“You don’t need a doctorate to be a doctor of soul,” assures Joey The Lips in The Commitments, Roddy Doyle’s 1987 fictional saga of what very well could have been the first ever Irish soul band. Now, unless there actually is a school out there offering a PhD program for soul music (in which case, what the hell, guys?), Joey The Lips’ point is a useful mantra for remembering what soul is at its core: music for the people—particularly so, it seems, when those people come from a place where no one else seems to care about it.
As a novel, though, The Commitments is less about music specifically, and more the emotions of life that music happens to tap into so perfectly when it’s done well. But all the same, Doyle’s writing is peppered with emphatic passages of music being played and listened to, and it bursts with enough energy that you may not even necessarily need to have heard the songs before to feel that you know them like the back of your pint glass. And if James Brown, who functions as a straight IV drip of inspiration for the rag-tag group of soulites in the book, was the hardest working man in show business, it would stand to reason, then, that his fans should be the hardest working listeners in show business as well.
For that very notion, just like we did for Inherent Vice, we’ve taken the liberty of compiling a sampler of the best music featured and mentioned within the pages of the book (but not, it should be noted, from the 1991 movie version, which erroneously seems to have thought that we would all want to listen to “Mustang Sally” about fifty times).
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Here they are, ladies an’ gentlemen, The Commitments. Do yis want to hear more?