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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Pogues & Kirsty McColl - Fairytale Of New York

'Fairytale of New York' is a song by Anglo-Irish folk-rock group The Pogues, featuring the British singer Kirsty MacColl. The song is an Irish folk style ballad, written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, and featured on The Pogues' album If I Should Fall from Grace with God. The song features string arrangements by Fiachra Trench. It is frequently voted the Number One Best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio and magazine related polls in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

'Fairytale of New York' was released as a single in 1987 and reached number 1 in the Irish charts and number 2 in the British charts, over Christmas (the time of peak sales). The song has become a festive classic in the UK and Ireland over the years, and was voted the best Christmas song of all time three years running in 2004, 2005 and 2006 in polls by music channel VH1 UK, despite not achieving Christmas Number One when it was released. It was also voted as the 27th greatest song never to reach UK number1 in another VH1 poll, and also voted as the 84th greatest song of all time by BBC Radio 2 listeners in their "Sold on Song" top 100 poll.

The song takes the form of a drunken man's Christmas Eve reverie about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank. After an inebriated old man also incarcerated in the jail cell sings a passage from the Irish drinking ballad "The Rare Old Mountain Dew", the drunken man (MacGowan) begins to dream about a failed relationship. The remainder of the song (which may be an internal monologue) takes the form of a call and response between two Irish immigrants, lovers or ex-lovers, their youthful hopes crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, reminiscing and bickering on Christmas Eve in New York City. MacColl's melodious singing contrasts with the harshness of MacGowan's voice, and the lyrics are sometimes bittersweet -- sometimes plain bitter: "Happy Christmas your arse/ I pray God it's our last".

The lyric "Sinatra was swinging" is likely an allusion to Sinatra's "New York, New York," which was very popular in Ireland at the time, a reference to the problem of emigration. Others have suggested it refers to an unspecified period after World War II; however, it is possible that the song is actually set in the early 1980s, when one of Sinatra's last chart hits, his 1980 recording of John Kander and Fred Ebb's theme from the movie New York, New York, was a fixture of New York City airwaves and a standard singalong record in the city's many neighborhood bars. The title, taken from author J. P. Donleavy's novel A Fairy Tale of New York, was chosen after the song had been written and recorded.

Twice Shane and Kirsty sing, "The boys of the NYPD choir still singing "Galway Bay". The New York Police Department does not have a choir, but it does have a Pipes and Drums unit that is featured in the video for the song. The NYPD Pipes and Drums did not know "Galway Bay" and so played a different song for the music video, and the editor put it in slow motion to fit the beat. The video featured the actor Matt Dillon as an NYPD patrolman who arrests the intoxicated MacGowan.

MacColl was not originally intended to appear in the song. Instead, the female vocal was meant for the band's bassist, Cait O'Riordan. However, she left the band in 1986, before the song was completed. The Pogues were at the time being produced by Steve Lillywhite, MacColl's then-husband, who asked his wife to provide a guide vocal of the female part for a demo version of the song. The Pogues, however, liked MacColl's contribution so much that they asked her to sing the part on the actual recording.

The song was released in the United Kingdom in early December 1987, and swiftly became a hit. On December 17, 1987, the Pogues and MacColl performed the song on the BBC's popular television show Top of the Pops, and it was propelled to number 2 on the UK charts. For the Top of the Pops appearance, the BBC insisted that MacColl's singing of "arse" be replaced with the less offensive "ass", although as she mimed the word MacColl slapped the relevant part of her body to make it clear what was meant.

Although the song finished 1987 as the 48th best seller of the year despite only a single month's sales, it was denied the Christmas number 1 spot by the Pet Shop Boys' cover of "Always on My Mind". MacGowan commented on this in his typically forthright manner: "We were beaten by two queens and a drum machine."

The song was re-released by The Pogues in the UK in 1991 (reaching number 36), and again in the UK and Ireland for Christmas 2005, reaching number 3 in the UK. All proceeds from the latter release were donated towards a mixture of homeless charities and "Justice for Kirsty", a campaign to find out the truth behind Kirsty MacColl's death in 2000. In December 2006 the song entered the UK Top 10 for the third time, reaching number 6 on that occasion, and returned yet again in December 2007, reaching number 4. It has now made the Top 10 on four separate occasions including three times in successive years, a feat no other single can match. In December 2008 it entered the UK Top 40 for the sixth time, and reached number 12.

On December 18, 2007, BBC Radio 1 put a ban on the words "faggot" and "slut" from "Fairytale of New York" to "avoid offence". The words, sung as Kirsty MacColl and MacGowan trade insults, were dubbed out. 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." However, 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 typically conservative Radio 2, had continued to play the original version throughout this period, the ban having applied to Radio 1 only. The music channels VH1 and VH1 Classics also subject the song to censorship by removing and scrambling the words "slut", "faggot" and "arse" which results in a messy cut.

However the song is played this remains one of my all time favourite christmas songs that I never tire of playing.

Click the link below to download the following:
Video - Uncencored Version
The Story Of - Part 1 to 6
Single Version
Demo Version
Battle March Medley - B-Side


The Pogues & Kirsty McColl - Fairytale Of New York

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