Should Have Been a #1…? ‘Fairytale of New York’, by The Pogues ft. Kirsty MacColl

Back in the good old days, before Spotify and Alexa turned the December charts into a Christmas nightmare, back when you had to actually download (or even physically purchase! from a shop!) a song to get it into the charts, there were three hardy festive perennials that returned, year after year… Mariah and Wham! have since streamed their way to becoming belated chart-toppers, leaving behind ‘Fairytale of New York’ as the biggest Christmas song never to have made #1.

Fairytale of New York, by The Pogues ft. Kirsty MacColl – reached #2 in 1987, behind ‘Always on My Mind’

And I have to admit… It’s never been my favourite Christmas tune. For a while, in the ’90s and early ’00s, it was the edgelord’s choice of Xmas tune. Swearing, Shane McGowan’s teeth, no sleigh bells in sight… blah blah blah. You’re a bum, You’re a punk, You’re an old slut on junk… I was put off it for this reason. I enjoyed Mariah, Wizzard and Slade because Christmas music was meant to be upbeat, cheesy and unashamedly fun. Until, as I mentioned, streaming came along and listening to Michael Buble suddenly became mandatory, and ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ became so overplayed that I would happily lose a finger (I mean, you could live without a pinkie…) if it meant I never had to hear it again.

(I suppose I also have to mention that it is now a bona-fide festive tradition for there to be a furore over the fact that ‘Fairytale of New York’ contains the F-word. (But not that F-word.) What version is Radio 1 playing? Radio 2? What does Piers Morgan have to say about it? Who is most purple in the face with outrage this year?? The songwriters claim that ‘faggot’ was being used as Irish slang for a lazy person – which is much more conducive to the theme of the song than accusing the male lead of being gay – but as early as 1992 Kirsty MacColl was changing it to ‘haggard’ in live performances. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it was intended as a homophobic slur in 1987, but at the same time it’s probably not OK to be broadcasting that word on national radio in 2022.)

And yet, despite the growing controversy around the song (which means it probably will never make #1 now) I’ve actually grown to enjoy it more as the years progress. Perhaps it’s the ultimate middle-aged Christmas song: a tale of two over-the-hill drunkards, bawling at one another, blaming each other for all their ills, all the while hoping that this Christmas will be their last… Their last together? Their last, ever? It peaks when Shane McGowan groans I could have been someone… and MacColl replies with Well so could anyone… and you feel nothing but sympathy for these two sad junkies. Suddenly Shaky, Mariah and Slade sound trite and tacky.

I couldn’t listen to it too many times a year – to be honest most of the Christmas music I hear is forced on me in shops and bars – but it would have been a worthy Number One. I’ll leave you with the video below, and wish all my readers a merry Christmas (and a much happier one than the protagonists of this song enjoy!) I’ll be back before the new year, resuming the regular countdown.

14 thoughts on “Should Have Been a #1…? ‘Fairytale of New York’, by The Pogues ft. Kirsty MacColl

  1. I hope you had a good Christmas! Sorry I’ve been missing in action. Between getting Covid, the holidays, and lately a round with a stomach virus…I’m ready to be healthy and comment again lol.
    I may have heard this song 1 or 2 times total in my life IF that much. Nothing says Christmas like You’re an old slut on junk!

    • I did have a good Christmas! Sorry to hear you were poorly. Covid wiped me out for a few days when I got it early last year.

      You probably saw me inviting people to contribute for this blogs anniversary, and I’d be delighted if you wanted to write a guest post on your favourite #1! (probably to go out in late Jan early Feb) Let me know!

      • I would LOVE to do it! I think I know which one it will be. Not my favorite but one of them. A song I learned on here…by Love Affair… I love that song with the bass sound!

      • Great! Happy that you canget involved! I like the link there, that you discovered the song through this blog. Cool idea : )

        I’d like to post them during the last week in Jan – starting on the 30th if possible. The format will look much like my usual posts – a pic, and a video embedded at the end. You can send the post to me at stmckay31@gmail.com (and attach any particular pictures you’d want me to use). Also, I’ll link to your blog, if that’s OK, and feel free to use re-post it on your site!

        Cheers, Stewart

      • I’ve posted it once but… I’ll add things to it to beef it up a little more. I appreciate you asking me. Yea that is the one I want to do…it only seems right!

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