Study abroad playlist: An Irish classic rock soundtrack
Angie, our University of Limerick and US Ambassador, shares her top classic rock picks for your study abroad adventure..
Classic rock has always been there for me, you can tell from my profile picture (for those who don’t know, I am standing next to the Phil Lynott statue). It’s been my special interest since I was a teenager. Whenever I go to another country, I look up what the music scenes were like there in the 60s and 70s. I write a blog called The Diversity of Classic Rock, all about classic rockers from all walks of life.
Naturally, when I got to Ireland, I looked up as much as I could about Irish rock bands and found out that Ireland has made a significant contribution to rock music. In fact, there has been a huge impact on our neighbouring Britain and many British rockers are partially of Irish descent.
First, let’s start with a little history. Irish rock was born from showbands. A showband is a music group that played at the dancehalls and clubs. Their music was influenced by American and British music of the time period. Don’t mock showbands though, because they were where musicians like Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher started.
We’re going to start off our Irish rock and roll soundtrack with Them, Ireland’s first internationally famous rock band, formed in Belfast in 1964. You probably know the name Van Morrison and the song ‘Gloria,’ which has been covered by many bands. Well, this is the band that launched him into stardom. If you like The Rolling Stones and The Animals, you’ll love Them! Other songs I recommend are ‘Mystic Eyes,’ ‘I’m Gonna Dress in Black,’ and ‘Bright Lights, Big City.’ Van Morrison also had a very successful solo career starting in the late 60s and continuing through the 70s and beyond, being known for the Top 10 hits ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Domino.’
Meanwhile in the Republic of Ireland, blues rock band Taste were formed in Cork in 1966 by Rory Gallagher. They opened for Blind Faith and performed at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Both of their studio albums, Taste and On The Boards, are excellent. Some songs I would recommend are ‘Blister On The Moon,’ ‘Born On The Wrong Side of Time,’ and ‘What’s Going On.’
Eire Apparent formed in Belfast in 1967 and only released one album. A few famous names are associated with this band. Henry McCullough from Wings was in this band and Jimi Hendrix contributed some guitar and produced their album. If you like psychedelic rock, then you’ll love this band. Some highlights from their album Sun Rise include ‘Yes I Need Someone,’ ‘The Clown,’ ‘Someone is Sure to Want You,’ and ‘Mr Guy Fawkes.’
Granny’s Intentions were from Limerick. They released a few singles in the late 60s, but they were never that well known. Gary Moore was a guest musician on one of their albums. Some songs I recommend of theirs are ‘With Salty Eyes, Dirty Lies’ and ‘Nutmeg, Bitter-Sweet.’
Sean Byrne was originally from Ireland and immigrated to the United States and joined San Jose, California band The Count Five in the mid 60s. He was the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of the band. The band released only one album in 1966, Psychotic Reaction and broke up in 1969, but they are well remembered in the garage rock world. I like the songs ‘Psychotic Reaction,’ ‘Double Decker Bus,’ and ‘Peace of Mind.’
Rory Gallagher released his first solo album in 1971. He was born at Rock Hospital in Ballyshannon, County Donegal. His music is very blues rock. Throughout his solo career he wrote and recorded great songs. He was known for his passion for music and playing guitar and dedicated his life to recording albums and touring. In fact, during the Troubles he often played concerts in Belfast. He called Belfast his second home. My favourite songs of his are ‘Just The Smile,’ ‘I Fall Apart,’ ‘A Million Miles Away,’ ‘Shadowplay,’ and ‘Philby.’
Skid Row were a blues/prog rock band formed in Dublin in 1967. The members were Brendan Shiels, Noel Bridgeman, and Gary Moore (who was originally from Belfast). Phil Lynott was in this band before he founded Thin Lizzy. Only a couple of recorded and released songs with Phil Lynott as frontman exist – ‘New Faces, Old Places” and ‘Misdemeanour Dream Felicity.’ Phil Lynott was fired from the band because there was a problem with his tonsils and he got them removed, therefore taking a break from the band. One album by Skid Row worth listening to is 34 Hours.
