Sometimes we feel silly listening to a favorite album in the summertime when a Christmas tune comes on somewhere in the middle. Often, the tunes are so memorable they’re an enjoyable listen any time of year, like the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” which first appeared as a single during the holiday season of 1987 and was added to their third album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God.
The album is our favorite of theirs, so naturally we’re going to play it every time a copy passes through the shop regardless of the time of year. And folks enjoy “Fairytale of New York” every time. It’s so popular the song is said to be the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century in the UK, having reached their top twenty chart every year since 2005.
Like several songs on the album, “Fairytale of New York” tells the story of Irish immigrants. In this case a couple whose lives have fallen apart following addiction, unemployment and poverty. Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer wrote the song, originally to be a duet between MacGowan and bassist Cait O’Riordan. When the band began recording If I Should Fall From Grace With God with top-tier producer Steve Lillywhite, Kirsty MacColl, his wife, was brought in to record the part.
Why do people love “Fairytale of New York” so much? We suspect one reason is that beneath the couple’s harsh barbs, there’s an underlying affection. While some lyrics have long been questionably appropriate for airplay (Notably “You’re a slut on junk” and “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot”) there’s a deep sentimentality to MacGowan and MacColl’s delivery.