I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
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Manhattan Muncipal Building c 2005
(thanks Ivailo Dochkov)
Described in Rolling Stone
Magazine as “The musical equivalent of a pub crawl," The Pogues’ Christmas hit “Fairytale of New York” depicts the sort of Christmas that you might expect frontman Sean McGowan to be preparing for this time of year. A gifted Irish degenerate, reputed to be continuously drunk from the age of fourteen, and who was famously reported to the police for drug possession by Sinead O’Connor (whom he later thanked for helping him to kick the ol’ habit), McGowan’s act is part street-musician, part drunken alehouse sing-song. But, as songs like “Fairytale of New York” can attest, McGowan is in superb command of a pen on the odd occasion that he substitutes it for a needle.
“Fairytale of New York” was released on the band’s 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God
, and has proven to be a Christmas hit without peer in the U.K. and Ireland, where the song topped the VH1 greatest Christmas song charts at #1 for three years running between 2004 and 2006. Anyone living or residing in the U.K. during these years remembers this song’s hostile multimedia takeover of all public areas, and the endless droning of a ragged, ramshackle and oddly-toothed McGowan, interspersed with Kirsty MacColl’s clear voice ringing “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy…” not-so-merrily keeping up the Christmas spirit.
This song’s continuity in the charts makes it the 19th most-charted song of all time, but this isn’t enough for many fans. Its position in the prelude to Christmas 2012 was #19 on the Midweeks Chart, and there were two mass-movements on Facebook involving thousands of people that garnered support for the song’s return to #1 through internet-downloads (pages include “Fairytale of New York for 2012 Christmas Number 1,” and “Fairytale of New York – Christmas Number One Mission”).
Four Seasons on the Hudson
(thanks Julian Colton)
Although the title of “Fairytale” alludes to New York, it was written in London as the result of a bet between McGowan and his ex-producer and fellow musician Elvis Costello, and is strongly situated within McGowan’s inescapable personal context as an Irish immigrant in the U.K., and as an outsider bent on a life of tragic self-destruction. The song is still very much a fairy-tale in that it is a work of the imagination: “The boys of the NYPD choir” never “were singing ‘Galway Bay,’” for instance, because there is no NYPD choir. Though they do have a pipe band, which featured on the music video.
The emotional relevance of this song is also bound to its British context. According to VH1 polls, it has been considered the greatest Christmas song of all time by the good people of England, who are in the odd position of being, for the most part, anti-establishment in one of the largest commercial empires in the world. It seems they have taken this song up as their national Christmas anthem because it represents their united stance against the manufactured festive spirit, which eats at their generally cynical national temperament. Ironically, this is then used by the music industry to market Christmas singles and albums to them. Clearly the festive industry doesn’t care if you want “Jingle Bells” or [the Pogues'] Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
for Christmas, just as long as you buy something.
~ Douglas MacCutcheon
Fairytale Of New York Songfacts
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