Shane MacGowan: Remembering this troubled genius with 5 great songs

The Pogues singer has died at the age of 65

Shane MacGowan was a brilliant but troubled man.

He struggled with drugs and alcohol, as well as numerous health issues, and fans worried about his seemingly self-destructive behavior for decades. He was also a top-tier Celtic punk poet who, at his best, could propel his main band, the legendary Pogues, to incredible heights.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen him perform in concert, both with the Pogues and as the leader of Shane MacGowan and the Popes. In every case, he was off-kilter, not always easy to understand, and, above all, completely thrilling.

The great songwriter died on Thursday, Nov. 30, at the age of 65, after a long battle with viral encephalitis.

As a tribute to this mighty talent, and in the hope of introducing his music to the uninitiated, I’ve compiled a list of 5 songs that demonstrate his enduring genius.

The film “Fairytale of New York” was released in 1987.

In honor of its overwhelming popularity as well as the season, I had to include this wonderfully original holiday classic, which begins with MacGowan declaring, “It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank.” The bittersweet Irish-style folk ballad is performed as a duet by MacGowan and fantastic vocalist Kirsty MacColl, who trade barbs while balancing heartbreak and humor. Surprisingly, “Fairytale of New York” is reportedly the most-played Christmas song of the twenty-first century in the United Kingdom. Don’t you adore the British?

“If I Should Fall from Grace with God” (1988)

If I could only listen to one Pogues song — thankfully, that is not the case — it would be this title track from the band’s 1988 album. It just seems to distill so much of what is great about both MacGowan and the group, coming across as a rowdy pub party as it mixes great lyrics, yearning vocal work, and a full-throttle blend of rock and traditional Irish music.

“Streams of Whiskey” was released in 1984.

Everything one needed to know about the Pogues was revealed on their debut album, 1984’s “Red Roses for Me,” which charted the band’s rowdy, brawling, unapologetic course for the rest of its career. Nonetheless, there’s a sense of joy and adventure in this early material — particularly on songs like “Streams of Whiskey” — that’s never fully replicated on later efforts.

“Sally MacLennane” is a 1985 film.

On this top-tier pub rocker, MacGowan is in legendary form, reportedly inspired by a bar his uncle owned in East London. On first listen, it may appear that MacGowan wishes to be reunited with a long-lost love named Sally MacLennane. And the song succeeds on that level. Sally MacLennane, on the other hand, is a stout brand.

“Nancy Whiskey” is a 1995 film.

Although his work with the Pogues will always dominate any discussion of MacGowan’s legacy, I wanted to include at least one song from his excellent first solo album — “The Snake” — which featured his backing band, the Popes. “Nancy Whiskey” (which is included on the expanded version of the album) is an excellent example of MacGowan’s work with traditional songs.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply