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The cries of protest ranged from “It’s too hard!”, “There’s too many!”, “I love them all” to “This is impossible!”. But, nevertheless, we prevailed. The fraught situation – asking Rory Gallagher fans to share with Wired For Sound their top three songs by the great man and why they chose those particular ones. Rory has perhaps some of the keenest fans in music, it’s heartening to see. Rory passed away in 1995, but in a sense, through the love of his fans, and work of his family to keep his legacy alive, he hasn’t really left us.
For the uninitiated, William Rory Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland on 2 March 1948 to Monica and Danny Gallagher. The family then moved to Derry City, where on 9 August 1949, Rory’s younger brother Dònal was born. It was in Derry that Rory first encountered the blues as a young child via the American Forces Network, aimed at the American troops then stationed in Derry, which was picked the family’s radio. Dònal recalled running from the room, terrified at the voices coming through the radio. Soon Rory, was wanting a guitar, an instrument he first caught sight of via Roy Rogers. Danny Gallagher, himself a talented musician, and also an Ulster accordion champion, was a little perplexed. Guitars were not a common thing in Ireland then, and at first he though Rory may have meant a banjo. Danny then asked his friend Charlie McGee to the house, who also brought his guitar. In Dònal’s words “Rory’s eyes were like saucers.”
Rory initially started out on a Woolworths plastic Elvis ukulele, but at the age of 9, when the family moved to Cork, Monica Gallagher’s home town, he got his first acoustic guitar. From then, there was no stopping him. He studied guitar relentlessly and played small shows around the city. He won a talent contest at the age of 13, when he got his first electric guitar. Age 14, he joined the Fontana Showband, and the following year, bought the Fender Stratocaster that became famous as the battered guitar which was his preferred instrument the rest of his life. Through the Fontana, which later became The Impact, Rory gained a lot of experience gigging throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe. Following the disbanding of The Impact, Rory formed the first Taste in 1966, and Dònal joined him working as the group’s roadie.
With a line-up change in 1968, Taste went on to become a popular power trio. Their huge moment came at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970, where they played six encores to a rapturous crowd of about 600,000 – the band had agreed to split just before the show! Following the breakup, Rory went solo, recruiting Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell on drums in 1971. As a solo artist, he would become famous for his high-octane live shows. He also stuck to forging his own path, eschewing the usual trends and whims of the music industry. Some didn’t understand it, and even found it frustrating, but Rory remained his own man. His band went through some line-up changes. Gerry remained as bassist for over 20 years. Other members included drummer Rod de’Ath, pianist Lou Martin, followed by drummer Ted McKenna after the demise of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and then Brendan O’Neill, who had played drums in groups around Belfast as a teenager with Gerry. Later Mark Feltham was a regular guest on harmonica.
Rory passed away on 14 June 1995 after contracting MRSA following a liver transplant. If you have yet to hear his music, the following list is an excellent guide to start.
30 – Big Guns
Appears on the album Jinx (1981).
A meaty blues-rock number with a memorable riff.
29 – Should’ve Learnt My Lesson
Appears on the album Deuce (1971).
Sounds like it was lifted via time machine from 1950s Chicago blues.
28 – Secret Agent
Appears on the album Calling Card (1976).
A song of romantic subterfuge and private detectives, which Rory performed both on electric and acoustic guitar, with a killer slide solo.
27 – Brute Force And Ignorance
Appears on the album Photo Finish (1978). Also Notes From San Francisco (2011).
The tale of a quiet town, which has its peace shattered by a raucous band.
“…it was the first Rory song I learned to play on the guitar” Amy Zing Redford
26 – Continental Op
Appears on the album Defender (1987).
Inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s short stories featuring a character of the same name. Rory was a big fan of hard-boiled detective fiction and it worked into his songwriting.
25 – I Wonder Who
Appears on the live album Irish Tour ’74 (1974).
A Muddy Waters song, covered by Rory. Rory did many covers of classic blues, putting his own spin on them. Muddy was his hero and one of Rory’s career highlights was to play with him on The London Muddy Waters Sessions album, released in 1972.
24 – Blister On The Moon
Appears on the eponymous Taste album (1969).
Rory writing psychedelic blues – perhaps dates back to his time in the Impact and certainly was written in his teens.
