. . .
Did you know that “Dirty Old Town” celebrates its 70th birthday this year? That’s right, it was written back in 1949 by Ewan MacColl — father of Kirsty MacColl, who of course sang on “Fairytale of New York” — and has been covered countless times, by luminaries ranging from the Dubliners to the Mountain Goats to U2 to Rod Stewart, who used to to close his first solo album.
But as far as I’m concerned, the definitive version was recorded by the Pogues; so definitive that a casual listener might not know that they didn’t write it.
And that’s because of of the singing of Shane MacGowan, who totally and utterly inhabits the song from the opening lyrics:
I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town
It’s weird to say that MacGowan outsings even Rod Stewart — because c’mon — but Stewart’s version uses a tricksy arrangement in order to allow him to distance himself from the dirty old town, whereas every word coming from MacGowan’s mouth is covered with grime and filth, especially the way he twists around “canal” to just about rhyme with “wall.”
He’s right there, and so are we. And that’s everything.
BTW, did you know that the Pogues did a pretty excellent cover of future Certain Song “Maggie May?” Just so you know I haven’t gone insane, MacGowan doesn’t come close to Stewart’s on that one, making his achievement on “Dirty Old Town” even more remarkable.
And so while the arrangement is pretty traditional — banjo, accordion, pipes, fiddle, loads of pipes — it doesn’t even matter, as verse after verse, MacGowan gives us a tour, pointing out the sights, sounds and smells of the dirty old town, finally kissing his girl one last time at the end.
Like nearly all of the Pogues singles, “Dirty Old Town” didn’t fare very well on any charts — not even in Ireland, where it barely scraped the top 30 — but it also hasn’t ever gone away, either.
“Dirty Old Town”
“Dirty Old Town” live in Japan, 1988
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