Every Friday, we take a look at the way various cities from around the world have been depicted in song, choosing five of our favorites about a given city. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been on the other side of the Atlantic, visiting various locations in the UK — and this week we’re skipping across the Irish Sea to Dublin, Ireland’s capital city and the home to about a bazillion great bands over the years. As ever, this isn’t meant to be a definitive list of the best songs ever about the city, just a selection of our personal favorites — and suggestions are always welcome.
Thin Lizzy — “Dublin”
Phil Lynott grew up in Dublin, and this song captures the love/hate relationship that many of us have with our home towns — the desire to leave, the frustration at the place’s negative aspects, but also the abiding fondness and the homesickness that comes with departure. “How can I leave the town that brings me down,” asks Lynott in the song’s third verse, “That has no jobs/ Is blessed by God/ And makes me cry?”
The Boomtown Rats — “Rat Trap”
An unlikely #1 hit, this song depicted the Dublin where Bob Geldof lived in the 1970s, long before Band Aid and Paula Yates and all that. Whatever you think of Geldof these days, his band was pretty great at its peak — this picture of restive youth in a decaying inner city reads almost like a short story, tracing a Saturday night in the life of its adolescent protagonists. It could have applied to any number of places in the world, which was part of its genius, but its roots lay firmly in the city of its composer’s birth.
Paranoid Visions — “City of Screams”
There’s quite a story behind this song — apparently it was written to piss in the punch for Dublin’s 100th anniversary festivities in 1988, gleefully depicting the reality that lay beneath the publicity and celebrations. Paranoid Visions had a fondness for such antics — they also started a campaign to spraypaint the slogan “FOAD2U2” all over Dublin in the mid-1980s, a campaign that proved remarkably successful. And what did the letters stand for? “Fuck Off And Die To U2.” Speaking of whom…
U2 — “Running to Stand Still”
The Joshua Tree‘s tearjerking Side A closer is set in the area of Dublin where Bono grew up, with the “seven towers” referred to in the lyric being a group of distinctive highrises called The Ballymun Flats (which have since been demolished). The song describes the social effects of the cheap heroin that flooded the city in the 1980s, a subject that Bono had also addressed with The Unforgettable Fire highlight “Bad,” and does so with a lyrical touch that’s genuinely sad and empathetic without getting too melodramatic.
“Tim Finnegan’s Wake” (traditional)
The title of this old folk song, which has been performed by innumerable artists over the years, might sound familiar to James Joyce fans. No, we never knew that was where Joyce got the title for his “challenging” opus from, either.