Erin go bragh-less: Irish bands on the charts and “The Unicorn” (1968)


(Above: The Clancy Brothers, replete with pipes and sweaters.)

Ah, Oldies radio.  We like to observe the same conventions each year when it comes to things like holidays and commemorations. I will bet you everything in my wallet (a low risk on a Friday, least of all on St. Patrick’s Day) that your friendly neighborhood classic-hits-styled (because Oldies is a bad word!) station drags out the Irish Rovers today.  It’s predictable.  For the same reason that you only hear “Abraham, Martin and John” on Dr. King day and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on November 10 (if you are in Michigan, anyway), less-than-inspired programmers go and grab the one song that fits a day and claim to be topical. And so it is the same with the Rovers.

The Irish Rovers had other hits – two in the Top 40 and two others in the Hot 100. My good friend Jim Bartlett wrote a wonderful piece on the Rovers that needs no embellishment from me.  What I want to do instead is call attention to some other songs by Irish performers that the classic hits set may choose to add to “The Unicorn” so that other dayparts can get in on the fun.

-The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem – OK, technically, they never charted as a singles band. But their LP In Person at Carnegie Hall sold a bunch. It made #60 on the LP chart in 1963, and they’ve been on television enough that the audience knows them.  The live LP as well as others were a staple in my house growing up.  There’s no harm in throwing in “A Jug Of Punch” today, or – if you want to be a little subversive – “Finnegan’s Wake.”

To that end I’d also consider the Chieftains. Hunt down the version of “Behind Blue Eyes” that Roger Daltry performed with them on An Irish Evening.  You will thank me later.

-The Bachelors – They had six Top 40 singles and are best known for “Diane,” which made it into the Top 10 at a time when the Beatles ruled the roost. You have to look far and wide to find a station playing this band from Dublin.

-Van Morrison – Of course, you know his work. And yes, he’s Irish, so why not use today as an excuse to go deeper?  If WKRP in Cincinnati featured “And It Stoned Me,” then so can you.  Better yet, throw in “Here Comes the Night” by Them, Van’s band before he hit it big.

-U2 – Everyone knows that they are Irish as well, and with this being the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, they certainly qualify for the Oldies canon by now.  (I shudder to write that, since they were the first band I ever played on the radio.)  Deeper off of that album is “One Tree Hill” or “Red Hill Mining Town.”

-Thin Lizzy – Yeah, they’re from Dublin. Phil Lynott’s band is known for “The Boys Are Back in Town.”  I’d go with “Cowboy Song,” which once upon a time was a song that, if you heard it on a jukebox, there was a good chance I’d been in the bar awhile.

-Gilbert O’Sullivan – You might ruin the party by playing his biggest hit, “Alone Again (Naturally.)”  Work in “Get Down,” although as a #7 song it should be in rotation already. This singer from Waterford had five Top 40 hits.

-Sinead O’Connor – Since that SNL stunt many programmers have left her off the radio. But “Nothing Compares 2 U” is still a great song, and first charted – gulp! – 27 years ago today.

-Cranberries – You throw on “Linger,” or better yet “Dreams,” and it sounds like an Irish tourism ad. That song is now 24 years old, and they are from Limerick.

-Enya – Maybe save her for the end of the party.  This singer from Donegal only hit the charts once with “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away),” but it’s a song everyone knows. Admittedly, it is not a favorite of mine.  It was big when I first started at WJTW, and I wanted to rock in the worst way but played songs like this for a paycheck.  I felt not unlike the kids in “South Park.”

Hopefully your St. Patrick’s day celebration is safe and musically varied. I raise a small amount of Tullamore Dew to you and a wish that you may be in heaven a half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.




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