This song is about Irish people who emigrated to America in the 19th century to escape the potato famine and in hope of making it as entertainers in New York. Many didn't, however, and ended up homeless. It is also said to come from a desire to move away from tacky Christmas songs and to highlight the fact that a lot of people have a terrible time at Christmas.
Suggestion credit: Adam - Dewsbury, England
After their second album Rum, Sodomy & The Lash, The Pogues wanted to release a Christmas single. Instead of a cover song, lead singer Shane MacGowan and banjo player Jem Finer decided to write one themselves. The first attempts to record this were as a duet with MacGowan and Pogues bass player Cait O'Riordan. They didn't have the song ready for a Christmas single, so they recorded it for their third album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, which was produced by Steve Lillywhite. Lillywhite took tapes home and had his wife, Kirsty MacColl record a scratch vocal, but her voice was so good that they decided to keep it.
At first, this song had lyrics about a sailor and a distant ocean, but Finer's wife suggested he change it to be about a couple at Christmas who are hard on their luck. Finer wrote another song and took both to MacGowan, who combined the melody of the first with the story line of the second.
In 2004 VH1 poll, this was voted the UK's favorite Christmas song of all time.
Shane MacGowan was born on Christmas Day.
The title was taken from a book called A Fairytale of New York, by James Patrick (JP) Donleavy.
The policeman pushing Pogue Shane MacGowan through the station at the beginning of the video is the actor Matt Dillon.
This was used to open the 1996 film Basquiat, about a graffiti artist who becomes popular in the art community.
Suggestion credit: Jeff - Kendall Park, NJ, for above 3
On December 18, 2000, Kirsty MacColl died in a boating accident. This single has been re-released several times for the UK Christmas market. In 2005 it was re-issued to publicize a new campaign for an investigation into the death of McColl.
After charting at #3 in the UK in 2005 after it was re-issued in the holiday season, and in 2006 when it re-entered the chart peaking at #6, the track became the first Christmas song ever to make the UK Top 10 three years in a row when thanks to downloaded sales it returned to the Top 10 in 2007. The tune has continued to appear in the top 20 each year.
In 2007, the BBC began playing a version with the word "faggot" edited out. After a predictable outrage, they began playing the uncut version.
This song was inspired by JP Donleavy's 1961 novel of the same title. The author told The Daily Mail December 18, 2009: "Technically I could have taken legal action for piracy but as I know Shane MacGowan - I believe his father is a fan of my work - I decided not to bother."
The song originated with a bet by Elvis Costello that Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer couldn't come up with a Christmas record that wasn't slushy.
The lyric, "The boys of the NYPD choir still singing 'Galway Bay,'" isn't strictly true. The NYPD doesn't actually have a choir, though they do have an Irish pipe band that is featured in the music video. The pipe band didn't know "Galway Bay," so they played the "Mickey Mouse Club March" instead, and the promo was later slowed down to fit the beat.
The pipe band had been drinking on the coach that brought them to the video shoot. By the time they turned up for the filming they were even more drunk than The Pogues themselves and refused to appear unless they were given more alcohol.
Sioraf from Macroon, IrelandIt would be an Irish band that would write possibly the most depressing Christmas song ever; at least 2000 miles ends happily. Still great song and unlike Saint Etienne Shane Mac Gowan really was born on Christmas day.
Mark from Portsmouth, United KingdomPetter from Sweden. Shane Macgowan did not write 'Thousands are sailing'.
Paul from Newtonmore, United KingdomDon't forget the song Galway Bay wasn't written till after the Second World War. This is a contemporary song not a historic one, though obviously it has echoes...
Jim from Long Beach, CaGreat song!! I love The Pogues. RIP Kristie!!
James from Crawley, United KingdomDoes anyone realise that Shane is English not Irish, he was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent South East England. In Fact most of the band are English.
Gaza from Edinburgh, United KingdomI love this song sooo much. It is so heartbreaking. How many ppl agree wi me that it is ironic that, although it is thought the greatest xmas song ever, it is actually a song about a tragic, penniless couple whose dreams were destroyed by drug-addiction and poverty? No one really listens to the song. I have had to explain the meaning of the lyrics plenty of times to my friends. It is so sad.
