Now its Christmas Eve, its time for the recording that started it all. In honour of the occasion I sit here typing this wearing an officially licensed Fairytale of New York tee-shirt, with an image grabbed from the video of Shane and Kirsty dancing in fake snow, while my original seven inch, 45RPM single spins on the turntable.
Yes I bought the single then. I am sure I didn’t time the purchase well for the actual Christmas run because I was desperate for new music from the band and still awaiting their album If I Should Fall From Grace With God. But I remember watching its climb up the charts with glee.
That year Rick Astley had released When I Fall in Love and in early December many thought he was going to get the top spot. But then Nat ‘King’ Cole’s version of the song was released, and I recall watching an interview n which he said he would be happy to come second if that beat him to the top spot. But, in the end he came third or fourth with the Pogues taking second place after a late entry number one from the Petshop Boys and Always on my Mind. Should it have been number one? It wasn’t and that’s all there is to say on the matter. It has never taken the top spot on any reissue following, but it is according to some pollsters Britain’s favourite Christmas song.
Is it my favourite Pogues song? It might not even be in my top ten, and I slightly resent that its the world’s favourite Pogues song. If you check Apple Music now, it occupies six of the top ten Pogues downloads/streams. If its the only one you know, let me offer you some you should listen to. Songs which I think are possibly even better than Fairytale.
- My personal number one is not to everyone’s taste, but its the lullaby I sung to my daughter when she was a baby. Its The Old Main Drag the life of a rent boy on the streets of London
- From the EP, Poguetry in Motion, I have a couple of favourites, and A Rainy Night in Soho is equal to or better than Fairytale.
- The Pogues did duets before Fairytale too. Haunted was one of my most played singles at the time, and I was gutted when I lost it after taking it to college to digitise for an art project. It’s hard to find because it was recorded for the soundtrack of Sid and Nancy: Love Kills and is “owned” by MCA. Shane re-recorded it with Sinead O’Connor, but I have a soft spot for Cait O’Riordan.
- There were lyrics controversies before Fairytale too. The Boys from the County Hell was the song that encapsulated the spirit of the early Pogues and I treasured a tee-shirt with the lyric “Lend me ten pounds and I’ll buy you a drink.” Not that that was controversial. But the line in the recorded versions “My brother earned his medals at Mei Lei in Vietnam” replaced the live version “My brother earned his medals fucking gooks in Vietnam.”
- Of course only one Pogues song has actually been banned, and that is Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six. This medley was banned under the strange law that banned recordings of IRA members, or suspected members like Gerry Adams. It was designed to stifle Adams’ voice on news programmes in particular.
- I realise that a lot of my favourites are from their first album Red Roses for Me. I love Transmetropolitan, for example, which sounds like a tube train rattling though the tunnels.
- Sea Shanty, from the same album, like Transmetropolitan, The Old Main Drag, and A Rainy Night in Soho gets to the heart of why I love The Pogues, here creating a new folk tradition of ordinary life, love and loss in London.
- Steams of Whiskey, again from Red Roses for Me shows us Shane’s future, and has an ace original video, made on a budget of a fiver, it seems.
- The Body of an American, is iconic partly because it featured semi-regularly in seminal US Police and Politics show, The Wire, every time they held a wake for a dead copper.
- Sally MacLennan edges The Sickbed of Cuchulainn out of my personal top ten, but that just proves my point. There are at least eleven Pogues songs I like more than Fairytale, even though I think Fairytale is very very good indeed.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
PS. A quick mention for Chris Thile, who obviously heard about this blog and having worked out that I wasn’t going to include the version from his PBS show Live From Here, bashed out another version yesterday with properly Irish sounding (but actually American) Aoife O’Donovan. I enjoyed his work with Nickel Creek, indeed theirs was one of the last CDs I bought before iTunes and then Apple Music killed that habit, and his mandolin playing is a wonder, but he avoids the controversial lyrics question by simply cutting the whole verse, which I think is a worse sin than changing or fluffing the words.