Jan 122010

Yesterday I had some fun at James Hetfield’s expense. I put up some still photos here from the movie trailer for Clash of the Titans with captions showing the kinds of metal bands that came to mind as I saw them. For one of them, the unflattering thought that popped into my head was “James Hetfield in about 5 more years.” I’m not sure why, but that’s really the first thing that came to mind.

It’s not that I’ve never liked Metallica. They just don’t do much for me any more, and haven’t for a while. But many of their older songs are undeniably awesome.

My favorite Metallica song isn’t one that would come to mind for most people. It’s an Irish folk song that’s been around for about 400 years called “Whiskey in the Jar.” It tells the story of a highwayman who robs a military or government official and is then betrayed by his wife (or lover — not clear which). Metallica’s version of the song retains the traditional lyrics and the basic melody, but puts Metallica’s heavy, hard-driving force behind it — and Hetfield’s vocals are outstanding.

The song is so catchy and has been around for so long that lots of people have recorded it. A couple years ago I tracked down different versions of the song as kind of a musical experiment, to trace the evolution of music over time, and more specifically to see how different musical genres have made this old song their own. It was a very cool experience.

I haven’t thought about this in a long time, not until I started feeling mildly guilty about poking fun at James Hetfield yesterday. And then I thought, maybe you would also find something interesting in the musical evolution of “Whiskey in the Jar,” at least partly because it’s such a fucking great song and partly because some fucking great bands have recorded it.

So, after the jump, you can see the lyrics; they vary a bit, and I’m giving you the version Metallica used. And then, moving forward in time, you can stream performances of “Whiskey in the Jar” by this group of legendary bands: Irish folk band The Dubliners (circa 1967), Irish rockers Thin Lizzy (1973), Irish punk band The Pogues (playing with the Dubliners) (1990), and finally Metallica (1998). Hope you’ll give it a try. (Time for a death metal band to record this song!) Continue reading »