25-years ago on December 11 1987, Celtic-punk band The Pogues released ‘Fairytale of New York’ with the beautiful, Kirsty MacColl. Shane Burke of The Daily Shift recounts…
The song was an Irish style folk ballad wrote by Jem Finer and Shane McGowan; upon release it was a smash hit reaching number one in the Irish charts and number two in the UK charts. However despite the song’s success and status as a cult Christmas classic, what many people seem to misunderstand, is why the song resonated so much with people in Ireland and the UK in particular.
The song is a story of an Irish immigrant arrested on Christmas Eve for being drunken and disorderly; thrown in the ‘drunk tank’ he sleeps off a binge. While in custody he hears an old, drunken man sing ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew’. From this point on the song becomes a call and response between two lovers whose hopes and dreams have been crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction.
For many immigrants to America from Ireland in particular it was not all plain sailing and immediately a better life, for a significant portion of immigrants life was no better than the countries they left behind. Crushed and dejected those who traveled to the new world in search of a better life instead found themselves toiling away on building sites; to escape such degrading memories people simply turned to alcohol and drugs rather than face the harsh realities of life the particularly heartbreaking reality that life was no better in their new home.
Words flow masterfully, the lyrics, incapable from escaping the inherent bitterness, “Happy Christmas your arse /I pray God it’s our last”; notably, the most disillusioned and dejected is the male character.
If any explanation for the songs popularity can be provided, it must state that ’Fairytale of New York’ has a particular cultural resonance.
Rather than proposing any other hypothesis the only thing left to do, is to enjoy the song for the Christmas classic that it is. Enjoy.