JTF’s HS Jams Review — 5) Dropkick Murphys “Sing Loud, Sing Proud”

Released February 6, 2001; Produced by Ken Casey

I spent a large portion of my college years bussing tables, serving, washing dishes, sweeping, rolling silverware, filling sugars, consolidating steak sauces, barbacking, breaking up fights, babysitting drunks and eating chicken tenders at the Kingsport O’Charley’s. I learned a lot about myself in those days — primarily how to “sing for my supper,” how to pick up other people’s slack if it meant a bigger payday for me, how to flirt with old ladies and how to microwave a hoodie to make it warmer when it was cold outside. 

I also met one of my best friends, Jon. When Jon started, he presented himself as a self-absorbed and shallow preppy boy that would surely be my arch-rival. It wasn’t long, however, before he and I were both a part of a conversation about Justin Timberlake, an artist he and I both loved. A co-worker was trying to insult JT by saying he was “gay” and Jon replied by saying “Hey, the man has been banging Britney Spears — I can only PRAY to be half as gay as him one day!” From that moment on, Jon and I were bros. We shared the cocktail section numerous times, closed the dining room down as often as we could, had way too much to drink on more than a few occasions and even had quite a memorable bros’ weekend in Gatlinburg. 

Back when he was skinny and I was … not skinny

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that in November of 2006, Jon and I made a plan to shut down the dining room as quickly as we could so we could ride up to the local Wal-Mart and stand in line for the midnight release of Guitar Hero 2 for the PS2. After procuring the game and accompanying guitar controller, we headed back to my parents’ house where we proceeded to play the entire game until 4am. We blasted through Cherry Pie, Beast and the Harlot and John the Fisherman before deciding to stand while playing Free Bird.

This was my first Guitar Hero game — I’d go on to buy the first and third installments as well as Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, all for the PS2. Needless to say, despite being able to play an actual guitar, I certainly put my time in playing those ridiculous games. But just like anything good, there were some annoying things. 

Take for instance the number of people I saw posting photos of themselves in concert poses with their Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band gear using captions that made it sound like they were taking themselves seriously as musicians because of their video game talent. My now-brother-in-law telling me that playing the video game is loads more difficult than playing a real guitar and, my favorite, people who enjoy music they’ve never heard before those games and choosing to not pursue it any further past that … meaning they associated classic, even monumental songs, with a video game.

I don’t know why that irritates me so much but it does. It started when I paid $1 to play White Zombie’s Thunderkiss ‘65 on the jukebox at O’Charley’s. I was so hyped to hear such a rowdy song only to have a hostess walk in shouting “YES! GUITAR HERO!” 

I only bring this up because it later happened when someone saw me wearing a Dropkick Murphys shirt. The design was made to look like the Jack Daniels logo, which I admit is a bit cliche these days, but it was cool nonetheless. I had stopped playing Guitar Hero at this point and had no idea that Famous for Nothing, (F)lannigan’s Ball, Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya and The State of Massachusetts were all downloadable content on later versions of the games. It was cool to get a compliment on my punk band t-shirt but irritating that the only reason they knew it was because they play video games.

To be fair, Guitar Hero 2 introduced me to The Sword and Wolfmother — both bands that I would pursue outside of gameplay and become a fan of — but that’s where the difference lies. Sure, these kids knew two or three Dropkick songs but had they bothered digging into Do or Die? Had they ever listened to The Gang’s All Here? Had they ever thrashed about to Blackout

Guitar Hero didn’t come out until after I had graduated high school and at that point I had been a longstanding Dropkick fan and had even seen them in concert. Living in Kingsport, Tennessee, when the internet as we know it today didn’t exist, it was very difficult to be exposed to punk rock or literally any other type of music that wasn’t pop, classic rock or country. I knew the classic punk albums and was constantly being turned on to more modern bands like New Bomb Turks and Anti-Flag from friends who were plugged into the scene through older siblings. I got my taste of more modern punk bands, however, through the Punk-O-Rama series — compilation albums put together by punk label Epitaph Records. 

