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 songs worth hearing. This week we ask, “What song makes you cry?”
With the release of the recent The Very Best Of The Pogues, there are now seven different greatest-hits discs by the Irish band, which is also the number of actual albums they released. Most of these compilations feature the gorgeous, traditional-sounding “Thousands Are Sailing,” from the band’s fantastic 1988 album If I Should Fall From Grace With God. (Perhaps you’ve heard the title track recently on a Subaru commercial—so incongruous, so inappropriate…) “Thousands” stands out from the rest of the Pogues’ catalog, or at least many of its hits, in that it wasn’t written by famously inebriated frontman Shane MacGowan, and that it never quite succumbs to the raucous energy the band is largely known for. But the song, composed by Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron, is nonetheless one of its most striking and touching—and so very, very Irish. Its lyrics tell the story of an emigrant—or perhaps several—who makes a trip on a “coffin ship,” but who “never even got so far that they could change my name.” Its lyrics are both massively cynical and incredibly hopeful: On the one hand, the cruel hand of fate—in the form of green-card lotteries—decides who can live above ground in the fairytale world of America; on the other, there’s death in the journey and uncertainty about the future. Ultimately, though, the song’s characters dance and celebrate the old country and the new one, stepping “hand in hand on Broadway / like the first man on the moon.” Between those odes to joy and the narrator’s admission that “when I got back to my empty room / I suppose I must have cried,” I get a little choked up every time.