Pogues' Christmas hit reaches 25
It is 25 years since the twisted Irish emigrant ballad of Christmas Eve in the drunk tank was first heard on release of the perennially popular but most unlikely festive hit.
In December 1987 Fairytale of New York by The Pogues (sung by Shane MacGowan) featuring Kirsty MacColl about an Irish emigrant couple down on their luck on Christmas Eve, made its way to number one in the Irish charts.
However it was beaten to the UK Christmas number one spot in 1987 by the Pet Shop Boys with their Elvis Presley cover Always on My Mind. MacGowan later described the Pet Shop Boys song as “cynical, jaded and pathetic”. The single has been in the Irish top 20 charts in nine separate years and in the UK on eight separate years.
To celebrate the quarter century, the single has been re-released on vinyl and digital with a new cover with a photo of McGowan and MacColl performing in March 1988. For all those drunken Christmas parties, the b-side has a Karaoke-friendly instrumental version.
The song was written by Shane McGowan and the band’s co-founder English musician Jem Finer and took its name from a book by Irish-American author JP Donleavy.
The song was originally written for a duet with the band’s bass player Cait O’Riordan, but she left the band in 1986 before it was completed. MacColl was then married to the song’s producer Steve Lillywhite was drafted in almost by accident and recorded it at their home studio separately to McGowan.
Kirsty MacColl died in 2000, aged 41, when she was hit by a speedboat while diving during a holiday in Mexico.
Last year it was named the most played festive song of the 21st century by music licensing body PPL, which totals up every public airing a song has received in Britain – from radio and TV plays to being used as background music in shops, bars, gyms and restaurants – since 2000.
Despite this airplay popularity the inclusion of the word "faggot" in the lyrics has caused a stir. In 2007, BBC Radio reversed a decision to bleep the word from the song after Kirsty MacColl's mother branded the move "ridiculous".
Some of its many cover versions, including Ronan Keating’s, were censored with the word “faggot” changed to “haggard”.