“Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues (with Kirsty MacColl)

I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I call “Fairytale of New York” the greatest secular Christmas song of all time and one of the greatest songs ever.

The Pogues were at a creative peak when If I Should Fall From Grace With God was released in 1988, and while the band was much too ragged to release a flawless album, both Grace and their previous record, Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash are dazzling achievements.

“Fairytale of New York,” the fourth track on Grace, opens with the narrator in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve.  From there he flashes back on the life he and his lover have shared, from the joyous optimism of two Irish immigrants in New York City to their later descent into animosity and substance abuse.  The song ends on a hopeful note, with the narrator deciding to turn his life around, glorious, swelling strings hinting that maybe this Christmas will be the day he begins to redeem himself.

The late Kirsty MacColl provides the female vocal, and it’s a tremendous performance–when she declares “You took my dreams from me,” the heartache is palpable.  Pogues’ lead Shane MacGowan is almost as good, his three-packs-a-day rasp contrasting vividly with MacColl’s lilt.  Their chemistry is amazing–like a classic romantic film.  After “You took my dreams from me,” comes the perfect rejoinder: “I kept them with me, babe.”

Whether you’ve never heard this song or if you’ve heard it a thousand times, I encourage you to take four minutes, turn up your speakers, and listen to this masterpiece.  From the songwriting, to the arrangement, to the performance, it’s about as perfect a song as mere humans can create.  I am also not exaggerating when I say that it gives me goosebumps nearly every time I hear it.

4 Responses to “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues (with Kirsty MacColl)

  1. […] am not exaggerating in the slightest when I call ‘Fairytale of New York’ the greatest secular Christmas song of all time and one of the greatest songs ever.” [On Deaf […]

  2. Liz says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

    The only thing that irks me about this song is the use of “faggot.”

    Really?

  3. The language in the song has never bothered me. The song is from the perspective of a rough-and-tumble couple, and I can’t object to their use of harsh and even offensive language in the course of a shouting match any more than I could object to such language by similar characters in a novel or movie. It is realistic, and fleshes out the characters.

    There was a controversy in the UK (where the song is much better known) a couple of years back when a BBC station decided to censor it a bit, including the word “faggot.” There was a huge backlash by listeners, and the station rescinded its decision. I recall reading an article or two on it at the time on the websites of UK newspapers, and the comments attached to the articles were nearly universally against the censorship. Lots of gay listeners and readers left comments to say how much they loved the song and that the language did not bother them. I don’t know if that would happen in the US, where people by-and-large have not grown up with the song.

  4. Mike C says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I was just listening to this song at work and thinking to myself that it might be the greatest song I’ve ever heard. So I decided to google it and found this site.

    I agree with Gordon’s observation above. That’s exactly the kind of thing you would hear in a couple fight that’s portrayed in the song. I think of this song as something of a mini-short story. It’s not like the artist is using it to refer to someone in a hateful way (though the character in the story certainly is)

    I can’t help feeling that the ending of the song is not really update. It seemed more to me that the man can’t accept the fact that he’s licked, and he’s basically pleading that he can’t get by without her. I think this could really go either way.

    Anyway, back to work for me!

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