The Pogues were an English/Irish band who are seen to be the pioneers of the Celtic Punk Genre. They first formed in London in 1982 under the name “Pogue Mahone.” They were a successful band during the eighties and nineties, having several high-charting albums and singles.
Vocalist Shane McGowan left the band in 1991 due to his well-documented problems with alcohol addiction. He was very briefly replaced by former Clash frontman Joe Strummer before Spider Stacy took over until they broke up in 1996. In 2001 they reformed before breaking up again in 2014. During their second time together, they did not write or record any new material.
# 10 – Stream of Whiskey
Kicking off this Pogues Songs list is a song taken from the band’s debut album Red Roses For Me. As the title would suggest, the song is about one of the Pogues’ favorite things. The song is essentially a traditional Irish folk song with some punk overtones. It features instruments such as the banjo, tin whistle, and accordion. All in all, it is a track to get a little tipsy to, and one where you cannot help but at least tap your foot to it!
# 9 – Tuesday Morning
This song was a single that was released in 1993 and taken from the album Waiting for Herb, which was the first album that they made after McGowan’s departure. The first to feature Spacy on vocals. It was also their first to reach the UK top twenty at number eighteen, proving that they could continue to be successful without McGowan. It was also their most successful single internationally, reaching number eleven on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts.
# 8 – London, You’re a Lady
This is the final track off the band’s fourth album released in 1989 titled Peace and Love. Despite sounding very Irish, it is a love letter to the capital of England where the band first formed. Powered by both the traditional Irish and conventional band instruments, it pays tribute to London and how it has experienced many hardships over its time and managed to overcome them. It is a very emotive and moving number.
# 7 – Dirty Old Town
This was the third single to be taken from the band’s second album Rum, Sodomy and Lash released in 1985. Although many may not realize it, this track is in fact a cover of folk singer Ewan McCall’s song that was originally released in 1949. The song was made more famous in 1968 when it was covered by Irish Folk band The Dubliners. As expected, this version is more stylistically similar to the latter version.
# 6 – A Pair of Brown Eyes
Here is another track taken from Rum that was released as a single. It was the band’s first to enter the Uk 100 at number seventy-two. It is a slow and emotive ballad that is an early example of a song that shows the full scope of McGowan’s songwriting and composition skills. The lyrics tell a tale of a depressed man drowning his sorrows in a pub (surprising for the Pogues…not!) before an old man puts his life into perspective with tales of his time fighting in the war and the heartbreak he suffered as a result.
# 5 – Fairytale of New York
Yes, it’s that one! I know many would expect it to be ranked higher, but I have decided to place it at number five because it is a song that is obviously more designed to be listened to at a certain specific time of year which occurs in December. A duet between McGowan and Kirsty McColl, this song is the most-played Christmas song written in the twenty-first century in the UK. Chart-wise, it has peaked high in many different places, having been re-released fifteen times since its original release in 1987.
# 4 – The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn
Here is the opening track from Rum which shows the more fast and frantic punk side of The Pogues. Lyrically, it is also one of their more upfront, packed with historical and mythological references, showing that McGowan’s lyric writing is not always somber and melancholy in nature. This song was not released as a single, so it had no chart presence. However, the album was successful, reaching number thirteen in the UK.
# 3 – Misty Morning, Albert Bridge
This single taken from Peace and Love was the band’s last to chart in the UK top fifty before McGowan’s departure, reaching number forty-one. It was the only single from the album that managed to chart. The song’s lyrics are about the famous Albert Bridge in London depicting two lovers meeting on it, which then tragically turns out to be a dream. It was composed by the band’s banjo player, Jem Finer.
# 2 – The Body Of An American
This track was featured on the B side of the 1986 ep Poetry in Motion which tells the tale of the chaotic wake at the funeral of the Irish American boxer Jim Dwyer who was brought back to Ireland to be buried. Many years later, the song found a place in wider popular culture when it was frequently featured in the HBO drama “The Wire” in scenes where members of the Baltimore police department would often belt out the chorus during drunken social gatherings.
# 1 – Thousands Are Sailing
At the number one spot is a song that was released in 1988. It is a traditional Irish folk-style ballad that was featured on the third album If I Should Fall From Grace With God. The lyrics are about the first generation of Irish immigrants coming to America for a better life. As the song goes on, it chronicles their journey further, talking about how they settled in. It also references John F Kennedy and how he was the first Irish American President and the tragedy of how he ended up being assassinated. All in all, a fantastic track that still has a certain relevance today.
Updated April 20, 2023
Top 10 Songs From The Pogues article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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