Best albums of 1988: #1 The Pogues “If I should fall from grace with god”

Yeah. These guys. You know them. You love them.

Though it’s likely they didn’t actually invent the whole Celtic folk punk genre, The Pogues certainly popularized it, inspiring a whole boatload of next generation musicians to form bands like Flogging Molly, The Dropkick Murphys, and The Mahones. Interesting, then, that the group was formed in London, rather than Dublin, and only ever included two Irish born members in their large and rotating contingent.

Getting started in 1982 with original members Shane MacGowan, Spider Stacy, and Jem Finer, their name evolved out of an anglicisation of ‘póg mo thóin’, celtic for ‘kiss my arse’. The Pogues released a total of seven studio albums before calling it quits in 1996. However, for many, there’s only two albums in their catalogue (their second and third) that really mattered and between those two, the debate rages on over which is the superior.

For me, “If I should fall from grace with god” only just wins out over “Rum sodomy and the lash” and it is the mere presence of one great, transcendent song that will surely be discussed a little later that does the trick. Both albums are solid and complete albums. Where “Rum” is slightly more focused on the Celtic folk punk sound, however, “If I should fall from grace” branches out quite a bit more, dabbling and cavorting around the world of music. Many of the band’s contingent have also pointed to this album as their favourite and best, agreeing that nowhere else were they as on their game. And it’s true that as varied as the songs are across the track listing, nothing feels amiss or disjointed. An amazing feat considering the varied sounds and instrumentation that make up its whole and the contributions that included an additional eight musicians to the eight players that made up the band at that particular time.

There are fifteen tracks in total on “If I should fall from grace with god” from which I could have chosen my three picks for you, and one was a given, leaving me two. It was an onerous task but I perservered. You’re welcome.

“If I should fall from grace with god”: From what I’ve read, the title track on the album was originally recorded for the “Straight to hell” soundtrack, albeit at a slower speed. I’ve never heard it but don’t think I’d want to. The pace of the version on the album seems perfect to me, a rousing bar number that feels precariously close to shambles. And that’s the beauty of The Pogues, especially on this album, where the musicianship is so tight it feels loose and free. And I feel a lot of the credit has to go to the frontman at the time, the notorious Shane MacGowan, a deceptively great songwriter whose growling and screaming vocals create an energy all of their own. The rest of The Pogues’ cast can only help but follow along, navigating such speeds by the seats of their pants. “If I’m buried ‘neath the sod but the angels won’t receive me, let me go, boys.” Indeed, Shane, indeed.

“Thousands are sailing”: Starts off haunting with a pluck on the banjo and a hollow, echoing flute, sounding like they’re being played by the ghosts in the profound depths of the coffin ship’s hull. The music gets more spritely from there, gentle on the verses, just enough to urge MacGowan along with accordion melodies and incidental drumming, but picks up substantially at the choruses, drumming heavy handed and accordion, mandolin, and banjo becoming a hootenanny, almost drowning out the singing. Phil Chevron’s words as sung by MacGowan, though, never stray from the heartbreak, sowing the tale of thousands of Irish immigrants and of those who never actually survived the trip to the US shores. “Ah, no, says he, ’twas not to be. On a coffin ship I came here. And I never even got so far that they could change my name.”

“Fairytale of New York”: Not only is this now considered one of the all-time great Christmas tunes, ranking up there with Nat King Cole’s iconic “Christmas song”, Bing Crosby’s ubiquitous “Little Drummer Boy” duet with David Bowie, and Band Aid’s fundraising theme “Do they know it’s Christmas time”, but it’s also one of my all-time favourite Pogues tunes. At it’s heart, it’s a story of love that’s lost and found again on Christmas day, all brought to life by the excellent imagery of characters created in the juxtaposition of the rough and raucous voice of Shane MacGowan against the beautiful pipes of guest vocalist Kirsty MacColl. Her call and response banter, matching MacGowan’s snarl and rasp with just the right degree of attitude and defiance, really makes this song the classic that it is. Her disillusioned muse ‘character’ holds nothing back, even the love that she unbelievable still feels for the character of her drunken partner in MacGowan. The lyrics are grittier here than you would normally expect from a heartwarming Christmas tune but these just make the softer moments all the more mind blowing. Witness below:

You took my dreams from me
When I first found you…

I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you

Indeed, my wife Victoria loved these lyrics and the sentiment of building your dreams around someone you love so much that she insisted we work them into our own wedding vows almost 10 years ago. Who was I to argue?

