Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988, the Waterboys released the album Fisherman’s Blues. It was officially the fourth full-length studio release from the motley and ever-shifting crew of musicians Scotsman Mike Scott assembled around him, and it was a particularly transformational outing for the band. Anthemic pop songs were previously the order of business, not altogether unlike the material from any number of bands hailing from the same general region, from Big Country to Simple Minds to — suddenly the most commercially successful of them all — U2.
Whether or not Scott was actively angling for a change to differentiate his outfit from that lot (and he is a cantankerous enough fellow that such agitation was quite possible), he found his way to it after moving to Dublin. Surrounded by traditional Irish music, Scott begin tilting his songwriting in that direction. He started recruited musicians to help him realize the earthy, expansive songs. The Waterboys were officially a trio when they recorded their previous record, the sterling This is the Sea, but now their rehearsal space started to resemble the stateroom in A Night at the Opera. Scott came to refer to this iteration of the Waterboys as the “Raggle Taggle band.”
A large band deserves songs that stretch out to accommodate them, and Scott wrote some dandies for Fisherman’s Blues. Other songs are arguably better, but none stir as much nostalgia for me as “And a Bang on the Ear.” Over nine minutes long, the lyrics largely catalog past loves, moved on but still occupying wistful territory within the heart. I was young, so much younger than today, when used to spin the song during my late night shift at the college radio station, but I already understood the emotions that animated the song. Before long, I had my own Lindsay, Nora, Deborah, Bella, and Krista. “And a Bang on the Ear” reminded me to value everything my time with them provided, even when — especially when — heartache was involved.
Listen or download —> The Waterboys, “And a Bang on the Ear”
(Disclaimer: I believe Fisherman’s Blues to be available as a physical item that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner than compensate both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist. I am sharing this song as encouragement to engage in that commerce rather than as an alternative to it. Every last track on the album is a gem. If you’ve only got the on I’ve posted here, you don’t have enough. I believe I am sharing this under the legal principle of fair use, but I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove it from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)