Dubliners’ Playlist: The 10 songs about our city that you need to hear…
With only a few weeks to go until St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve been thinking - you’re gonna be hearing a lot of Irish tunes around town soon, right?
And we’re talking proper ‘Oirish’ ditties here; full-on folk n’ trad numbers by the Dubliners about the rare old times (that’s that one ticked off the list) and how, when it really boils down to it, there ain’t no place in the world like Grafton Street on a hot summer’s day (good-old Bagatelle there - we might come back to ‘em). There will be no avoiding it, folks. So, what are the best songs ever written about Dublin’s fair city? There are a few. Actually, there are too many to mention. So, let’s take a look at some stand-out examples, from the classic all the way through to one particularly rambunctious contemporary offering courtesy of everyone’s favourite, inner-city pop-rock combo. Get the sound system ready. Here we go…
1. Molly Malone
We’ll start with an obvious one. We all know her as the “Tart with the Cart”, but let’s just forget about the statue for a moment. The story - or, indeed, the song - goes that a girl called Molly, who worked as a fishmonger (just as her folks did before her) in Dublin’s fair city in the 17th century, wheeled her wheelbarrow, through streets broad and narrow, crying “cockles and mussels” until one day, she caught a fever and croaked. Tragic. But sure look it, legend has it her ghost is still on the move (as is the statue), and has been for nigh on 100 years, give or take a decade.
Couple of things here. One: Molly Malone (the song) isn’t even Irish (it might have originated in Scotland). Two: it’s not actually about a real person. The internet tells us that British and Irish girl band The Saturdays once performed the song live in Ireland. You can see for yourself on YouTube, but might we suggest checking out the Dubliners’ version first? Wise move. The ultimate Dublin City anthem? Oh, go on, then.
2. Rocky Road to Dublin
Technically, this 19th century ditty is more of a road-trip number about a young Irish chap leaving behind his home in Tuam and heading off to Liverpool in search of work, with our capital city popping up somewhere around the middle. But still. Sample lyric (from the Dubliners’ version…yep, those lads again): “Well in the merry month of May, from me home I started, left the girls of Tuam, nearly broken-hearted, saluted father dear, kissed me darling mother, drank a pint of beer, me grief and tears to smother…”
Now, here’s a lyric from the, erm, reworked version, when Damien Dempsey, Bressie and yer man from the Coronas re-recorded it with the Irish football team (The Rocky Road to Poland): “Make your mother proud, inflate your plastic hammer, bate your bodhran loud, and learn your polish grammar, Credit Union loan, sold the Opel Corsa, bought the camper van, picked it up in Warsaw…”
That, dear readers, if you care to recall, was the official Republic of Ireland football anthem going into Euro 2012. But we won’t put the blame on poor Damo for what happened there. The man’s a legend and all.
3. The Auld Triangle
“And the auld triangle, goes jingle jangle…” How many times have we heard that line, eh? Brendan Behan is, of course, the man behind the song, The Auld Triangle originally popping up in the 1954 play The Quare Fellow. What is ‘the auld triangle?’ Why, it’s an actual triangle made of metal that was beaten every morning so as to wake the inmates at Mountjoy Prison, were Behan once had the, erm, pleasure of staying (he also set his play in a prison).
Luke Kelly is the man who made it famous, of course. Fun fact: we once saw U2 cover this one at Croke Park. Not-so-fun fact: if you’re ever at a Glen Hansard gig and he starts belting out the first verse, all I can say is ‘good luck’. Nobody – I repeat, nobody - is going home early. Oh, and Justin Timberlake covered it at one point, too, as part of an ensemble that included Marcus Mumford for the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.
4. On Raglan Road
You know the deal here. Patrick Kavanagh writes a poem about falling in love with a woman on Raglan Road, Ballsbridge. Later, Luke Kelly and the Dubliners meet with Patrick, the poem is put to music and the rest, as they say, is history. But what you might not know is that Irish actor Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) performed a hell of a campfire version of the song in the 2013 Irish film, The Stag. What, you haven’t seen it? YouTube – pronto. Some man for one man, that Scott fella. Gorgeous love song, too.
5. Summer in Dublin
Ah, the Bagatelle tune, in which young Liam Reilly recalls his youth in the capital (or something), jumping on a bus to Dun Laoghaire (stopping off to pick up his guitar) and engaging in conversation with a drunk who tells him how to get rich. Oh, and the Liffey stank like hell that day, too. Hardly the best, mind, and we were going to go with a completely different Bagatelle number (Leeson Street Lady…it’s about something else entirely), but it’s that line about Grafton Street here that gets us every time. Again, there ain’t no place like it in the world when the sun is shining. Take it away, Liam…
As in, the Prefab Sprout number. I’ll tell you one thing – I don’t know what Paddy McAloon and the gang were smoking when they wrote this romantic, unintentionally hilarious ode to all things north and south side, but it has to be heard to be believed. “Duh-blin, Duh-blin, home of preeee-ty coh-leeeens,” sings Paddy. Good on him and all, but jeez, it’s a bit of a depressing number. Prefab Sprout were from Durham, would you believe…
7. Old Town
We might be cheating here. If only because, well, Philip Lynott’s Old Town isn’t technically about a place, but instead, the end of a love affair and how, you know, spending our money in this old town, just ain’t the same, honey, when you’re not around (what a line). To hell with the details - it’s all about that famous promo clip, right? Just look at Lynott go as he takes a stroll over the Ha’penny Bridge, dancing down Grafton Street and stopping off at the Long Hall on Georges Street for a swift half. The best Irish music video of all time? You betcha. A Dublin tune, for sure.
8. Dirty Old Town
Okay, so we’re cheating again. Let me explain: Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town is actually a British song, originally written and recorded in 1949 for a play set in Salford. But hey, the Dubliners – and, later, the Pogues – made it their own. A few lyrical tweaks here and there - be grand. Altogether now: “I kissed my girl, by the factory wall, Dirty Old Town, Dirty Old Town.” A top-ten hit in Ireland - it’s ours now, MacColl. Obviously.
The song that changed everything for Bono and the lads when they performed it at Live Aid in 1985, U2’s Bad, plucked from The Unforgettable Fire album, isn’t exactly the cheeriest number ever written about our capital city. Instead, it’s a powerful rock song about heroin addiction in recession-hit Dublin in the 1980s. There are various stories as to who the track is actually about (Bono once told an audience that it was written for a close friend of his who had died of a heroin overdose) but one thing is for certain – it never ceases to amaze in a live setting. Amazing song.
10. Paint the Town Green
Right, so it’s not the best. It also sounds a heck of a lot like the Dropkick Murphys’ I’m Shipping Up to Boston at times, but the important thing is that Dublin pop-rock combo The Script’s raucous ode to all things green, white and orange on March 17th certainly does conjure up some magnificent imagery.
Basically, it’s about an Irish dude and his lady living in New York and feeling a little homesick. But fear not, the chap has it all worked out with a plan to colour the streets like home on Paddy’s Day. “We’ll travel on the subway, like it was the Luas Line, chase the Hudson to the Liffey where we kissed for the first time,” sings front man Danny O’Donoghue. “Turn the city into Dublin, yeah, wherever we may be, it’s all right, because tonight, we’re gonna paint the town green.” Aw, you guys. Cheesy, for sure, but we’ll let them away with it. Happy listening…