Shane MacGowan’s Most Memorable Musical Moments — the Pogues and Solo



Regarded for his wrenching, joyful lyricism as a bard of all things Irish, Shane MacGowan – the singer-songwriter known mostly for his work as frontman of the Celtic punk phenomenon the Pogues – was truly a tender poet of universal concern. Social blight, childhood dreams, national pride, coy romanticism, bloody Anglo-Irish politics, painful histories, the glee we get from raising a pint or 12: this is the stuff of MacGown’s finest songs, whether with the Pogues, his solo work or in collaboration with fellow punk poets Nick Cave, Joe Strummer and most famously, Kirsty MacColl.

With his passing Thursday morning at the age of 65, Variety looks at the most memorable moments of Shane MacGowan’s licentious legacy.

The Nipple Erectors, “King of the Bop” (1978)
Like every kid in London and Belfast in the latter-half of the 1970s, MacGowan (or rather ‘Shane O’Hooligan’ as he was known then) was a hard-driving, leather-clad punk-rocker. On his debut single with the Nipple Erectors, “King of the Bop” is more jangling than it is spiky, and asks more questions about its topic – who is this person and why are they so valued? Though hardly the stuff of the rousing crusty Irish jigs and reels that would follow as part of the Pogues, MacGowan’s first, choppy record signaled things to come.

The Pogues, “Dark Streets of London” (1984)
MacGowan took the energy and melodicism of the punk-rock he made with the Nipple Erectors to the sound (and wheezing, whistling instrumentation) of traditional Irish folk music on this, the earliest of Pogues singles. Written fully by MacGowan, his “Dark Streets” were as filled with dewy, blooming roses and bright warm summers as they were London’s bleak accord.

The Pogues, “The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn” (1985)If there is one song where MacGowan shows off his gutter-poet persona to its mesmerizing, literate, storytelling finest, it’s the first track from “Rum Sodomy & the Lash,” and MacGown’s tortured take on Irish mythology and the curse that fell upon its warriors and their women. Stirring stuff.

The Pogues, “Dirty Old Town” (1985)
As modern-day interpreters of socially-minded British folk and folklore, the Pogues had no rival. What’s most fascinating about their country-esque cover of Ewan MacColl’s cutting classic “Dirty Old Town” is that, for their next album, 1988’s “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,”, MacGowan and company would record their best-loved track with MacColl’s daughter.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, “Fairytale of New York” (1987)
It’s remarkable that MacGowan and Pogues’ banjo player-songwriter Jem Finer’s take on Irish American writer J. P. Donleavy’s novel is now a Christmas classic covered by Taylor Swift’s beau Travis Kelce and his footballing brother Jason. The Pogues’ single with the late Kirsty MacColl – one of the U.K.’s finest, broad-voiced singers and songwriters in her own right – moves from soft, supple balladry and humble storytelling to rudely jangling jig with a score of not-at-all-romantic, non-PC lyrics. MacGowan’s gruff-edged voice and MacColl’s honeyed, catty curl sound brilliant when merged as one as brawling lovers.

The Pogues, “Fiesta” (1988)
Like their brothers in arms, the Clash, MacGowan’s Pogues toyed tremendously with the merging of punk, British folk and Latin pulses to exquisite, bold rhythmic effect. Of course, MacGowan makes it all personal, merging the history of the Spanish city of Almería to the departure of Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan.

Shane MacGowan and Nick Cave, “What a Wonderful World” (1992)
Two of the Western world’s finest lyricists take on Bob Thiele and George David Weiss’s ballad for Louis Armstrong in quiet and lushly orchestrated fashion. Gorgeous. Cave and MacGowan got together again with Chrissie Hynde, the Clash’s Mick Jones, Johnny Depp and Paloma Faith for a spooky, plinking version of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” in 2010, but nothing beats the wonder of “Wonderful World.”

Shane MacGowan and the Popes, “The Church of The Holy Spook” (1994)
Once ousted from the Pogues, MacGowan grew even more restless and unbound, vocally and lyrically. Take his solo debut with the Popes’ 1994 album “The Snake” and its springy, revved-up take on that old-time religion.

Shane MacGowan and the Popes, “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking” 1994)
MacGowan nobly marries two of his favorite poetic subjects – wine and women – with a spry, metallic take on quick-paced rockabilly.

Various artists, “Perfect Day” (1997)
Released in collaboration with the Children in Need charity, and featuring the more mellifluous likes of Bono, David Bowie and Emmylou Harris, this cover of Lou Reed’s pensive glam ballad has its best moment come when MacGowan utters the words, “it’s just fun,” with subtly blank euphoria.


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