In 2000, Punk-O-Rama 5 was released and included songs by NOFX, ALL, Millencolin, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Rancid, Guttermouth, the Dwarves, 98 Mute, H20, Pennywise, the Voodoo Glow Skulls and, you guessed it, the Dropkick Murphys. Good Rats tells the fateful story about how some rats fell into a tub of Guinness during the brewing process and the morbid accident created the delicious stout that has been renowned by wannabe beer snobs and Target pajama sections for years. It was such a catchy song with lots of singalongs, a gritty punker attitude and an infectious “1! 2! 1-2-3-4!” chant that you can’t help but scream at the top of your lungs.

I loved the sound so much that I almost immediately marched up to the local Circuit City (the best CD selection in town at the time) and picked up their third album … 

5 – Dropkick Murphys — Sing Loud, Sing Proud!

In all their time before and even after, I would argue that there’s no better way to start a Dropkick album than the opening track on Sing Loud, Sing Proud! I remember popping the CD in for the first time and hearing a roaring crowd taking over my speakers chanting Let’s go Murphys! — a chant the crowd pulls together moments before the band hits the stage every night. After a few chants, a military-esque drum roll (played by Matt Kelly) kicks in, followed by larger-than-life bagpipes. The rowdy traditional folk song quickly turns into a punk-rock-thrasher as the full band enters to perform the fight song of Boston College entitled simply, For Boston. In little more than 60 seconds, the band not only provides an accurate representation of what they’re all about sonically but also the unique folk and punk elements that built them with a taste of their live energy for good measure.

I’ll take this time to clarify that while the Dropkick Murphys have an Irish flare from time to time, I’m always hesitant to refer to them as an Irish punk band — primarily because the guys are from Boston so by definition they’re an American punk band. I think, however, that when a band chooses to include bagpipes, accordions, tin whistles, mandolins and dulcimers that they automatically get labeled an Irish band when in reality they’re simply utilizing folk elements, thereby classifying them as a folk-punk band. 

The Dubliners? Now that’s Irish. Dropkick Murphys? Not quite. 

Now that that’s cleared up … 

Strong elements on this record include The Legend of Finn MacCumhail, Which Side Are You On?, Heroes From Our Past and The Fortunes of War. On The Legend of Finn MacCumhail, the band retells a heroic story of an Irish folk legend who put great emphasis on being brave in the face of adversity — May your heart grow bolder like an iron-clad brigade” said this leader to his outnumbered lot. Classic punk-rock sound throughout, punctured by the working-class harmony of vocalists Al Barr and Ken Casey. Speaking of working class, Which Side Are You On? is a Forence Reece cover that drives home the importance of unionizing to poor mining families that comes with a fierce bullying in the chorus that makes the listener want to gulp before answering, lest they give the wrong response to the song title’s question.

Heroes From Our Past draws parallels with the aforementioned working man with the Irish Republican Army (made of volunteer civilians). The IRA was created in the early 20th Century and was formed to fight against the British in the Irish War of Independence. Both the IRA and labor unions share similar ideals, though on different scales, and both make for great punk rock material. The Fortunes of War is a heartbreaking saga about a teenager who was murdered by his high school’s entire football team. After being jumped, one of the players ran over him with his car, killing him instantly, and the killer received no jail time. We currently live in an age where white “all-American” athletes make the news frequently because of their ability to commit heinous crimes and get off freely because of their jock status, but this song clearly states this was a problem even 20 years before the big news stories of today.

I primarily mention the lyrical / storyline elements of the above strong songs simply to point out how the Dropkick Murphys use stories in their punk rock in the same way Johnny Cash did in his country. If there was ever a Storytellers tour for punkers, the DKM would be the headliners as it’s part of what makes their music so strong to begin with.

Now let’s talk about my favorites:

Rocky Road to Dublin

If you want to hear a great story with a catchy melody and a chorus you’ll surely want to sing along with, this is your jam. It’s my favorite Dropkick song of all time and yes, I do somehow know all the words. The song itself is an old 19th-Century folk song with covers by the Dubliners, The Pogues, the Chieftains, Gaelic Storm and a slew of others. What the Dropkick Murphys add to this saga, however, is a fast-paced, high-energy vibe that lends itself to the chaotic story lived by the song’s storyline — an Irishman who leaves home to find riches only to find that he’s met with hostility by everyone he encounters. 

