Yesterday’s post was this morning. This is today’s post. I’ve been talking about alternatives to “you cheap lousy faggot.” This version by vlogger Hazel Hayes deserves a mention.
It’s not great musically. It isn’t bad either. It’s a couple sitting on a sofa with a guitar. They are not trying to be Ed Sheeran and Anne-Marie. They leave “slut” and “arse” alone, and have come up with an equivalent, direct and offensive alternative to the difficult lyric. I think Shane would approve.
I should label this NSFW (Not Safe For Work). Don’t play this at full volume in polite company.
Oh its hard this, doing a post every day. I was very busy yesterday so this will be the first of two posts today. On Wednesday I mentioned that the alternative lyrics “you’re cheap and you’re haggard” were made up on the spur of the moment by McColl in the moments before going on stage at the BBC for top of the pops. I mentioned there was a better alternative, and its this one.
Now, ignore the words on the screen, they are the original lyrics. But listen to to what Ed Sheeran and Ann-Marie sing. The improved alternative lyric is “you cheap lousy blaggard.” This is closer to the spirit of the original lyric. A blaggard (or blaggart) is a derivation of blackguard, a man who behaves in a dishonourable or contemptible way. Indeed I think it might be a more fitting insult for Shane’s character in the original song, and I wish, wish, wish that Kirsty McColl had thought of it in those BBC studios. It would have been a far better alternative.
I am not a fan of Sheeran and Anne-Marie’s rendition of the song though. Its not one I listen to at all. And only on listening this time around to I see that “slut” is replaced by “gal” and in “you’re an old gal on junk” (Really? REALLY? oh Sheeran! You give with one hand and take away with the other.) And even worse, “Merry Christmas my arse” is replaced with a garbled “Merry Christmas your mother”!
“Merry Christmas your mother”? What does that even mean?! What exactly is wrong with arse!? And how does insulting my mother make it any less misogynistic?
I note this interest that on the lyrics, the ones on this video, this is the only change that is reflected in the lyrics. Whoever typed those out was OK (or even rebelliously reactionary, I don’t know) with “slut” and “faggot” but the line when “arse” was mentioned.
Years ago I was in Woolworths (remember Woolworths?) looking for… something? It might have been 2001 and I was looking for Ladybird branded baby clothes because my daughter, Lily had been born that year. Anyway, I had a disturbing experience> I felt something viscerally familiar and yet… wrong. Woolworths of course sold records and CDs, and piped music around the store. I heard a familiar tune. One that I knew I was meant to like, to enjoy even, but somehow, I just … couldn’t. And then they sang “You’re cheap and you’re haggard” and my brain snapped. An inner fury swelled up in me.
You are turning my music into Muzak you bastards!
Then, I didn’t now who it was. I didn’t want to know. But I later found out it was a cover by boyband alum, Roan Keating and collaborator Moya Brennan.
Keating puts on a wavering warble for this rendition. The Pogues-like piano is accompanies by a full string orchestra, because … I guess because its Christmas. There are some Irish touches, a penny whistle or two, but its not … its not great. Its not so bad that I can enjoy it for its mediocrity, except when they start singing “na na na nah na nah.” Its good enough to be really, reallyreally annoying! Close enough to the original to hook me, and yet so distant that it makes me want to vomit.
I hate it.
One of the reasons I hated it at the time was that altered lyric: swapping out “you cheap lousy faggot” for “you’re cheap and you’re haggard.” What does that even mean? It replaces an invective spat through clenched teeth for an expression of concern that the other party looks a bit under the weather. At the time I was ready to blame Keating and his producers for bowdlerising the poetry, but I latter found out the change was made by Kirsty McColl in the studio at the BBC just before performing live (?!) on Top of the Pops. So the “you’re cheap and you’re haggard” version is in fact older than I imagined.
Since then the lyrics have become contentious. The song has been banned, then un-banned in previous years. And this year, the BBC last month announced that Kirsty will sing “you’re cheap and your haggard” on BBC Radio 1, “you cheap lousy faggot” on Radio 2, and both or rather either on Radio 6, where the music is curated by individual presenters.
So Keating and Brennan were ahead of the curve.
Is it offensive? Of course it is. The Guardian recently asked LBGTQ+ listeners to explain how the word makes them feel. In that article Luke Turner says “This is a song suited to being bellowed out by absolutely hammered people at their seasonal dos, a last collective singalong for the office party before everyone disperses to be sick into a McDonald’s bag on the commute home. I’ve heard it happen, and as a bisexual man, a load of straight people suddenly singing “cheap lousy faggot” has made me feel uncomfortable.”
I am not going to argue for the “original” version, given that the Pogues and McColl themselves created the alternative lyrics. But I do wish the alternative had been slightly better. There is indeed a version with a better alternative which I will present later in the month.
I note that the annual furore over the lyrics now also includes another line. The BBC will censor “You’re an old slut on junk” on Radio 1. A line which, I note, the Keating version retains.
A little something different for this month – every day of (the secular) advent, I will be posting link to a different version of the now famous Christmas song, which was created in the eighties by my very favourite band. No! Stick with me, you will enjoy this, honestly … 😀
As we work though this veritable feast of Fairytales, we will talk about controversial lyrics, cultural impact and what this song means to me, and to you. I have a pretty good idea what my 24 different versions will be, but if you want to bring an interesting version to my attention, please do. I may even kick out one of my planned versions and replace it with your suggestion.
By the way, I passed my viva, referred to in the last post. I have some modest corrections to do, and a bit of reading around those, but you can call me Doctor in the meantime.
Now on to our first Fairytale. This is an early version, incomplete and recorded only for further development. It has Cait O’Riordan on the duet. Cait was an original member of the Pogues. Her solo, I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day and hand her other duet with Shane, Haunted for the Alex Cox film, Sid and Nancy are two of my favourite Pogues tracks ever. Later on in the month, we will talk about why Fairytale isn’t.
We start with this version simply to show that genius sometime takes hard work and the development between this version and the one everybody knows is clear to see. It’s not widely available. You won’t find it on Spotify or Apple Music but the compilation album, Look ’em in the eye and say Pogue Mahone, has a number of early versions. Don’t worry, the is the only one I will incflict on you for this blog.