“Top 10 Irish Rock Bands Of All Time ”
Written By Jason Reed
Inner Edge Music
As we celebrate St. Patricks Day and take stock of the revelry and good company that this day affords, we must not forget the significant contributions that Irish musicians have made to the modern musical landscape. Whether it be through drinking ballads, odes to traditionalism, resiliency over political or religious oppression or just good ‘ole “let’s have fun and forget about our problems” tunes, we are all luckier for these artists’ various contributions.
In recognition of these varied contributions, we submit into evidence our top 10 Irish rock musicians of all time. Tabhair póg dom, táim Éireannach!
10. Thin Lizzy
Formed in Dublin in 1969, Thin Lizzy enjoyed international fame for their hits “Whiskey in a Jar”, “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back In Town.” The band was also unique for its multiculturalism in that lead signer Phil Lyncott was of black Irish heritage and band members included both Catholic and Protestant members at a time when this was unheard of.
The Cranberries are, admittedly, the most “modern” of the bands on the list, having first enjoyed critical acclaim and recognition with their debut album “No Need To Argue”. In America, they rode the wave of the “post Nirvana rock revival” that afforded them a great amount of exposure on MTV. Singer Delores O’Riordan’s striking good looks and beautiful accented voice gave the band a distinctive style, with a strong female presence.
Although not my favorite song by the band, we must mention the historical significance of their hit song “Zombie.” The Easter Rising also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, April 1916. The Rising was launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in the First World War. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period. By referencing this in their song, the Cranberries departed from their previously popular and introspective tunes to make a political statement relevant to their Irish heritage.
8. Boomtown Rats
Formed in 1975 a new wave band with singer Sir Bob Geldof who went on to do much advocacy work with Live Aid. Geldof currently serves as an adviser to the ONE Campaign, founded by fellow Irishman Bono. Boomtown Rats were closely linked with the punk movement. Their most popular song was “I Don’t Like Mondays.” Here is a great live version of that:
7. Van Morrison
The “Irish Bob Dylan”, Van Morrison represented a visionary and prophetic form of aesthetic sensibilities, a bard whose emotive capacity could resonate even in the most repressed and frozen of souls.
6. Sinéad O’Connor
Oh Sinéad. You are a proverbial bright flame that burned brightly with radiant heat that warmed the souls of all who were in your proximity. Her defiance and outspoken beliefs fit her in the tradition of Irish Rebels. In addition to her public antics (tearing up a picture of the Pope on SNL, etc.), there was also an unmistakable vulnerability and beauty in her songs.
5. My Bloody Valentine
The band most often associated with the (then pejoratively labelled) “shoe gazing scene”, My Bloody Valentine has enjoyed a plethora of critical praise, and deservedly so. With “Loveless” having been heralded as one of the best albums of the 1990’s (often in the Number 1 position). Their relatively small studio output has nevertheless left an indelible mark on modern music. Due to a combination of factors, including the bankruptcy of Creation Records, budget issues and rumors of Kevin Shield’s alleged perfectionism (although this has been denied by Deb Googe when we interviewed her a few years ago), the “follow up” to Loveless came 22 years later. Despite this gap, the band has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity and recognition, particularly as a new generation of music fans revisit the underground appeal of a band that never got so big or popular that they lost their core fans.
4. Stiff Little Fingers
Having gained additional exposure and support from BBC’s John Peel, Stiff Little Fingers broke out of the gates with their politically charged music during the hight of the “Troubles” (a term for the religious and ethnic conflicts in Northern Ireland in the late 70’s). Their conflicts with fellow Irish provocateurs The Undertones were legendary, as each band vied for media attention and time in the spotlight.
3. The Undertones
The Undertones captured the restless energy of youth in Ireland in the 1970’s, putting Ireland on the punk musical map when bans from England were gaining the majority of attention. Unlike Stiff Little Fingers, the Undertones were viewed as having less political and more personal (less “weighty”) lyrical themes.
To this day, “Teenage Kicks” stands as one of the most poignant and perfect songs about teenage angst of all time
2. U2 (no pun intended)
Admittedly, the most financially successful of all modern rock bands, U2’s history as critical darlings and trendsetters has been well documented. For an Irish band, U2 was able to appropriate certain aspects of American music (e.g., playing with B.B. King on their very americana “Rattle & Hum”) or adapting to the burgeoning “post-modern rock” landscape in the 1990’s. And while Bono has shelved the bacchanalian altered ego “MacPhisto” role in exchange for his more serious social justice advocate duties, there is no doubt that U2 has acted as world ambassadors for Irish music and culture.
Probably their most popular political song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” explores the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, recounting an incident in Derry where British troops shot and killed unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders. It is widely regarded as one of the best political protest songs of all time and is also listed smack dab in the center of Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
1. The Pogues
The Pogues are a miracle of creation, a band that somehow managed to balance punk sensibilities with traditional Irish instrumentation in a frenetic package that miraculously held together for many years despite singer Shane MacGowan’s infamous bouts of alcoholism, drug use and debauchery. There is a deep sorrow and nostalgia that permeates much of their music, with odes to lost loves and shout outs to haunts, geographical locations and beloved figures in Irish history. The Pogues repped Ireland in a way that no other band did, never compromising their sound to appeal to a wider audience. It’s kind of miraculous that they have enjoyed the critical attention and popularity in the U.S. that they have, particularly on the college radio charts of the 80’s. If there is one band that you should be playing on St. Patrick’s Day, the Pogues is that band.
Do you have any Irish rock bands that we’ve overlooked? Please share and let us know your thoughts on social media and contribute to the discussion!