Dream Pipes: 16 Songs That Are Actually Improved by Bagpipes
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
- •Flogging Molly, “The Worst Day Since Yesterday”That soft, mournful drone lends itself to the melancholy at the center of so many Irish ballads, but you’ll also find it fortifying the fiery songs of Flogging Molly. Dave King’s raucous band of Celtic punks are known for incorporating traditional instruments into their music, and you’ll hear a bounty of them—including the uilleann pipes—at the center of “The Worst Day Since Yesterday,” a mournful track from 2000’s Swagger
- •Rilo Kiley, “A Better Son/Daughter”At the 1:40 mark, the music catches up to the anger found in the words. The tinny effect disappears from the vocals, Jason Boesel’s military drumroll becomes more deliberate, and bagpipes give even more strength to a couple of F-bombs spat out by Lewis, as if she’s leading a Scottish army in a charge against mental illness, her face streaked with blue warpaint.
- •AC/DC, “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna to Rock ‘N’ Roll)”If there’s one sound associated with AC/DC, it would be Angus Young’s maniacal guitar. But “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ’N’ Roll)” counteracts that with bagpipes, played by lead singer Bon Scott, no less.
- •4-5. Neutral Milk Hotel, “Untitled” and “Two Headed Boy, Part 2”This fuzzed-out foundation of analog synths and sloppy drums pushed deep into the red gives way to a triumphant uilleann pipe solo that creates one of the most purely joyous moments on an emotionally exhausting record.
- •Korn, “Dead”It’s easy to lump Korn in with every other nu-metal act that gummed up late-’90s airwaves, but while frontman Jonathan Davis and his merry band of dreadlocked misfits shared the same riffage and bro-barks as the band’s progeny, Korn would occasionally surprise by building a song around a set of Northumbrian Smallpipes played by Davis himself.
- •GWAR, “The Horror Of Yig”Bagpipes in rock music are often relegated to a prologue or epilogue, a way to give a song weight or cast a melancholy tone. And at first, GWAR’s “The Horror Of Yig,” a Lovecraft-inspired stomper from 1990’s Scumdogs Of the Universe, is exactly that, with a traditional bagpipe refrain kicking things off alongside a soundbite from Apocalypse Now’s ever-rambling Col. Kurtz.
- •Titus Andronicus, “The Battle Of Hampton Roads”Before the bagpipes even enter the picture, “The Battle Of Hampton Roads” is already one of the best songs on one of the best rock records of this decade: Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor. They don’t skirl until about nine and a half minutes in, after Patrick Stickles articulately self-eviscerates over mournful horns, thunderous percussion, and the kind of Springsteenian rollicking that can’t help but breed rock star dreams.
- •Van Morrison, “Celtic Ray”Van Morrison himself is Irish, and “Celtic Ray” is essentially his riff on a traditional Irish pub song, so it’s no surprise that he would opt to re-record it with a band of authentic Irish folkies. It’s a good thing he did, too, because the revamped version is brash and rousing in all the ways the original isn’t.
- •The White Stripes, “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrew (The Battle Is In The Air)“Jack White’s first and best band was known for its minimalism: With The White Stripes, Jack White played guitar, Meg White played drums, and that was that. But on some of the duo’s later records in particular, other sounds, often from non-traditional rock instruments like the marimba, bled in. On a pair of Icky Thump tracks, they bust out the bagpipes—or rather, Jim Drury does, at the band’s service.
- •Parliament, “The Silent Boatman”Bagpipes and funk aren’t historically known as bosom buddies. Granted, “The Silent Boatman,” the closing track of Parliament’s 1970 debut album Osmium, isn’t the funkiest specimen ever captured in the studio by George Clinton’s sprawling collective of musicians.
- •U2, “Tomorrow”“Tomorrow” begins with a burst of uilleann pipes (performed by Vincent Kilduff) which sound like the kind of somber musical accompaniment heard at a funeral service. After this tone-setting opening, the pipes function as background anguish for the first two-thirds of the song—although they take center stage occasionally to comfort and empathize with Bono’s obvious grief—before retreating once “Tomorrow” explodes into an angry rock song.
- •Wings, “Mull Of Kintyre”Although it was never a massive hit in America, Wings’ “Mull Of Kintyre” holds a place in British pop music history for being the first single to sell 2 million copies in the U.K. In regards to the reason why, it would not be inappropriate to blame it on the bagpipes.
- •Marty Willson-Piper, “Forever”As a former member of The Church, guitarist Marty Willson-Piper has participated the recording of a song which has often been falsely accused of featuring bagpipes—for the record, the sound you hear on “Under The Milky Way” is actually a Synclavier—but he’s also used the real thing during the course of his solo career. In the case of “Forever,” which appears on Willson-Piper’s 1989 album, Rhyme, the bagpipes add further musical depth to a song that’s already rather complex to begin with.
- •Peter Gabriel, “Come Talk To Me”No stranger to blurring the lines of genre or geography, Peter Gabriel used actual bagpipes on “Come Talk To Me”—a song that was decidedly more personal than political, but no less stirring. laced once again atop African rhythms the blare of bagpipes is the first sound to cut through the speakers on Gabriel’s 1992 album Us, lending a sense of urgency and melancholy to his titular plea to a loved one.