Roddy Doyle: 50 Songs I Love

As classic novel The Commitments prepares to hit the stage for the first time, its author Roddy Doyle talks us through 50 songs he loves and the ones that make him proud to be Irish.
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As classic novel The Commitments prepares to hit the stage for the first time, its author Roddy Doyle talks us through 50 songs he loves and the ones that make him proud to be Irish.

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1. ‘Tired of Being Alone’ – Al Green:

The sound of joy pretending to be misery. Whenever I listen to it I hear other songs trying to escape, and Al Green fighting happily to get the one song to the end.

2. ‘God’s River’ – Emmett Miller:

Songs and rivers: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song about a river that I didn’t like, and this is my favourite. It’s the voice that does it, recorded in 1929.

3. ‘Andalucia’ – John Cale:

My favourite love song. It even has the words, ‘I love you’, although they should be viewed this way to be fully appreciated: ‘I luh-uh-uh-uh-uv youuuuuuuuu’.

4. ‘Fake Empire’ – The National:

A great song from the beginning, and it gets better as it gets bigger and just when you think it might be perfect, the trumpet arrives.

5. ‘Hormones’ – Tracey Thorn:

Middle-age and parenthood are rock ‘n’ roll. A wonderful voice and great lyrics.

Three in a row:

6. ‘Heroes’ – David Bowie:

7. ‘The Passenger’ – Iggy Pop:

8. ‘Exodus’ – Bob Marley:

I heard these three for the first time in a bar in Dusseldorf in 1977, when I was 19. They were brand new, just released. I’m tempted to write ‘Life was never quite the same again’, but I won’t.
9. ‘September’ – Earth, Wind & Fire:

A great walking-up-to-the-pub song. If I’m going the long way, I play ‘Boogie Wonderland.’

Doyle's 1987 novel The Commitments is now a West End musical.

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10. ‘People’s Parties’ – Joni Mitchell:

The way Mitchell sings it, the song seems relentless, endless, but the surprise is it’s so short, just over two minutes. Mitchell’s guitar strings have a unique squeak.

11. ‘Downbound Train’ – Kurt Vile:

I love good cover versions, and this a great one. Vile does Springsteen; the young lad sings the oul’ lad.

12. ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ – Harry Nilsson:

A great walking-home-from-the-bookies song, regardless of result. The harmonica covers all moods and occasions.

13. ‘Say A Little Prayer’ – Aretha Franklin:

The greatest achievement of the last millennium.

14. ‘This Is’ – Aslan.

The other band from the Northside of Dublin. I was a teacher when this song was released and it seemed to describe what I was seeing every day.

15. ‘Gloria’ – Patti Smith

A great new song welded to a great old song, and my favourite line: ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.’

16. ‘The Mercy Seat’ – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

One of rock’s great story tellers, and this is a great story.

17. ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ – Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

More joy masquerading as misery. If I’m ever left, I hope it’s this way.

18. ‘Sweet Talkin’ Guy’ – The Chiffons

Why would a 12-year-old boy have loved listening to four African-American women singing, ‘Stay away from him, stay away from him’? I’m not sure, but I still do.

19. ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ – The Temptations

Every moment is just glorious.

20. ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’ – Tom Waits

It must have been hard to come up with a song that lived up to the title, but Tom managed it.

21. ‘Desolation Row’ – Bob Dylan

My favourite song.

22. ‘Autumn in New York’ – Billie Holiday

She seems to be struggling through what, from another mouth, would be a forgettable song. It’s beautiful, unsettling, sad, wonderful.

23. ‘Please Forgive My Heart’ – Bobby Womack

A strange mix of old, gravelly voice and modern dippy-dippy instrumentation, as if Womack had wandered into the wrong studio and decided to stay.

24. ‘Staub’ – Bohren & Der Club of Gore

I don’t know if this is, strictly speaking, a song, but it’s brilliant. I listen to these lads when I’m working.

25. ‘Girls Talk’ – Dave Edmunds

It’s true, and it should be celebrated. I played this a lot when I was writing The Snapper.

26. ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’ – The Four Tops

This is the one for my funeral. ‘Darl-ih-in’ reach ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-out – ’

27. ‘In the Ghetto’ – Elvis Presley

It could have been corny, but every note seems true. He really was the King.

