With St. Patrick’s Day arriving a few days ago, what better time to celebrate the many contributions of Irish musicians to popular music?
I’m not talking about singers, bands and musicians with Irish roots or influences.
Of course, the influence of Irish music has spread far beyond its shores, coming to America and strongly influencing American folk and country music to present just one example. Bands specializing in Irish music can be found in the United States, England and many other surrounding areas.
Here I’m talking about those born or raised in Ireland – some of my favorite musicians, as well as the favorites of thousands, and in some cases, millions more. I can’t think of a better time to spotlight Irish music than St. Patrick’s week, so here goes.
The first time I remember an Irish band impacting my musical consciousness was them. Yes, this Irish band was first heard on American shores as part of the musical British Invasion – when dozens of bands assaulted American airwaves in the wake of The Beatles.
Of course, most of them – but not all – were English. While England could lay claim to the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Zombies, the Yardbirds, the Hollies, the Dave Clark Five and others, some who rose to popularity during the British invasion came from somewhere else.
Singer-songwriter Donovan hails from Scotland, bringing his brand of pop-inspired folk that quickly evolved into his unique sound with rock and jazz undertones.
While some Brits had leanings towards pop music, some offered a grittier sound inspired as much by American blues artists as by our rock ‘n’ rollers.
With the Rolling Stones as an obvious example – inspired as much by Muddy Waters as by Chuck Berry – others have also taken inspiration from this more earthly sound, such as the Animals, with their enduring version of “House of the Rising Sun”.
Meanwhile, in Ireland, another band has also tapped into the grittier side of rock ‘n’ roll. Irish band, Them, featured a pugnacious and intense young singer named Van Morrison, who would go on to become a giant in the music world as a solo artist.
Yet the first many in the United States to hear of him came through them. With albums featuring tracks like ‘The Angry Young Them’ and ‘Them Again’, they – I mean them – unleashed their Irish-born music on American airwaves.
The first song I remember hearing Them is “Here Comes the Night”. Sure, the verses sounded a little snappy — but oh, that chorus. With Morrison intoning “Here he comes, here comes the night”, it was not easy to tell whether the night brought a blessed release from the cares of the day or a moment of foreboding at what might be in the dark. . It wouldn’t be the last time Morrison struggled between dark and light.
Morrison wrote and recorded, along with fellow members of Them, the ultimate garage rock anthem, “Gloria” – although most aspiring American garage rockers of the day were more familiar with the cover version of “Shadows of Night” .
Other Them recordings such as “Mystic Eyes” and their covers of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now” showed they were the real deal.
After leaving them, Morrison headed to the United States, finding further top 40 hits with “Brown Eyed Girl” before becoming even better known for his resplendent albums such as “Astral Weeks”, “Moondance” and beyond, continuing to this day.
His greatest success, however, does not come from the aforementioned albums. This came thanks to his song “Domino”, a number 9 hit from the album “His Band and Street Choir”.
By measuring hits, the most successful Irish band would have to be U2, who released a string of critically acclaimed and best-selling albums including ‘Joshua Tree’ – one of their finest, producing hits such as “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You.”
Moving millions of albums and filling stadiums across America and the rest of the world, U2 consists of guitarist The Edge, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., bassist Adam Clayton and the ubiquitous Bono. Once hitting the scene in 1979 with their debut album, “Boy,” then hooked into the then-burgeoning video medium with songs like “New Year’s Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” they never really left.
However, musical success cannot be measured strictly in terms of gigantic hits. I discovered one of my favorite Irish bands when I came across an album in a store selling used CDs. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I bought this one simply because the cover and the album title intrigued me.
Its cover showed 10 guys, seven of them standing, while the three who were seated held an accordion, a guitar and a mandolin. The title of the album: “Fisherman’s Blues” and the music within did not disappoint. Led by Mike Scott, the Waterboys even scored a hit with “Fisherman’s Blues” when it reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Modern Rock charts.
This led me to further explore the Waterboys’ work, including Scott’s effervescent song, “The Whole of the Moon”.
Ireland has released notable musicians in a number of genres including Thin Lizzy and their rock ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’.
Rory Gallagher, who played with Thin Lizzy for a time, is remembered as one of the guitar giants of the rock era. When Jimi Hendrix was asked what it was like to be the greatest guitarist in the world, he reportedly replied that he didn’t know and suggested the interviewer go ask Gallagher instead.
Sinéad O’Connor topped the No. 1 spot for several weeks in 1990 with her heartfelt version of the Prince-penned song, “Nothing Compares 2U.”
New age artists such as Enya and Clannad made their mark, while the Chieftains explored not only Irish music, but also Spanish and American music – and these are just a few of the Irish musicians and singers who left their mark on the music world.
I said earlier that once U2 hit the scene in 1979, they never left. I was reminded of that again on Friday, when I saw a TV clip of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at the Friends of Ireland luncheon at the White House reciting a poem written by Bono, which she said to have received from him earlier today, in which Bono compared Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to St. Patrick.
Just as Saint Patrick drove the serpents out of Ireland, new saints must arise to drive out those old serpents once more, Bono wrote.
“The sorrow and pain of Ireland is now Ukraine,” he wrote. “And St. Patrick’s name now Zelensky.”
While some of those in view of the camera seemed more focused on their lunch than on listening to Bono’s poem, it nonetheless demonstrated once again just how much the work of Irish musicians and writers continues to reverberate. in the whole world.
Contact James Beaty at [email protected]