Lost Classics! The Pogues
Just as clearly as yesterday, I can remember when I dropped the needle on Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, the second album by the Pogues. The album appeared in 1985, and the Pogues were an unknown quantity: a Celtic folk-punk band? “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn” starts out like just about any Irish weeper you’d punch up on a pub jukebox, but about 36 seconds in the punk frenzy takes over. And I said: “Yeah!”
It turns out that Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, produced by Elvis Costello, is the first of the Pogues’ two acknowledged masterpieces – the other being If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988), which gave the world “Fairytale of New York,” one of the best Christmas songs of all time. Certainly the highlight of Rum is Eric Bogle‘s antiwar song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” the best version of that much-covered classic. Costello liked the band so much, he married bass player Cait O’Riordan (and later divorced her).
What made the Pogues so great – beside the awesome musicianship – were the songs, mostly written by lead singer Shane MacGowan. MacGowan’s not much to look at (his teeth were hideous before they apparently fell out or mercifully pulled) but he is a brilliant songwriter. Songs like “Sick Bed” and “Sally Mac Lennane” from Rum and “The Broad Majestic Shannon” and the title song from If I Should Fall … show that MacGowan can handle fast songs as well as ballads. But MacGowan certainly lives the lifestyle he writes about – he is a legendary drunk and some of his most notorious appearances were absolutely fueled by liquor. In the photo above, he is the one with the drink. Of course.
The Pogues finally kicked MacGowan out of the band in 1991 and replaced him briefly with Joe Strummer of the Clash. After Strummer, co-founders Jem Finer and Spider Stacy led the group until it finally broke up in 1996. But the Pogues reunited in 2001 with MacGowan and by 2008 they were still out there, plugging away. Rhino Records has recently released a box set with five CDs of nothing but unreleased outtakes and rarities.
The first four selections today are from the two albums cited above, and we tossed in a B-side also. Our sixth selection is afrom the Poguetry In Motion EP, a four-song disc issued between the two albums. These tunes appear on the remastered Rum, Sodomy and the Lash CD. Our final song is an unreleased track from those sessions (also produced by Elvis Costello), a cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful classic.