Christmas Day is only two sleeps away! To quote Love Actually, Christmas is all around us. Festive magic in the air, so let’s honour one of the best Xmas songs of all time. Despite failing to reach number 1 in 1987, the fun duet “Fairytale of New York” (by The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl) has reached the Xmas top 20 year after year since 2005.
“And the boys from the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas day.”
So, what’s so brilliant about it?
This iconic song tells of both the magic of Christmas and of a drunkard reminiscing about the memories of Christmas past and how they’ve all crumbled to nothing due to drinking and drug addiction. His wandering thoughts then go to his lady love, and their duet speaks of the crashing of their youthful hopes of success as they bicker about it and start insulting each other on Christmas Eve. In summary, it is bittersweet to its core.
“And then they sang a song
The rare old mountain dew
I turned my face away and dreamed about you.”
Also, the piano intro of the song was inspired by Ennio Morricone’s score of the iconic film Once Upon a Time In America. The melodious piano and its transition to Irish folk not only makes for a catchy tune, but also adds that feeling of celebration and optimism for the New Year that we all desire. The pairing of the gritty Shane MacGowan and the lovely Kirsty MacColl creates utter magic! Their vocal interaction is electric, especially when they start bickering like an old married couple. You know, the kind that have had enough of each other but simultaneously can’t do without the other.
“Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you.”
“Happy Christmas your arse”: The song and its controversy upon release
“You’re a bum you’re a punk
You’re an old s*** on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse I pray god it’s our last.”
The second verse is thought to be one of the most iconic parts of the song. BBC Radio 1 and MTV condemned the use of numerous words in the song, while Radio 2 and others still played the original. Anyway, it is very British in character. We all love a good bicker…
The making of the magic
“Sinatra was swinging all the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night.”
The song was originally going to be called “Christmas Eve in a Drunk Tank” (an idea by The Pogues’ producer at the time, Elvis Costello) and soon resulted in a disagreement between the two. So, in the end, the song was given a more suitable title, “Fairytale of New York” – taken from the title of J.P. Donleavy’s novel, which Shane had been reading at the time. The bulk of the song’s lyrics were written by Shane while bed-ridden as he recovered from double pneumonia. He even said that the hallucinations he got at the time really helped with writing!
The song faced numerous hurdles and troubles between 85 and 87. This included the deteriorating relationship between MacGowan and Costello, the financial difficulties of The Pogues’ record label (Spiff), and the exit of the original female vocalist in the song, Cait O’Riordan, who left the band in 1986.
In 1987 The Pogues had a new producer, Steve Lillywhite, and it wasn’t long before they were back in the studio. The original recording had Shane recording both male and female parts, until Lillywhite suggested that his wife, Kirsty MacColl, also sung on the track. The rest, was history.
“Can’t make it out alone
I’ve built my dreams around you.”
In sum, the song is bittersweet, fun and melodious. It is truly as honest as it is magical.
There you go, an ode to my favourite Christmas song! Christmas is rather bizarre in Australia (it is summer here!), so listening to songs like these definitely helped when I struggled to feel festive. Finally, it is starting to feel a lot like Christmas after all.
Merry Christmas everybody! I hope your Xmas is as magical. <3
From Sophia with Love x