23 – Out On The Western Plain
Appears on the album Against The Grain (1975)
A Lead Belly song, given a unique spin by Rory using a Celtic tuning on acoustic guitar.
22 – Follow Me
Appears on the album Top Priority (1979)
An optimistic song that perhaps hints at Rory’s preference for his own path.
“…it’s the first track I heard back in ’82, when I was 16 years old.” Joanne Harpley
21 – Last Of The Independents
Appears on the album Photo Finish (1978). Also the live album Stage Struck (1980)
Complete with an earworm of a guitar riff, some have hinted that to them this describes Rory to a tee.
20 – Going To My Hometown
Appears on the live album Live In Europe (1972)
With Rory on mandolin, this one was a live favourite which often brought the house down.
“Mainly from brilliant tributes gig and Ballyshannon and great memories.” Ann Massey
(The International Rory Gallagher Festival is held in Rory’s birthplace of Ballyshannon is basically Rory heaven with lots of live shows celebrating his music)
19 – Daughter Of The Everglades
Appears on the album Blueprint (1973)
An evocative song about a mysterious woman.
“Another amazing storytelling song. It’s so dark and melancholy, incredibly emotive. I also absolutely love Lou’s piano on this track, it takes it to a whole other level, it’s just sublime.” Jujitsuelf
18 – What In The World
Appears on the live album Live In Europe (1972). And also on the BBC Sessions (1999)
A song about abandonment that featured in several Rory live shows over the years, with ever increasingly heart wrenching guitar and vocals.
“(BBC Sessions Version) Quite possibly the best blues performance ever recorded. Rory’s vocals drip with feeling and emotion, it’s a revelation every time I listen to it.” Jujitsuelf
17 - As The Crow Flies
Appears on live album Irish Tour ’74 (1974)
A Tony Joe White cover that Rory casts his own epic spin on with acoustic slide.
“Sometimes it’s hard to explain why something is your ‘favourite’.” Denyse Anger
16 – What’s Going On
Appears on the album On The Boards (1970). And also the album Taste: Live At The Isle Of Wight (1971).
Perhaps one of the most known Taste songs, with a timeless riff.
15 – Souped Up Ford
Appears on the album Against The Grain (1975)
A searing track about the freedom of life on the open road, complete with ear shredding slide.
14 – Shin Kicker
Appears on the album Photo Finish (1978)
A song to get you grooving. Dònal Gallagher in the sleeve notes for the 2018 remaster of Photo Finish warns, “The track should carry a ‘do not play whilst driving’ warning sticker – turn this track up and give yourself a speeding ticket.”
“Simply because it friggin rocks…” Joanne Harpley
13 – Bad Penny
Appears on the album Top Priority (1979). And also the live album Stage Struck (1980).
Certainly a song to play when someone has cheesed you off. Rory doesn’t mince his words and the guitar solo just adds a final underscore.
12 – Sinner Boy
Appears on the eponymous solo debut album Rory Gallagher (1971)
A song about trying to help the less fortunate, showing Rory’s humanity – he was said to have a lot of sympathy for the homeless.
“I just love the melody, the lyrics, Rory’s playing. It is such a catchy tune that has you humming along at once. The lyrics are so compassionate about non-judgement, which is what Rory was.” Ann O’Kelly
11 – Moonchild
Appears on the album Calling Card (1976). And also the live albums Stage Struck (1980) and Check Shirt Wizard – Live In 1977 (2020)
An absolute classic Rory song with a mysterious touch and one of his best guitar riffs and solos ever.
“My late husband’s present to me on my first date." Mary Fournarakis
10 – Crest Of A Wave
Appears on the album Deuce (1971)
The slide guitar sears itself into your soul. And again hints at Rory’s independent spirit against the naysayers.
“cos think it’s about him” Lynn Cunningham
“For flawless slide guitar playing.” Vincent’s Rory Gallagher Gear Page
9 – Philby
Appears on the Top Priority album (1979). And also the Live At Montreux album (2006)
Makes use of electric sitar – the 1985 Montreux version is spellbinding. It tells the tale of double agent Kim Philby, who was a British spy and also a Russian double agent during World War II and the start of the Cold War.