Michael from Long Beach, CaThis song has brought me from angry to happy to sad and happy again and again. I think I would like to move to Ireland and reclaim my Irish ancestry. I will do what the Irish do, 'have another one'. Here's to Shane and the RIP Kirsty...
Charles from Glenside, PaI don't know if I'd call this my favorite song ever, but it sure as hell is close. It is so Beautifully written and arranged. One would have a hard time finding another song as painfully heartbreaking, and yet so hilarious at the same time as this one.
Rob from Lincoln, England'I turned my face away and dreamed about you'; heartbreaking. Truly a great, great song. Recently here in the UK the BBC tried to censor the song to remove the words 'slut' and 'faggot'. Overwhelming public opposition drove them to remove the edit and the song played on BBC radio in its original form.
Joe from Dublindylan, from sydney... close but no donut... Póg = Kiss; Mo = My; Thóin! = Arse!
Póg Mo Thóin... not "pogue mahoge"
Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiWhy wasn't this a hit in America? Americans are so closed-minded when it comes to music.
Gv31d03x94b from Gv31d03x94b, CaIn response to - "they've got cars big as bars" cars + bars are both called saloons
From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairytale_of_New_York
The Story of Fairytale of New York (2005) (TV)(BBC) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0495631/
BBC - Radio 2 - Sold On Song - TOP 100 - Fairytale Of New York http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/songlibrary/fairytaleofnewyork.shtml
Lobstarock from Boston, MaLook for Matt Dillon, in a cameo as the policeman, in the video.
Helen from Newcastle, AustraliaLike others, this is a Christmas that we don't want to think about. Born in Ireland and, as a child, I can remember an old (to me) woman asking me for a penny. I was a child and didn't have a penny to give her, but such is poverty, in any country. Each time I play this song I remember that old woman - and then do the Irish thing: 'have another one'.
Petter from Ã?ngelholm, SwedenI'm kinda fascinated of The Pogues' obsession with irish people travelling to the US. my favourite on this theme has to be their song "Thousands are sailing". there MacGowan's songwriting truly stands out... again...
Niall from Ireland, IrelandAbsolutely the greatest Christmas song ever written and a true highlight that for all his sins Shane McGowan is above all a remarkable songwriter
Darren from Warrington, EnglandThis year on TV they were going through the video, and the funny thing is that in the video you see "the boys from NYPD choir singing Galway Bay". There is no NYPD choir, and the band that was in the video had never heard the song Galway Bay, so ended up playing the Mickey Mouse Club song instead!
Dylan from Sydney, United Statesthe Pogues means the kisses in galic the sentince is pogue mahoge wich means kiss my arse
Paul from Galway, Irelandit's a song that when you hear you mourn for Kirsty McColl. She was so talented. Sad song. Brilliant. Irish lyrics - "you cheap, lousy faggot." so irish. "galway bay," I LIVE THERE. I'm part of the song. UP THE IRISH
Rocco from Naples, ItalyEven if it's got NY in the title, whenever i listen to this song i go back with my mind in Dublin, and i rememeber of the Liffey river, of Phoenix Park, of Trinity college, of St. Stephen's green, of the temple bar and so on...I'm an italian but i love Irish people and Ireland and i miss it so much: that's the power of music
Brian from Philadelphia, Paand the boys from the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay -
Irish music from a very Irish profession
Brian from Fullerton (the Paris Of Oc), CaThis song breaks my heart every time.
Paul from Salford, Englandthink Adam is confusing this with Thousands Are Sailing off the same album Paul, Manchester
George from Bristol, Englandeasily the best christmas song ever - possibly on of the best SONGS ever - brilliant band, easily the best record for xmas ever.
Miguel from Dublin, IrelandWithout doubt the greatest Christmas song. With an added poignancy now after the death of Kirsty McColl
Craig from Madison, WiOne of my all time favorite Christmas songs. When I first heard this song, I demanded the tape be rewound so I could hear it again, and again and again. 4 times I heard that song in my first sitting, and over a decade later it still excites me every time I hear it. Even though it goes through so many emotions (bliss, melancholy, bitterness) it only makes me giddy, just like a Christmas song should.
Gretchen from Glen Mills, PaIn response to Adam's enlightening songfact - "they've got cars big as bars" might indicate at least early 20th-century New York. "Sinatra was swinging," again, implies that the context of the song is somewhat later.