Happy Holidays! Since it’s the first year of my blog, and since it’s the last year for my Annual Holiday Show on my little 20-year-old 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), I wanted to present to you THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS, or, 31 of my favorite 80s holiday musical treats.
Well, it’s officially a holiday weekend – both Xmas Eve and the start of Hanukkah fall on the same day this year, and that means only a couple more blog posts after this one highlighting some truly great 80s holiday gems. For Day 29 of THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS is a wonderful holiday treasure that has prolly grown on me more than any other since its release – “Fairytale Of New York” by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl.
Released in late November 1987, a couple of months in advance of The Pogues’ amazing third album, IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD, “Fairytale Of New York” was the result of the brilliant pairing of The Pogues and the late, great Kirsty MacColl (the originator of the Tracey Ullman hit, “They Don’t Know,” and who died of a tragic boating accident in 2000).
In 2012, music journalist Dorian Lynsky of the British national daily newspaper, THE GUARDIAN, wrote a piece celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Fairytale Of New York,” where he states that the song is “not about snow or sleigh rides or mistletoe or miracles, but lost youth and ruined dreams; a song in which Christmas is much the problem as it is the solution.”
“Fairytale Of New York” is not only a personal and STUCK IN THE 80s favorite, but it remains as one of the most revered Xmas songs ever, and some even contend that it’s THE greatest Xmas song ever.
The video for “Fairytale Of New York” was indeed filmed in New York around the time of the single’s release, during an extremely cold Thanksgiving week in 1987. Actor Matt Dillon, who plays a police officer in the video, was apparently a huge fan of The Pogues.
Super-producer Steve Lillywhite (famous for producing acts like U2, Big Country, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and many more) was brought in to produce IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD, and it paid off. It was the band’s biggest-selling album ever, and for five weeks over the 1987 / 1988 holiday season, “Fairytale Of New York” was the No. 1 song in Ireland.
All of these years later, it’s hard to believe Kirsty MacColl wasn’t even originally considered to sing the female lead. Former Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan left the band in 1986, the same year she married Elvis Costello (together until 2002). So, that left a big gaping hole in the duet for this future holiday gem. The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde was considered, as was Suzi Quatro, but when Steve Lillywhite brought in his wife, Kirsty MacColl (who, in 1984 / 1985 reached the Top 10 of the U.K. singles chart with her cover of Billy Bragg’s “A New England”), everything fell into place.
Over in The Pogues and Kirsty’s U.K. homeland, they were hoping “Fairytale Of New York” would capture the coveted “Christmas No. 1” that year, but the song was held from the No. 1 spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ “Always On My Mind” and peaked at No. 2. It ended up being ranked No. 48 for all of 1987, which is not bad considering the song had only been out for a month…
After charting in the U.K. and Ireland in 1991, “Fairytale Of New York” has reappeared on the singles charts in both countries every year since 2005, and since 2007, has also made frequent appearances on the singles charts in New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
The legacy of the song has extended well beyond that of singles charts around the globe. Another popular U.K. publication, THE TELEGRAPH, revealed in 2014 that “Fairytale Of New York” was the most-played Xmas song of the 21st Century in the United Kingdom. And, with all of its reissues over the past 29 years, “Fairytale Of New York” has now accumulated (as of the official U.K. Top 75 singles chart dated December 29, 2016) a whopping 77 weeks, good enough for the seventh most-charted song of all time.
Since the 1987 original, “Fairytale Of New York” has been covered by the likes of Sinéad O’Connor, Nina Hagen and Coldplay, but for me (and many others across the planet, I’m sure), there’ll never be another version like the one I fell in love with all those years ago, and that I love and then some even more with each passing year…