Is there anything better than St. Patrick’s Day falling on a Friday? Yes. Yes there is. St. Patrick’s Day falling on the same Friday as March Madness is way better.
Full disclosure: The author of this post is neither Irish nor remotely capable of playing basketball. But we do believe in embracing the best of what other cultures have to offer. Thus, we observe both St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness the way God intended–with whiskey and gambling.
And of course, we’ve got the soundtrack for your celebration. But before we get to it, dig our Top 10 Songs to Play on St. Patrick’s Day, and (Spoiler Alert) a little background story on #1 song “Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphy’s.
10. Ween—The Blarney Stone
Two dudes from New Hope, Pennsylvania send up last call at the pub. The Irish brogues are fake but the inebriation seems pretty real.
9. The Mahones–Shakespeare Road
A Canadian-Irish band formed on St. Patrick’s Day in 1990, the Mahones cite the Pogues as a top influence, nicked a bagpiper from the Dropkick Murphy’s, and recorded this scrappy alleyway tune in 2012.
8. The Rumjacks—Irish Pub Song
Gaelic by way of Australia, The Rumjacks produced 2010’s “Irish Pub Song” as a protest against the global commercialization of Irish diaspora culture. Seeing as it routinely ranks in the Top 5 for St. Patty’s Day spins with more than 84 million views on YouTube, I guess it didn’t work.
7. The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem—The Rare Old Mountain Dew
The Clancy Brothers were among the leaders of a global Irish folk-boom that struck in the ‘60s. In fact, though, they achieved their fame as part of the Greenwich Village scene. Based on an Irish Street Song called “The Girl I Left Behind,” this ode to Irish moonshine was also composed in New York by theater legend Edward Harrigan.
6. The Pogues—If I Should Fall from Grace with God
The Pogues actually make explicit mention of “Morning Dew” in their “Fairytale of New York,” which due to its Christmastime theme, is by far the London-born band’s most popular. However, the lesser-known title track from the very same 1987 record is this thumping table jig more befitting of St. Patty’s day.
5. Flogging Molly—If I Ever Leave This World Alive
A Celtic punk band from Los Angeles, Flogging Molly recorded one of the genre’s most heart-wrenching and cathartic gems. Power-pop disguised as Irish punk.
4. The Waterboys—Fisherman’s Blues
The Waterboys were Scottish-born, but relocated to Ireland in the mid-80s. The resulting sessions produced this 1988 epic, a #3 hit on the Modern Rock Billboard chart.
3. Thin Lizzy—Whiskey in the Jar
Volumes have been written about this Irish standard, which likely originated through oral tradition in the 17th century. Dublin-born Thin Lizzy made it into a classic rock staple in 1973.
2. The Dubliners—The Rocky Road to Dublin
The Dubliners formed in 1962 and quickly rose to international renown for their rollicking take on Celtic folk music. Their 1964 version of an Irish traditional—famously referenced throughout James Joyce’s Ulysses—is a strong competitor for the definitive take.
1. Dropkick Murphy’s—Shipping Up to Boston
“Shipping Up to Boston” is perhaps the greatest Celtic punk anthem ever pressed. It is virtually impossible to separate this song from the Irish-American experience, capturing a distinctly ragged and blustery Dublin-esque dissidence.
It is a masterpiece of fewer than 30 words.
And those few words were written by a man from Oklahoma—Woody Guthrie.
Read on for the whole story (or jump to the bottom for your St. Patty’s Day Weekend Playlist)…
Shipping Up and Bubbling Under
The Dropkick Murphy’s rose to prominence in 2006 with their propulsive drum-n-bagpipe stomper, which was featured brilliantly in the opening roll for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.
Released the prior year on the The Warrior’s Code, “Shipping” propelled the Boston band to #1 on the Billboard’s “Bubbling Under” chart. This means it fell one slot shy of the Hot 100.
“Shipping Up to Boston” did achieve the unusual feat of selling more than 1 million copies without reaching that plateau.
Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912. His father was a Klansman and his mother suffered from dementia, a result of the neurodegenerative Huntington’s Disease that would also claim Woody’s life in 1967.
Woody Guthrie wasn’t necessarily Irish, but his life had the underpinnings of a classic Irish tragedy. Still, Guthrie never recorded “Shipping Up to Boston.” It was just one of countless lyrics that the groundbreaking songwriter and activist left behind in his premature death.
Exile on Mermaid Ave.
It was well known to many at the time that a remarkable trove of unpublished songs sat in stacks in Guthrie’s Coney Island home. Indeed, Bob Dylan stood first in line to inherit the material as one who sat bedside to Guthrie in his final days. Dylan tells an amusing story in his autobiographical Chronicles, Volume 1, wherein he went to retrieve the songs. Woody’s young son Arlo answered the door. Neither he nor the babysitter could locate the box of unpublished lyrics. Dylan left empty-handed.
Years later, Woody’s daughter Nora officially undertook the effort to pair her father’s songs with the right artists. She contacted British folk singer Billy Bragg, who in turn invited Wilco to join him.
As it happens, they met in Ireland to record the Guthrie tunes that would make up 1998’s excellent Mermaid Avenue.
Still, “Shipping Up to Boston” remained untouched.
Ken Casey Gets a Call
Fortunately, Nora Guthrie remained committed to expanding her father’s legacy.
And as it happens, Nora’s son was a fan of an Irish punk band from Quincy, Massachusetts called the Dropkick Murphys. Forming in 1996 around lead singer and bassist Ken Casey, the band has undergone numerous lineup changes. Casey is the only original member to remain in the band throughout its history.
It was thus that in the early 2000s, Nora invited Ken Casey to sift through her father’s remaining archives. Among other things, he spotted the line “I’m a sailor peg, and I lost my leg.”
The whole thing was written on a loose fragment of paper.
At first, the imagery struck Casey as funny. But the reference to Boston remained with him.
Still, he didn’t immediately slate it for recording. He filed it away in his brain, instead putting music to Guthrie’s “Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight” and releasing it on 2003’s Blackout.
Two years later, the Dropkick Murphy’s were in the studio toying with a wordless composition for their upcoming fifth studio album. The image of the sailor with the wooden leg popped back into Casey’s head.
If Casey was amused by the image at first, the result was no novelty. “Shipping Up to Boston” is at once menacing and melodic; ferocious and delicious—like what happens when you drop a shot of Jameson and Bailey’s into a half-pint of Guinness.
Speaking of which, here’s a soundtrack for your weekend celebration. Happy St. Patty’s Day!