes out to Mr. 1537, who reminded what a great dance track it is.

Standout track: “Lucretia my reflection”