1001 Songs Challenge #491: Alternative Ulster (1978)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster (1978)
We’re leaving London behind today, dear reader, but remaining in the UK as we head across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland and on to Belfast. Formed in 1977, Stiff Little Fingers began their career at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a period of history I have limited knowledge of but I am endeavouring to learn more. I know the country was divided between those that wanted to remain part of the UK and those that wished to break away and unify Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Into this difficult period, Stiff Little Fingers wrote music and when we join them in 1978 it is with the song, Alternative Ulster.
Alternative Ulster was written about the Troubles and how they impacted on young people, especially teenagers and young children. The song decries a world where the army can be found on the street and each day is not safe. One is in fear all day and all night. This isn’t what childhood innocence should be about. The song describes how competing forces claim they understand the people while others state they control them, but Stiff Little Fingers hit back and dream of the “alternative Ulster” of the title. The song in no way chooses either side in the Troubles. Instead, it describes a better world and place for young people to grow up in, one without violence and uncertainty.
Alternative Ulster slots nicely into the punk rock music that we have enjoyed on our list thus far. The song addresses a very serious subject in Irish history but does it in a positive way, not favouring anyone in the struggle and focusing instead on the impact this difficult period had on young generations. Better times would not come in Northern Ireland until 20 years later with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement which brought an end to much of the violence that had been ongoing since the 1960s.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)