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Music / The Pogues

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One summer evening, drunk to hell...

"On the first day of March it is raining
It is raining worse than anything that I have ever seen
Stay on the other side of the road 'cause you can never tell
We've a thirst like a gang of devils, we're the boys from the county Hell"

The Pogues were a Celtic Punk Rock band from London, formed as Pogue Mahone in 1982. The band landed a number of hits in the 1980s and early '90s before losing lead singer/songwriter Shane MacGowan to personal issues in 1991, and after two more albums without him called it quits in 1996. They reformed (with McGowan) in 2001 and went on several tours together, with their final performance to date coming in 2014.

They're noted for their awesome songwriting and mix of traditional folk music with punkish energy, and, sadly, for the horrible death of guest vocalist Kirsty MacColl and the very public self-destruction (and poor dental hygiene) of Shane MacGowan.

Their biggest hit, "Fairytale of New York", has been voted Ireland's and Britain's favourite Christmas song or thereabouts on several occasions, and reliably returns to the charts every December. It was certified a million seller in 2012, 25 years after its original release.

Shane MacGowan passed away on November 30th, 2023. Good night, and God guard you forever.

Studio discography:

  • Red Roses for Me (1984)
  • Rum, Sodomy & the Lash (1985)
  • If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988)
  • Peace and Love (1989)
  • Hell's Ditch (1990)
  • Waiting for Herb (1993)
  • Pogue Mahone (1996)

The music of this band provides examples of:

  • Age-Progression Song: "Poor Paddy", though nothing much changes for the protagonist except that he becomes more and more exhausted.
  • Anti-Christmas Song:
    • "Fairytale of New York" is one of the most famous examples—so common on the radio during the holiday season that most people don't even pick up on the massive Lyrical Dissonance.
      You scumbag, you maggot
      You cheap, lousy faggot
      Happy Christmas your arse
      I pray God it's our last
    • At the same time, it's probably much less of an Anti Christmas Song than it's generally painted, on the basis that the quote above is pretty much the only bit most people actually know, but importantly, it's not the end of the song. The end of the song implies a reconciliation, and ends on one of the most realistically sweet and romantic notes of any Christmas song.
      I kept them with me, babe
      I put them with my own
      Can't make it out alone
      I built my dreams around you.
  • Badass Boast:
    • "Boys from the County Hell", as in the page quote.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • "Kitty" refers to the title character as "mo mhuirnín" and "a stór", both Irish terms of endearment.
    • "Fiesta" features a verse in garbled Spanish about former bandmate Cait O'Riordan and former producer Elvis Costello.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: One led to the creation of the song "Turkish Song of Damned". The band had acquired a German magazine with an article about The Damned while on an international tour, and noticed that it referred to one of that group's B-sides, "Turkey Song", as "Turkish Song of the Damned".note  They thought that was too cool a title not to use, so they came up with music and lyrics to fit it.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "A Pair of Brown Eyes"
    Some prayed, some cursed
    Some prayed,
    then cursed
    Then prayed, then bled some more
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • "Bottle of Smoke"
    • Happens twice in "The Sick Bed of of Cuchulainn"
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: Averted in the case of the traditional lilt "I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day", in which bassist Cait O'Riordan takes the lead vocal.
  • Cover Version: Usually at least one per album.
  • Draft Dodging: "The Recruiting Sergeant"
    There's fighting in Dublin to be done
    Let your sergeants and your commanders go
    Let Englishmen fight English wars
    It's nearly time they started-oh...
  • Dual-Meaning Chorus: "Sally MacLennane" uses the same chorus to describe a farewell party for a friend emigrating and, later, that same friend's wake.
  • Epic Rocking: "Body of an American" and "Turkish Song of the Damned"
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Considering they started in London, the band name started as one - Pogue Mahone is anglicised Irish for póg mo thóin, "Kiss my arse." Amusingly, the póg part means "kiss", so the band name is actually "The Kisses".
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "Fiesta"
  • Immigrant Patriotism: A good bit of it in "Body of an American" (an ambiguously-ironic celebration of the pride Irish immigrants to the U.S. had for their new country).
  • The Masochism Tango: "Fairytale of New York"
  • Manly Tears: "Thousands Are Sailing"
    Then we raised a glass to JFK and a dozen more besides
    When I got back to my empty room I suppose I must have cried
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Fairytale of New York"
  • Ode to Intoxication: Pretty much every other song.
  • Protest Song: "Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six" about The Troubles, and the imprisonment of the Birmingham Six, who were later found to have been, indeed, innocent.
  • Red Light District: "The Old Main Drag" is an unusually brutal depiction.
    And now I am lying here, I've had too much booze
    I've been spat on and shat on and raped and abused
    I know that I am dying and I wish I could beg
    For some money to take me from the old main drag -
  • Sentenced to Down Under: "Kitty"
  • Shout-Out:
    • In "Fiesta", to "Costello el Rey del America" and his (then-)wife, former Pogues bassist and occasional female singer "suntuosa Cait O'Riordan". (The lyrics of the song describe the festivities surrounding their wedding.)
    • The instrumental "Cats of Kilkenny" sounds suspiciously like an acoustic and Hibernicised cover of the Doctor Who theme.
    • "Fairytale of New York" is named after the novel by J.P. Donleavy. The song has nothing to do with the book, but Elvis Costello convinced them that it needed a better title than "Christmas Eve in the Drunk Tank", and the song is set in New York.
    • The cover of Rum Sodomy & the Lash is The Raft of the Medusa with the band's faces imposed over the men in the painting.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: "Sit Down by the Fire"
    Good night and God bless
    Now fuck off to bed
  • Soiled City on a Hill: "London You're a Lady"
    Your architects were madmen
    Your builders sane but drunk
    Among your faded jewels
    Shine acid house and punk
  • Solo Duet: "Gentleman Soldier" has Shane putting on three distinct voices as narrator, a soldier, and the soldier's girlfriend.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Almost any song could be this for those not accustomed to Irish accents, but even if the accents don't confuse you, MacGowan in particular is known for slurring his vocals. And when he gets up some speed, such as on "Fiesta"... good luck!
  • Trope Codifier: Or possibly even the Trope Maker for Celtic punk, and, within a larger context, folk punk.
  • Uncommon Time: "Rocky Road to Dublin" is a slip jig in 9/8. Not uncommon for Irish traditional music, but pretty uncommon in the mainstream.

