Jack Taylor’s Music: Ken Bruen’s The Guards

The Guards by Ken BruenAs fans of Ken Bruen’s books know, his writing is chock-full of external references.  I’m guessing it’s one of the reasons the blurbs on the book jackets occasionally compare him to James Joyce, Irishness aside. 

Being a former grad student, I figured, why not chase down these references.  So, I reread his debut in the Jack Taylor Galway series, The Guards, and took some notes whenever a musical reference popped up.  I ignored the quotes that introduce chapters and stuck to things within the chapters themselves.  For those of you who are interested, I have made a Bruen-Guards playlist on YouTube of all the songs or artists I could find, and I found almost all of them. (Several of the older songs never had videos, so the tracks play behind still images.)

The few items missing from the YouTube playlist are ones Bruen made up for the purposes of the novel—a band to play at Taylor’s hotel and a band a bartender was in—and one elusive showband.

It appears once you’ve heard one Irish showband, you’ve probably heard them all.  Think of a showband’s image this way: consider the Village People as an all-star team of showband members, extrapolate a band for each character in that group, and you’ve got the showbands’ visual aesthetics.  For the sound: think of any gimmicky ‘50s or ‘60s group like Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, and you’re there.  Just more Irish, of course, and, well, out-of-date for the purposes of Taylor’s Galway.

The showbands were the big surprise for me.  The other choices made sense as I was reading, since I had a general idea who they were.  I had guessed that showbands were more like pathetic swing bands. But how wrong I was. I had completely underestimated the kitsch factor.  Do yourselves a favor and listen to some of them. You will regret it.

Following is my list of the songs or artists in the Ken Bruen’s The Guards with their respective page numbers as found in the hard copy from St. Martin’s Press, NY, 2001.  Parentheticals refer to choices I’ve made just for the YouTube playlist—as Bruen may mention only an artist or song without more specifics.

  • Cliff Richard as English Elvis pg.8 (“Move It”, his first hit, 1958)
  • Lone Star,  “Amazed” pg. 22
  • Sinead O’Connor, “Troy” pg.23
  • Mary Black, “A Woman’s Heart” pg.23
  • (Bob Marley), “No Woman No Cry” pg.23
  • Beach Boys, “Surfin’ Safari” pg.23
  • Gabrielle, “Rise” pg.41—thinks of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”
  • Phil Collins (“Two Hearts”) pg.53—“that video where there’s three of him”
  • (The Eagles), “Hotel California” pg.61
  • Joy Division, “Unknown Pleasures” pg.67
  • James Taylor, (“Fire & Rain”) pg.76  “Jeez, what a bad omen.”
  • Gary Numan, (“Cars”)  pg.79 —“Sounded suspiciously like techno Gary Numan.”
  • Brendan Bowyer, The Indians, The Freshmen (Brendan Bowyer medley) pg.85—“Irish showbands”
  • (Elvis Presley, Gene Pitney) “Suspicious Minds” pg. 85— “If I didn’t have a dime…”
  • The Specials, “Ghost Town” pg.85
  • (Valentina Lisitsa) Beethoven’s “Für Elise” pg.92
  • Elvis (“Heartbreak Hotel”), The Eagles (“Desperado”), James Last (medley with orchestra), The Furey Brothers. (“Red Rose Cafe”) pg.93—all heard by Taylor on radio who was inspired to buy
  • (Wolfe Tones), “The Man Behind the Wire” pg.112
  • Tom Jones, (“I Believe”) pg.117—“But there’s a God. And not only in Tom Jones’ song.”
  • Heavy metal song (Judas Priest “Heavy Metal”) or Boyzone (“No Matter What”) as nightmare soundtrack pg.127
  • Southern California (Albert Hammond, “It Never Rains in Southern California”) as dream soundtrack pg.127
  • (Daniel O’Donnell), “Galway Bay” pg.151—done in the manner of. . .
  • Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols) “My Way”
  • Neil Young, “Powderfinger” pg.151)
  • Chrissie Hynde, (Pretenders’ “Night in My Veins”) pg.151
  • Alison Moyet, (“Only You”) pg.151
  • Margo Timmins, Cowboy Junkies’ “Misguided Angel” pg.151
  • More Showbands: The Royal Showband (“Where Were You on Our Wedding Day”),Brendan O’Brien and The Dixies Showband (“Sticking Out a Mile From Blarney”), and the Howdowners (couldn’t find them on YouTube)
  • The Miami Showband (“Angel of Love”) pg.164
  • The Swingtime Aces pg.214 (made up for the book, I believe)
  • Tom Waits, (“Tell It to Me”)—not sure of the song.  Lyrics quoted are “Do you want me to tell you the truth or will I just play you along?” pg.260
  • Metal (band name made up for the book, I believe)

And that’s the soundtrack to Jack.


Click the tags for more Audio and Music related posts.

Philipp Goedicke, Twitter: @PGoedi


  1. Terrie Farley Moran

    This is a fabulous post. I love Ken Bruen and Jack Taylor and would enjoy much of these music selections. However, the YouTube links in the post don’t work for me. 🙁

  2. Clare 2e

    Not sure of the problem, Terrie. You might try going straight to YouTube.com, putting in “Bruen Guards Goedicke” and seeing if the playlist is pulled up that way. After that, clicking on any of the blue titles listed should launch that video. If not, you might try checking if your browser is the current version, because I can’t generate the problems from this end. Best of luck!

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