The Gauntlet

Rolling drums kick off this banger about coming together with your brethren to face battles — whether that’s in actual war, in gang violence, during workplace struggles or even in violent protests. I love the Ken Casey-led chorus but my favorite part of the entire song is the guitar solo dropped in the middle, no doubt played by the talented “Kid” Marc Orrell. 

I’d like to take this chance to point out that that ripping guitar solo played by Marc happened when he joined the band in the year 2000. Marc was 17 years old when he joined the band and I implore you to watch him play his guitar in the below video playing this very song. It’s unreal and what a killer opportunity for someone his age to get to play in such a great band!

A Few Good Men

Just as relevant today as it was when it was recorded 21 years ago, A Few Good Men speaks of the importance of putting aside your differences to fight against a common enemy. These days, I see so many instances of people arguing who at the core actually agree with each other! This is within religions, political parties or just in individual music scenes. This song also has another great example of the Dropkick Murphys writing great singalong choruses, this one in particular reflecting the title of the album — Join us in a song, we shall rise and sing; stand up and be counting, sing a song for liberty; Join us in a song, together we shall sing; rise up and be counting, sing it loud, sing it proud!

Spicy McHaggis Jig

And after 15 songs depicting sagas of war and the mistreatment of the lower class, the unsettled nature of the working man and rats helping make sub-par beer, The Spicy McHaggis Jig ends things on a lighter note and is all about the band’s bagpipe player liking to get blackout drunk and taking home extra-large women. It, like so many others, involves seas of singing crowds chanting the choruses, droning bagpipes that became a staple of the DKM sound and a lighthearted-and-fun message that was designed to make you dance, chant and let your girlfriend get on stage at the end of the night.

I can hear some of you now — Justin, you bitched about people saying the Dropkick Murphys are an Irish band but basically every song you talked about was about something Irish — also: BAGPIPES! 

I maintain my truths — nobody in this band is from Ireland, they’re merely a folk-punk band who frequently speak about Irish topics. Sepultura put out a concept album based on A Clockwork Orange and that doesn’t make them a novel-metal band in the same way that singing about Celtic folklore doesn’t make DKM Irish. Also: bagpipes are not inherently Irish, and I would just about bet the association most people have with them is really Scottish. People who follow this line of thinking have erred in a magnificent way. 

The band’s followup album was a live record called Live on St. Patrick’s Day and it accurately represents their high-energy set with very little downtime between songs (26 tracks clocking in at 74 minutes). Having seen them live twice, I know their energy and I know their live album accurately reflects it, however, I feel like Sing Loud, Sing Proud! does their energy justice in a studio album format. I can’t tell you how many times I sped down John B. Dennis Highway belting out Rocky Road to Dublin wearing my Boston Celtics-style DKM t-shirt. I’ve even recaptured some of that passion I had for these guys again in re-listening to the record during the writing of this post.

Sing Loud, Sing Proud! didn’t exactly tear up the charts, but who would really expect it to? A bunch of hard-to-classify, working class punkers singing about fighting the man (sometimes drunkenly) while playing folk instruments aren’t exactly who you’d imagine winning Grammys or having their faces painted all over MTV. The album peaked at 144 on the US charts — part of a trend where they got continuously more successful with each record (1998’s Do Or Die didn’t chart, 1999’s The Gang’s All Here hit 184, 2003’s Blackout hit 83, 2005’s The Warrior’s Code went to 48, 2007’s The Meanest of Times got up to 20 and their top performing record, 2011’s Going Out in Style made it to number 6. 

Certainly Guitar Hero and heavy usage across TV and film certainly helped these guys … but they didn’t really need it. Sing Loud, Sing Proud! showed they had everything it took to be where they are today all the way back in the year 2000.

Call it the luck of the … Bostonians.

See you next week.

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