Research challenge for someone with more time, smarts and resources than me:
Chart the performance of Wings’ “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” in regions of America with significant Irish-American populations, as compared to those without.
It was this week in 1972 that Paul McCartney’s quickly recorded response to the Bloody Sunday shootings reached its U.S. chart peak, at Number 21.
Not a great placement for a solo Beatle, perhaps, but a pretty good showing for a topical protest song not directly involving American affairs.
By comparison, Bob Dylan’s “George Jackson” topped out at only Number 33 the year before, while “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley” reached Number 37. (One imagines William Calley had more supporters in early-’70s America than the IRA did.)
McCartney’s song, to no one’s great surprise, was banned by the BBC.
Here in the States, squeamish programming directors had the option of playing the single’s B-side, an instrumental version of the song.
The invaluable ARSA database of local radio-play charts used to have charts saying the instrumental version of “Give Ireland Back” was getting regular play at several stations. As of March 2016 those surveys are no longer there; perhaps they were mistaken.
Unfortunately, the ARSA database isn’t complete. It doesn’t have every local radio chart, just the ones people have collected and scanned in. So I can’t rely on it to compare the single’s performance in South Boston to its performance in, say, El Paso.
ARSA does give us a couple of interesting figments regarding the song’s regional chart arcs, though:
– WPOP and WDRC, rival stations in Hartford, Conn., had the song in their hitbound rotations as soon as it was released. Listeners kept it in both stations’ Top 40 for almost two months, with a peak at Number 8 on WDRC and Number 9 on WPOP.
– Seven surveys from heavily Irish Boston exist in the ARSA database, all from station WMEX. WMEX added the single to its hitbound rotation early on, but surviving surveys have it placing no higher than No. 13.
– The song reached the Top Ten at stations in in Akron; Albany, N.Y.; Cleveland; Hartford; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Willimantic, Conn.; Boise, Idaho; and Melbourne, Australia.
– The only known instance of “Give Ireland Back” hitting Number One in a local chart was in Wilmington, Del., of all places, where WAMS listed the song at the top for at least two weeks.
– As late as May 3, KDON in Salinas, Calif., was moving the song into its Top Ten. (I always find it interesting to read about late-breaking outliers. Were there stations that waited to make sure the song didn’t cause riots before adding it to their playlists?)
– The equally wonderful musicradio77.com, which collects all things related to New York City’s old WABC, indicates the song was absent from the station’s hit charts throughout that spring.
The charts do not indicate whether the song was actively banned by WABC — as other songs that year were — or whether it simply didn’t get significant airplay there.
All these years later, “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” remains a rare example of McCartney commenting on current events.
And while its politics may be a little muddled (only Macca would write a pro-Irish protest song with the words “Great Britain, you are tremendous”), the song is still an effective, biting counterweight to some of the catchy-but-vacant pap McCartney would later put out.