I’m proud of my hometown, though like most Dubs, I despair of the place on a fairly regular basis. Usually when walking down one of our many filthy streets. ‘Dirty Old Town’ is actually about Salford in the UK, but it might well have been written specifically for Dublin – and most people think it was.
Finding songs that have actually been written specifically about Dublin is quite a frustrating exercise. “But there are loads of songs about Dublin” I hear you say. Indeed, ask anyone for a song about Dublin and they can reel off about five or six without having to think too hard about it – ‘Raglan road’, ‘Biddy Mulligan’ and all those Traditional classics. But that’s not what I was after for this list – I wanted to avoid the traditional standards and focus on contemporary music about Dublin.
Despite the city’s abundance of great musicians it has proven extraordinarily difficult to track down a worthwhile list of seven songs that reference the capital and aren’t late-night pub-singalong standards. Is there a collective conspiracy to avoid mentioning specifics about your hometown? As always (and maybe more than usual) your suggestions and additions to this list would be most welcome…
1. Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap
When I was younger (and lyrics weren’t easily seen at the click of a mouse) I assumed that this song was about New York. The whole ‘Walk, Don’t Walk’ thing had me convinced. However, it is in fact about Dublin. The lyric about the ‘five lamp boys’ is fairly conclusive (the five lamps is a well-known Dublin landmark). In any case it is, in my opinion the Boomtown Rats best song. The fact that it’s about their hometown, and mine, just makes it better.
2. Radiohead – How to Disappear Completely
Utter brilliance as usual from Radiohead. The lyrics here are apparently based on a dream that Thom Yorke had when Staying in the Clarence Hotel, on tour in Dublin. As he later explained to Rolling Stone magazine “We did this show in Dublin which was by far the biggest show we’d ever done, and we were headlining in front of about 33,000 people. It was sheer blind terror. My most distinctive memory of the whole year was the dream I had that night: I was running down the Liffey, stark bollock naked, being pursued by a huge tidal wave”. I think I was at that gig actually.
3. U2 – Walk To The Water
I’ll admit to never having heard this before researching the list. I’m not what one would call an avid U2 fan, and this isn’t one of their best. It all gets a bit poncey at times – I’m not sure what the significance of ‘white canvas shoes’ is, but I’m sure Bono had something important in mind. A couple of specific locations on Dublin’s Northside are mentioned though, including where I live myself, so that’s enough to gain admission to this exclusive list. As I said in the intro, it’s slim pickings.
4. Jape – Phil Lynott
I absolutely love this song – its simple lyrics and delivery make it a really enjoyable ‘sequence of things that happened’ sort of tune. Although no specific area of Dublin is mentioned, there’s enough small nuggets in there to make it unique to the city. The Mastadon gig that the song references was (I believe) in the Temple Bar Music Centre and Phil Lynott is after-all, as Jape notes “a dead man who played the bass, from Crumlin”.
5. Thin Lizzy – The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle
And here’s the man himself singing a song about where I’m from. It’s very much an homage to the Doors – or at least it seems that way to me. It’s certainly suffused with the same level of absurd profundity of which Jim Morrison was so fond. Musically, the song reveals how tight and controlled a band Thin Lizzy were (again, much like the Doors) something that can be all too easily forgotten.
6. The Radiators From Space – Under Clery’s Clock
Yet another tune I’d never heard before. Everyone of my generation has met someone at Clery’s clock on O’Connell Street – it was probably the most famous meeting place after Nelson’s Pillar was destroyed. It’s since been usurped by the Spire (or, more likely by the ‘I’ll ring you when I get into town’ line). This particular song is actually about the difficulties of conducting a gay relationship in 80s Dublin – meeting at Clery’s clock was, presumably, out of the question.
7. The Ballymun Music Programme – Ballymun Lullaby
In my struggle to find contemporary songs about Dublin, I took to randomly typing the name of suburbs into youtube and spotify. As it turns out I’d seen posters for this concert years ago and I loved the name, but had never followed up on it. Ballymun is an area on Dublin’s Northside that became synonymous with drugs and other social problems. The juxtaposition of those associations with the beautiful choral singing and lyrics makes this piece pretty special.
If you’d like to listen to all the tunes consecutively – you know, like an old mixtape – check out the youtube playlist.