Song of the Day: Fairytale of New York by The Pogues feat Kirsty MacColl

THE POGUES-"Fairytale Of New York" The best christmas song. Will play this all year round #myhappychristmas @Blanca Prado Stuff UK:

Fairytale of New York” is a Christmas song written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan and first released as a single on 23 November 1987 by their band The Pogues, featuring singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl on vocals.


It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut 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

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around


The song was written as a duet, with the Pogues’ singer MacGowan taking the role of the male character and MacColl the female character. It is an Irish folk-style ballad, and featured on The Pogues’ 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

Originally begun in 1985, the song had a troubled two year development history, undergoing rewrites and aborted attempts at recording, and losing its original female vocalist along the way, before finally being completed in summer 1987. Although the single never reached number one in the UK Singles Chart, being kept at number two on its original release in 1987 by the Pet Shop Boys’cover version of “Always on My Mind”, it has since proved enduringly popular with both music critics and the public: to date the song has reached the UK top twenty on twelve separate occasions since its original release in 1987, including every year since 2005, and was certified platinum in the UK in 2013. The song has sold 1.18 million copies in the UK as of November 2015. In the UK it is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century. “Fairytale of New York” has been cited as the best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio and magazine related polls in the UK and Ireland.


Although there is agreement among the band that “Fairytale of New York” was first written in 1985, the origins of the song are disputed: MacGowan insisted that it arose as a result of a wager made by The Pogues’ producer at the time, Elvis Costello, that the band would not be able to write a Christmas hit single; The Pogues’ manager Frank Murray has stated that it was originally his idea that the band should try and write a Christmas song as he thought it would be “interesting”. It was banjo player Finer who came up with the melody and the original concept for the song, which involved a sailor looking out over the ocean. Finer’s wife Marcia did not like the original story, and suggested new lyrics regarding a conversation between a couple at Christmas. Finer told NME, “I had written two songs complete with tunes, one had a good tune and crap lyrics, the other had the idea for ‘Fairytale’ but the tune was poxy, I gave them both to Shane and he gave it a Broadway melody, and there it was”.

It is clear that the basic components of “Fairytale of New York” – the title, the musical structure and its lyrical theme of a couple’s conversation – were in place by the end of 1985, as evidenced by MacGowan’s description of the song in an interview with Melody Maker in its 1985 Christmas issue:

I sat down, opened the sherry, got the peanuts out and pretended it was Christmas. It’s even called ‘A Fairy Tale of New York’, it’s quite sloppy, more like ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ than ‘Sally MacLennane’, but there’s also a céilidh bit in the middle which you can definitely dance to. Like a country and Irish ballad, but one you can do a brisk waltz to, especially when you’ve got about three of these [drinks] inside you… But the song itself is quite depressing in the end, it’s about these old Irish-American Broadway stars who are sitting round at Christmas talking about whether things are going okay.”

MacGowan had decided to name the song after J. P. Donleavy’s 1973 novel A Fairy Tale of New York, which Finer was reading at the time and had left lying around the recording studio. In the same Melody Maker interview MacGowan expressed regret that the song had not been completed in time to be released for Christmas that year, and hinted that the track would appear on an EP that The Pogues were due to record shortly. In January 1986 the group recorded the song during the sessions with Costello that would produce the Poguetry in Motion EP, with bass player Cait O’Riordan singing the female part. Costello suggested naming the song “Christmas Eve in the Drunk Tank”, after the song’s opening lines: the band were scornful of the suggestion, with MacGowan pointing out to Costello that a song with such a title was unlikely to be favourably received and played by radio stations. The majority of the lyrics had been written while MacGowan was recovering in a bed in Malmö after being struck down with double pneumonia during a Pogues tour of Scandinavia in late 1985 – as he later wryly noted, “you get a lot of delerium and stuff, so I got quite a few good images out of that”.However, despite several attempts at recording it, the group were unhappy with the results and the song was temporarily put aside, to be returned to at a later date. Guitarist Philip Chevron later said, “It was not quite there. It needed to have a full-on, confident performance from the band, which it lacked.” The producer of the final version, Steve Lillywhite, diplomatically described the version recorded with O’Riordan’s vocals as not “fully realised”. Extracts from these earlier versions can be heard on the 2008 box set Just Look Them Straight in the Eye and Say… POGUEMAHONE!!.

In March 1986 The Pogues toured the USA for the first time. The opening date of the tour was in New York City, a place which had long fascinated MacGowan and which inspired him to write new lyrics for the song. Among the members of the city’s Irish-American community who saw the show and visited the band backstage after the concert were film-maker Peter Dougherty and actor Matt Dillon: both would later become friends with The Pogues and play important roles in the video for “Fairytale of New York”. Another major inspiration was Sergio Leone’s film Once Upon a Time in America, which MacGowan and whistle player Spider Stacy would watch over and over again in the tour bus as they travelled across the country. Apart from shaping the ideas for the lyrics, MacGowan wrote a slow, piano-based introduction to “Fairytale of New York” influenced by the film’s score by Ennio Morricone: the intro would later be edited together with the more upbeat original melody to create the final song.

As 1986 went on, however, The Pogues encountered various problems that brought a halt to their recording activity. Their record label Stiff ran into financial difficulties and went into administration, although as the label still owned the rights to The Pogues’ recordings this meant that a distribution deal had to be negotiated in order to release any new Pogues material. The group’s deteriorating relationship with Costello saw them part ways with their producer, and after increasingly erratic behaviour Cait O’Riordan, who had become romantically involved with Costello, left the band in October 1986. The departure of O’Riordan meant the song had now lost its intended female singer.


The song attracted attention from the start due to some of the language used in its second verse, where MacGowan’s character refers to MacColl’s character as a “slut on junk” (heroin), and MacColl responds with a tirade that includes the words “faggot” and “arse”. On 18 December 2007, BBC Radio 1 banned the words “faggot” and “slut” from “Fairytale of New York” to “avoid offence”. MacColl’s mother, Jean, called the ban “too ridiculous”, while The Pogues said they found it “amusing”. The BBC said, “We are playing an edited version because some members of the audience might find it offensive”. Later that evening Radio 1 backed down and said that after a day of criticism from listeners, the band, and MacColl’s mother, they reversed the decision. The unedited version was then played later on that day. Other BBC radio stations, including the traditionally more conservative Radio 2, had continued to play the original version throughout this period, the ban having applied to Radio 1 only. The MTV channels in the UK also removed and scrambled the words “slut”, “faggot” and “arse” from the song.

In his Christmas podcast, musical comedian Mitch Benn commented that “faggot” was Irish and Liverpudlian slang for a lazy person, and was unrelated to the derogatory term for homosexuals.

The Pogues

The Pogues 1.jpg

Also known as Pogue Mahone (1982–1984)
Origin London
Genres Celtic punk, Irish punk, celtic rock, celtic folk
Years active 1982–96, 2001–present
Members Shane MacGowan
Spider Stacy
Jem Finer
James Fearnley
Andrew Ranken
Darryl Hunt
Terry Woods
Past members Cait O’Riordan
Phil Chevron
Joe Strummer
Dave Coulter
James McNally
Jamie Clarke
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