In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”
9. Erasure “The innocents”
8. Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”
6. Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”
5. R.E.M. “Green”
4. Pixies “Surfer rosa”
3. The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”
2. The Wonder Stuff “The eight legged groove machine”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Vinyl love: The Cranberries “Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?”

(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 Cranberries
Album Title: Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?
Year released: 1993
Year reissued: 2018
Details: standard black, 25th anniversary, 180 gram, remastered at Abbey Road studios

The skinny: Living in North America, my first exposure to the jangle rock of The Cranberries and the incredible vocals of frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan was the single “Linger”. MTV picked the video up, MuchMusic soon followed suit, and then, it was everywhere. This was just the beginning, of course, because the band would explode and achieve outright superstar status the following year with “Zombie”. But we’re talking about the debut right now and this here is its 25th anniversary. Before Dolores tragically died earlier this year, plans were already underway to remaster this album at Abbey Road Studios in celebration and as you can see above, it also became a way to remember her glorious voice.

Standout track: “Dreams”

Best albums of 1987: #4 U2 “The joshua tree”

I bought “The joshua tree” on CD as one of my ten for a penny from Columbia House (or was it BMG? – I did both, take your pick) in my late teens, so likely a few years after its release. It was purchased on the basis of the first three songs on the album, each of which was tattooed in my brain from hearing them several times. When my package of discs arrived, I did enjoy those three songs on initial spins but rarely did I get past them, and it wasn’t long before the album was just a dust collector on my CD racks. Shortly after arriving at university, then, I gave the disc away to a young lady on whom I may or may not have had a crush. Either way, I didn’t miss it for many years.

In fact, I never fully grew to appreciate “The joshua tree” until the last decade or so, when it found itself back in my music library somehow. I was finally able to listen to it without allowing all the prejudices I had built up against the band and their bloated image to taint my experience. The Irish four-piece’s fifth album was their second to be produced by the tandem of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. It kept the ambient underpinnings of “The unforgettable fire”, their previous record together, but returned some the harder hitting sensibilities of U2’s earlier work. Mix all of that with the furthering of Bono’s and The Edge’s musical history education, after hanging out with Keith Richards and The Waterboys’ Mike Scott, and you’ve got one heck of a record, much deserving of all the accolades that have been heaped upon it.

Indeed, I have plenty of new favourites on the album but you still can’t beat the triumvirate that begins the album so what other three tracks could I pick for you but those three?

”I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”: “I believe in the Kingdom come. Then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one, but yes, I’m still running.” While doing some reading up on this album, I learned how this song was built upon a drum demo by Larry Mullen jr. And if you listen to what he is doing here, you can really gain an appreciation for how great a drummer he really is, which makes the fact that he can easily be pushed out of the picture by the big personas of Bono and The Edge so unfortunate. The beat is augmented by Adam Clayton’s “one note groove” bass line and The Edge’s chiming arpeggios. And on top of all this, Bono is singing gospel at the top of his vocal register, mixing old with new, but pushing the universal theme of spiritual longing and the unending quest for meaning.

”Where the streets have no name”: “I want to run, I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside. I wanna reach out and touch the flame, where the streets have no name.” This was released as the third single from the album but it is the track that opens “The joshua tree”. And as great as The Edge’s guitar playing and effects work and (I suppose) the rest of the band’s performances are, I almost think they are secondary to the music video filmed for the song. Reminiscent of and likely an homage to The Beatles’ final live performance, the video shows the band performing live on the roof of a liquor store in Los Angeles. The performance was portrayed as being shut down by the police, which according to the director was as it happened, but it is obvious that it was all part of the plan and it all smacks of sensationalism. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the video back in the day and it’s rebel attitudes and the song has that same energy.

”With or without you”: “Through the storm we reach the shore. You give it all but I want more. And I’m waiting for you.” The first single released off “The joshua tree” was almost not a single and was in peril of never seeing the light of day at all. It was originally written in late 1985 but the band had to play with the arrangements for a few days before they were happy with it, coming near to scrapping it a few times. Their tenacity paid off because it was a huge hit for the band and their first number one in the US. It is notable for Clayton’s rumbling bass line, The Edge’s wicked sustained guitar effect, and Bono’s vocals, starting low and slow and building to explosion. To me, “With or without you” screams high school dances in the gym. It’s a troubled love song sure, but it was a sure fire hit with slow dancers. I definitely remember doing that slow turn and sway shuffle more than once to this song back in the day.

Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Dead Can Dance “Within the realm of the dying sun”
9. Spaceman 3 “The perfect prescription”
8. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Darklands”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Jane’s Addiction”
6. The Sisters of Mercy “Floodland”
5. The Cure “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.