Gary Moore released an album in 1973 called Grinding Stone, which combines blues rock and progressive rock. My favourite songs on the album are ‘Grinding Stone,’ ‘Time to Heal,’ and ‘Spirit.’ In 1985, Gary Moore and Phil Lynott released the single, ‘Out in the Fields,’ which is a song about the Troubles.
Thin Lizzy were founded in 1969 by Phil Lynott and Brian Downey. In Ireland, they are widely considered the most loved Irish rock band. Their biggest hits are “Whiskey in the Jar” and “The Boys are Back in Town,” the latter being a major classic rock staple worldwide. Throughout the 70s they evolved in sound, from a more blues rock and psychedelic sound (The Hendrix inspired ‘Ray Gun’ comes to mind) to a hard rock, almost heavy metal sound in the mid 70s. There’s a little something for everyone in Thin Lizzy. My favourite albums of theirs are Fighting, Jailbreak, and Black Rose: A Rock Legend.
Their earlier albums have some songs about Phil Lynott’s hometown of Dublin like ‘The Friendly Ranger At Clontarf Castle’ and ‘Dublin.’ Some other Irish themed songs are ‘Eire,’ ‘Whiskey in the Jar,’ a cover of a trad song; ‘Banshee,’ an instrumental with an Irish mythology themed title; and ‘Emerald’ with that memorable Celtic guitar riff.
And of course, the epic ‘Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend,’ which marries Irish trad and hard rock. The best part of the song, in my opinion, is all the references made to Irish icons, using word play like “While William Butler waits,” “And Oscar, he’s going Wilde,” “That Georgie knows Best,” and “But Van is the man.”
Horslips were a Celtic Rock band. Their best-known song is ‘Dearg Doom’ from the album The Táin, a concept album based on the Táin Bó Cúailnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley. The song was famously performed on the BBC music show Old Grey Whistle Test. A lot of their songs are about Celtic Mythology. Their best-known album is the concept album The Book of Invasions, based on the book of the same name. This would be the album of theirs I would recommend the most.
The Boomtown Rats were a punk rock band. Best known member from that band is Bob Geldof who is known for his philanthropic work. The band were from Dún Laoghaire, a suburb of Dublin. They formed in 1975 and released their first single in 1976, ‘Lookin’ After No. 1.’ They were best known for the number one hits ‘Rat Trap’ and ‘I Don’t Like Mondays.’ Other songs I like by them are ‘Keep it Up,’ ‘Nothing Happened Today,’ and ‘Nice N Neat.’
Stiff Little Fingers were a punk band from Belfast. They formed in 1977 and released their first album, Inflammable Material in 1979. Many songs on the album are about The Troubles, the political and nationalistic conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 60s to the late 90s. Their best-known song, “Alternative Ulster” is on that album. Other good songs on the album are ‘Wasted Life,’ ‘No More of That,’ ‘Barbed Wire Love,’ ‘Here We Are Nowhere,’ and ‘Rough Trade.’
The Undertones were a punk rock band from Northern Ireland. They formed in the mid 70s in Derry and released their first singles in 1979. Their early singles such as ‘Teenage Kicks,’ ‘Get Over You,’ ‘Jimmy Jimmy,’ ‘Here Comes the Summer,’ and ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)’ were among their most successful on the charts with most of those songs making the Top 40 in the UK.
Can’t make a list of Irish rock bands without mentioning U2. They formed in Dublin in 1976 and in the beginning had a punk and later post-punk sound. There’s a whole playlist on YouTube of their late 70s material, before they launched to fame with their 1980 debut, Boy. Internationally, U2 are the best known Irish rock band and one of the top bands in album sales.
Even today, there’s great rock music coming out of Ireland such as Northern Ireland’s Snow Patrol, Dublin psychedelic garage rock band The Urges, Cavan blues rock band The Strypes, Dublin’s The Coronas, and Two Door Cinema Club from County Down.
Hope this playlist helps you pass the time until you come to Ireland! I promise that your arrival will not feel like it’s A Million Miles Away.