The members of this band provide examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Shane, up until a debilitating hip injury in 2015 forced him to give up drinking in order to recover.
  • The Band Minus the Face: The Pogues kicked Shane out in the early 90s and kept going for several years without their best-known member.
  • Female Rockers Play Bass: Cait O'Riordan, the only woman in the band and the original bass player.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: Averted, at least initially. Cait O'Riordan was the only female member of the band and a memorable stage presence, so she was popular with many fans, some of whom even say the band was never the same after she left. It doesn't hurt that she sang as well. When she ditched the band, she was replaced by Darryl Hunt, who'd been a roadie for the band. He wasn't particularly popular, but in a band that also had a cittern player and an accordion player, he wasn't the only band member to fade into the background a little bit.
  • Revolving Door Band: Various members shuffled in and out of the lineup through the years, with Jem Finer and Andrew Rankin pretty much the only constants.
  • Special Guest: For a while after Shane left the band, the lead singer was Joe Strummer.
    • Kirsty McColl guested on "Fairytale of New York" and did some live gigs with the band.
  • Stage Names: the whole band were meant to have them originally and they're credited with them on the first Pogues album (Jem Finer is Country Jem, Cait O'Riordan is Rocky O'Riordan) but they were quickly abandoned. The only members of the band left who had stage names were Spider Stacy and Phil Chevron, who'd adopted his long before he joined the Pogues.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Spider Stacy usually sang at least one song on each album (or in concert when Shane was too drunk to perform) and took over lead vocalist duties after Shane left. Caitlin O'Riordan also sang lead on "A Man You Don't Meet Every Day".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Shane MacGowan's backing band during his solo career was called The Popes.
  • Token Minority: The guitarist, Philip Chevron, was very much openly gay, and once described himself as "[a] homosexual in a heterosexual band". He even had a crush on James Fearnley, the accordionist.