8 – Bullfrog Blues
Appears on the live album Live In Europe (1972). And also Check Shirt Wizard – Live In 1977 (2020)
An old blues song, which first appeared in 1928 when it was recorded by the elusive William Harris. Rory turned it into his own, vamping up live shows and almost taking the audience through the roof. The audience even took to the stage during a performance in Paris in 1980, whilst Rory climbed up the amplifiers!
“Because he just let it RIP” Lynn Cunningham
7 – Cradle Rock
Appears on the album Tattoo (1973). And also the live album Irish Tour ’74 (1974)
One of Rory’s biggest rockers, which was recently covered to high acclaim by Belfast band Dea Matrona.
6 – In Your Town
Appears on the album Deuce (1971). And also the live album Live In Europe (1972), and Live In San Diego ’74 (2022)
An absolute rip roarer of a track that expanded quite a lot in live shows detailing a jailbreak, and some of America’s best-known criminals!
“(Off Live In Europe) First Rory record I bought. Didn’t understand it at all.. The quiet part in the middle of In Your Town got me through the door into a whole new world. I’ve been enjoying the view ever since!” Barry McCabe
5 – Walk On Hot Coals
Appears on the album Blueprint (1973). Also appears on the live albums Irish Tour ’74 (1974) and Check Shirt Wizard – Live In 1977 (2020)
The definitive version of this is seen by many as the version on Irish Tour ’74. It opens the film Irish Tour, and that particular piece of footage captures Rory seemingly in his absolute element.
“Live version, none better.” Robin McDonald
4 – I Fall Apart
Appears on the eponymous solo debut album Rory Gallagher (1971)
Perhaps one of the finest songs Rory ever wrote, it was rated the greatest Irish love song by the Irish Rock n Roll Museum in 2018. Many are also astonished at how young Rory was when he wrote it – 23 years old.
“A favourite for many as well. I still get chills listening to this one, especially in the dark. Deeply moving from the words to the solos.” Rainn
“Really, any song off that album would do. What a mature piece of work for a guy who was only 23 at the time. “Like a cat that’s playing with a ball of twine that you call my heart/Oh but baby is it so hard to tell the two apart/ And so slowly you unwind it til I fall apart.” Right up there with Shakespeare!” Barry McCabe
“I chose this because the metaphor of his heart being like a ball of string that gets unwound until it falls apart is simply genius. I don’t think I have heard a song as brilliant in that regard.” Ann O’Kelly
3 – Tattoo’d Lady
Appears on the Tattoo album (1973). Also appears on the live albums Irish Tour ’74 (1974) and Check Shirt Wizard – Live In 1977 (2020)
One of the classics, which had Rory been happy to release singles, is argued by many as one that could have done well in the charts. There’s not many songs about life on a fairground, and this one is said to be inspired by the fairgrounds he saw as a child. The guitar on the Check Shirt Wizard version just screams.
2 – Shadow Play
Appears on the album Photo Finish (1978). And also on the live album Stage Struck (1980).
One of his perennial favourites, which I’m told is full on pogoing material at Rory tribute nights by a reliable source. A very heavy rock based song, it was surprisingly written originally on a 12 string acoustic when Rory was down with a bad case of Flu and confined to bed. He attributed the ethereal lyrics to the effects of the liminal state between sleep and wakefulness.
“Because of the first solo.” Vincent’s Rory Gallagher Gear Page
1 – A Million Miles Away
Appears on the album Tattoo (1973). Also appears on the live album Irish Tour ’74 (1974) and Check Shirt Wizard – Live In 1977 (2020).
Perhaps the quintessential Rory Gallagher song, lyrics thought to be written while on a walk along the cliffs of Ballycotton.
“(Off Irish Tour ’74) I was actually at the Dublin gig. It’s on every fan’s top Rory songs list. Everything about it is sublime…the lyrics, vocals, guitar work, Nothing more to say, just let it play.” Barry McCabe
“The greatest Rory song of all time. From start to finish, everything about it is perfection and I feel such a personal connection to the lyrics. The first time I heard it, I literally had to sit down and I couldn’t stop crying.” Lauren O’Hagan
“The mellow side of Rory.” Bryan Douglas Flenbass
“…a very relatable song.” Lori Murphy
“The one I want played at my funeral.” James O’Neill
Special thanks to Michael S Collins for his help in number crunching the countdown!