As in previous years, we’ve avoided posting much 2016 holiday-related music. But, as in years past, we bring you this morning, on Christmas Day, the best XMAS song ever recorded—The Pogues‘ “Fairytale of New York” (featuring Kirsty MacColl). I’m in Dublin for Christmas this year, visiting relatives, so the song feels particularly apropos.
While it is certainly The Pogues’ most enduring song, there are myriad stories presuming to tell the origins of “Fairytale”—most of them almost surely apocryphal. Frontman and inveterate lout Shane MacGowan has asserted that the song arose from a bet made with the band’s producer at the time, Elvis Costello, that MacGowan could not write a Christmas hit single. The band’s manager Frank Murray has insisted that the idea for a Christmas song came from him. The group’s banjo player, Jem Finer, apparently came up with the song’s melody and original concept, which involved a sailor looking out over the ocean. And purportedly Finer’s wife Marcia, who did not like the original story, suggested new lyrics regarding a conversation between a couple at Christmas.
Like everything about The Pogues—it’s something of a mess.
MacGowan did have the following to say in the Christmas, 1985 issue of Melody Maker:
We’ll spare you the rest of the song’s ramshackle history—and the controversies which ensued following its eventual (first) release in 1987—but it’s worth remembering that the track once dubbed by the BBC a “tragicomic tale of love gone sour and shattered dreams” has been reissued four times due to public demand (most recently in 2012)—and is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st-century across the UK.
A Merry Christmas To All.