28. ‘Fool’s Gold’ – Graham Parker & The Rumour

All great songs should have great endings, and the end of this one is magnificent.

29. ‘Days of Fire’ – Nitin Sawhney (feat. Natty)

A horrific event condensed into three minutes of thought-provoking, chilling, simple, beautiful music.

30. ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ (live) – Otis Redding.

Unbelievable.

31. ‘Your Love Is Calling My Name’ – The War on Drugs

This is why the car was invented.

32. ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

He could sing and play the trumpet – the fuckin’ prick.

33. ‘Vigilante Man’ – Hindu Love Gods

Warren Zevon and REM make a great rock song out of a great folk song. I love the harmonica.

34. ‘Sho’ You Right’ – Barry White

I’m sure there’s an inner Barry White inside me somewhere, but I’ve never managed to find him. I saw him live once, and he asserted, ‘Dublin is the love city’, without even smiling.

35. ‘I’ll Fly Away’ – Dessie O’Halloran

An Irish fiddle player sings American gospel. It makes me wish I was a Christian.

36. ‘Don’t Worry About the Government’ – Talking Heads

In the middle of all the punk anger, this strange voice arrived; David Byrne seemed to take mundane, half-meant, heard-before statements, and make something new and fascinating out of them. This song is a novel.

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37. ‘Have You Seen Her?’ – The Chi-Lites

‘Why’ is one of pop’s vital words, and these lads throw everything at it: ‘Whyyyy – oh – whyeeeee did she have to leave and – go a-wayyyy.’

38. ‘London Calling’ – The Clash.

This one is so packed, but clear – and timeless. Another great song with a river in it.

39. ‘Roadrunner’ – Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers

Every time I play this one, I immediately play it again.

40. ‘What Goes On’ – The Velvet Underground

It’s the rhythm guitar and the organ, and the lead guitar and drums, and Lou Reed’s voice and the lyrics.

41. ‘Husbands’ – Savages

I bought their new album for my daughter a few days ago, and this song immediately reminded me of so much music I’ve loved for years, but it still sounds new. I listen to ‘Husbands . . . husbands . . . husbands’, and I hear Patti Smith going, ‘Horses . . . horses . . . horses.’

42. ‘Surf’s Up’ – The Beach Boys

This one is just so beautiful, and the repeated ‘child, child, child, child, child’ moves me more the older I get.

43. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – Joy Division

Stirring and frightening – just brilliant. More than thirty years later, I still don’t quite anticipate the start; it’s always a bit of a shock.

44. ‘Up The Junction’ – Squeeze

I hear that opening drumbeat and I know I’m going to be listening to one of the best songs I’ve known.

45. ‘Wichita Lineman’ – Glen Campbell

I think it’s the little moments in the song that make a song great, and this one is packed with them – the bass at the start, the strings, the guitar solo, and the geography. ‘Limerick Lineman’ just wouldn’t have worked.

46. ‘Show Biz Kids’ – Steely Dan

I don’t think I’d heard such sophistication in rock music before, or the word ‘fuck’ in a lyric. I was hooked.

47. ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’ – Howlin’ Wolf

The voice – Jesus! I reckon if I’d had a voice like that when I was teacher, keeping kids quiet and sedentary on Friday afternoons wouldn’t have been a problem.

48. ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted’ – Jimmy Ruffin

Sometimes the backing vocals make a song great – ‘Oooh – wuh – ooooooh’.

49. ‘Lost Highway’ – Hank Williams

Hank Williams was long dead when I first heard this, and I couldn’t help thinking that he was dead when he sang it, and dead but in the room while I listened to it.

50. ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ – The Undertones

A dance-able tune about mental illness – the Undertones make me proud to be Irish.

The Commitments, Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel is now live on stage for the very first time, opening 21st September.

The show, which has been more than two years in the making, has been adapted from the novel by Booker prize winning author Doyle himself and will be directed by award winning Jamie Lloyd (the man behind the recent production of Macbeth starring James McAvoy).

Follow The Commitments on Twitter @Thecommitments

or visit their website: www.thecommitmentslondon.com

Buy 'Two Pints' on Amazon