In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always worth hearing.
It may be stereotypical to talk about an Irish band on St. Patrick’s Day. But Stiff Little Fingers was never a stereotype. The Belfast-bred band became a leading light of punk’s second wave in the late ’70s, directly (and heavily) influenced by The Clash while incorporating elements of passionate, anthemic Irish rock from Them to Thin Lizzy. Another Irish band of that generation, U2, made it much bigger—but no one did it better than SLF. The group’s 1979 single “At The Edge” (which also appears on its classic sophomore album, 1980’s Nobody’s Heroes) is an adolescent shout-along for the ages.
In a voice that’s youthfully enraged as well as prematurely eroded, frontman Jake Burns kicks the song off with the disgruntled couplet, “Back when I was younger they were talking at me / Never listened to a word I said.” What ensues is an onslaught of catchy, craggy catharsis that inspired legions—and injected an earnest, roughshod, underdog pride into punk when it needed it most. SLF has survived and even has a new album titled Not Going Back—its first in 11 years, and its best since the ’80s—coming out this month. It’s only fitting that Not Going Back’s fiery closing track, “When We Were Young,” samples Burns’ own legendary lines from the beginning of “At The Edge,” completing a circuit of old school, old-soul rebellion that began 35 years ago.