The Pogues – Very Best of (2013)

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All you need to know, really, about Irish punk rockers Pogues is right in their name, taken from a Gaelic phrase meaning “kiss my arse.” Confounding expectation, they played softly as often as they played loudly, with heart prominently on their sleeve.

This forthcoming Very Best of compilation, due January 22, 2013 via Shout! Factory, underscores just how successfully the Pogues combined these seemingly incongruent styles. It also represents the crest of a wave of interest in the group not seen since their 1980s heyday, as the title track from 1987’s If I Should Fall from Grace with God somehow appears in a Suburu ad, and “Body of an American” finds its way onto the soundtrack of HBO’s “The Wire.”

“Dirty Old Town” — a shanty-shaking saloon singalong, tender and raw — is, actually, the perfect opening cut for any Very Best of set, even if it must (simply must) be followed by “The Sunnyside of the Street,” a song with the scruffy attitude of the Clash to go with its Emerald Island flourishes. There’s a similar complexity in the sequencing as “The Irish Rover” reels, while “Rain Street” simply rolls along — like a punky update of every scribbled, beer-stained ruffian’s poem. Over the course of 18 well-selected tracks, the Pogues’ blend traditional jigs, serrated DiY attitude and aching balladry with a still-staggering ease.

Only a band this complex could produce a single-disc set that’s so compulsive listenable. You’re just left wondering why the Pogues were never more famous.

After all, “Thousands are Sailing,” a powerful retelling of the Irish immigrant narrative, is as anthematic as anything U2 was putting out, if never as famous. “Streams of Whiskey” (the first song the Pogues ever performed live) ought to be the national anthem of St. Patrick’s Day, if that day weren’t so often ruined by amateur drunks. This song, really, is for professionals. At the same time, tracks like the lonely Yuletide number “Fairytale of New York” — a UK hit featuring the late Kirsty MacColl that helped break the Pogues in America — and the Jem Finer-written “Misty Morning, Albert Bridge” plumb a dark ruminative emotion. Such is the power and sweep of the Pogues.


The comparison with both the Clash and U2 would prove prophetic, as the Pogues eventually worked with U2 co-producer Steve Lillywhite on their 1987 major-label debut If I Should Fall, and then saw ex-Clash singer Joe Strummer take over for Shane MacGowan briefly in 1991 — when the singer/songwriter first split with the band in a dispute over his rampant alcoholism. MacGowan’s since returned, though he’s still involved with that struggle.

“Tuesday Morning,” for me, is their triumph, a heady combination of this propulsive groove, a plucky stringed counterpoint, and these strikingly raw lyrics. Spider Stacy seems to hollow out his soul here — and that’s been the best thing about the Pogues in general, and MacGowan in particular, over the years.

For all of MacGowan’s loutish, whiskey-sloshed behavior — he was so drunk at a performance as recently as 2002 that he reportedly threw up on the concert-goers in the front row — his sense of reckless abandon always included a willingness to reveal his own heart too.

It’s made the Pogues unlike most any band of their generation. And, quite frankly, unlike most others, too.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • Good God, Nick – you pin Tuesday Morning (a beautiful song, mind) as the pinnacle of The Pogues output????? Lord above. What of Fairytale of New York, A Pair of Brown Eyes, Sally MacLennan, or God knows how many others?????

    • Nick DeRiso

      For me, and I guess for the rest of the people here in America who made it the biggest single the Pogues ever had on the Billboard charts, it was.

    • Kirk

      A Shaneless Pogues song? Waiting for Herb only had 2-3 original Pogues members Phillip was gone too. While Tuesday Morning is one of the best 80-90s esq songs that would make any John Hughes movie better it is not a Pogues song. I also believe that Love You Till the End was their biggest chart success thanks to the movie PS I Love You. Thanks for giving them a review as Shane’s Idol Brendan Behan said “Any publicity except your obituary is good.” For a great album get Pogues Live in Paris.

      • Nick DeRiso

        That’s the cool thing about music: We can all come to it from our places, all come up with our own favorites. But, alas, we don’t get to come up with our own facts.

        “Tuesday Morning” reached No. 11 on the U.S. Rock charts in 1992. 1988’s “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” was the Pogues’ first charting single in the states, at No. 17 on the same charts. The Pogues’ only other charting American hit was “Sunny Side of the Street,” from 1990’s ‘Hell’s Ditch,” which went to No. 23 on the U.S. Rock charts.

        ‘Waiting for Herb’ included four of the original six Pogues – Spider Stacy, Jem Finer, James Fearnley and Andrew Ranken – as well as the then-more-recent add Philip Chevron. Shane MacGowan and Cait O’Riordan (who had long since left to marry one-time producer Elvis Costello) were missing.

        I love the Pogues. All eras. Of course, ‘Rum Sodomy and the Lash’ remains their best album, song for song. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other high points. Lots of them.

  • Mark Saleski

    too many to choose from sir mcmullan. too danged many.

  • Bruce Butcher

    Thanks for writing something about the Pogues. They are too often forgotten. My personal favorite is The Old Main Drag. That has to be one of the most honest assessments of a lifestyle ever. Only Punk can put a topic like that to music.

  • Doug Janes

    Mark: I couldn’t agree more.

  • John

    Rainy Night in Soho stands out for me among many great songs. A beautiful ballad sung with Shane’s emotive rawness and showing a tender side of his musical roots.

  • I only have one Pogues album: If I Should Fall From Grace With God & it’s a dandy!