Fairytale of New York

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This article is about the song. For the novel by J. P. Donleavy, see A Fairy Tale of New York.
"Fairytale of New York"
Single by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
from the album If I Should Fall from Grace with God
Released December 1987
Format CD single, 7" and 12" Vinyl, Cassette
Recorded August 1987
Genre Celtic punk, Christmas music
Length 4:33
Label Pogue Mahone
Writer(s) Jem Finer, Shane MacGowan
The Pogues singles chronology
"Irish Rover"
"Fairytale of New York"
"If I Should Fall from Grace with God"

"Fairytale of New York" is a Christmas song by the Celtic punk group The Pogues, released in 1987 and featuring singer Kirsty MacColl. The song is an Irish folk style ballad, written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, and featured on The Pogues' album If I Should Fall from Grace with God. The song features string arrangements by Fiachra Trench. It has been cited as the best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio and magazine related polls in the UK and Ireland.[1]

Recording and lyrics[edit]

The song was originally planned as a duet by Shane MacGowan and Pogues bassist Cait O'Riordan, but O'Riordan left the band in 1986 before the song was completed.[2] The Pogues were at the time being produced by Kirsty MacColl's husband Steve Lillywhite, who asked his wife to provide a guide vocal of the female part for a demo version of the song. The Pogues liked MacColl's contribution so much that they asked her to sing the part on the actual recording.[3]

The song follows an Irish immigrant's Christmas Eve reverie about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank. When an inebriated old man also in the cell sings a passage from the Irish ballad "The Rare Old Mountain Dew", the narrator (MacGowan) begins to dream about the song's female character. The remainder of the song (which may be an internal monologue) takes the form of a call and response between the couple, their youthful hopes crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, as they reminisce and bicker on Christmas Eve.[2]

MacColl's melodious singing contrasts with the harshness of MacGowan's voice, and the lyrics are sometimes bittersweet—sometimes purely bitter: "Happy Christmas your arse/I pray God it's our last". The lyrics "Sinatra was swinging" and "cars as big as bars" seem to place the song in the late 1940s,[2] The title, taken from author J. P. Donleavy's novel A Fairy Tale of New York, was chosen after the song had been written and recorded.[2] although the music video clearly depicts what was then present-day 1980s New York.

Music video[edit]

Twice MacGowan and MacColl sing, "The boys of the NYPD choir still singing "Galway Bay". The New York Police Department (NYPD) does not have a choir, but it does have a Pipes and Drums unit that is featured in the video for the song. The NYPD Pipes and Drums did not know "Galway Bay" and so sang and played the Mickey Mouse Club theme tune for the music video instead,[4] and the editor put it in slow motion to fit the beat.[2] The video featured Matt Dillon as the NYPD patrol man who arrests the intoxicated MacGowan.[2]


Releases and television performances[edit]

The song was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland in November 1987 and swiftly became a hit, spending five weeks at Number 1 in the Irish charts. On 17 December 1987, the Pogues and MacColl performed the song on the BBC's popular television show Top of the Pops, and it was propelled to number two on the official UK Top 75. For the Top of the Pops appearance, the BBC insisted that MacColl's singing of "arse" be replaced with the less offensive "ass", although as she mimed the word MacColl slapped the relevant part of her body to make it clear what was meant.

Although the song finished 1987 as the 48th best seller of the year despite only a single month's sales, it was denied the Christmas Number 1 spot by the Pet Shop Boys' cover of "Always on My Mind". MacGowan is said to have commented on this in his typically forthright manner: "We were beaten by two queens and a drum machine".[5] MacColl later said that she did not feel they were really in competition with the Pet Shop Boys as they were doing a completely different kind of music.

The song was re-released by The Pogues in the UK in 1991 (reaching #36), and again in the UK and Ireland for Christmas 2005,[6] reaching number three in the UK. All proceeds from the latter release were donated towards a mixture of homeless charities and Justice for Kirsty, a campaign to find out the truth behind MacColl's death in 2000. Due to the eligibility of downloads to chart even without a physical release, the song has re-entered the Top 75 every December since 2005. It has now made the Top 20 on ten separate occasions including nine times in successive years, and the Top 10 on four separate occasions including three times in successive years, feats that no other single can match. Its eleven visits to the chart now total 63 weeks on the official UK Top 75 (as at w/e 4 January 2014), making it the 13th most charted song of all time. In late 2012 it was declared a UK million-seller.[7]

On 22 December 2005, The Pogues performed the song on a Jonathan Ross Christmas special on BBC One in the UK, with the female vocals taken by singer Katie Melua. This was The Pogues' first television performance of the song since 1988.

Fairytale of New York was announced as Britain's "favourite Christmas song" in a 90-minute special on ITV on 22 December 2012, following a nationwide survey of ITV viewers.

In December 2012, the song was reissued to mark its 25th anniversary.[8]


Chart (1987) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 1
UK Singles Chart 2
Chart (1991) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 10
UK Singles Chart 36
Chart (2005) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 3
UK Singles Chart 3
Chart (2006) Peak
UK Singles Chart 6
Chart (2007) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 3
UK Singles Chart 4
Chart (2008) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 8
UK Singles Chart 12
Chart (2009) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 13
UK Singles Chart 12
Chart (2010) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 11
UK Singles Chart 17
Chart (2011) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 7
UK Singles Chart 13
Chart (2012) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 14
UK Singles Chart 12
Chart (2013) Peak
Irish Singles Chart 8
UK Singles Chart 14

End-of-year charts[edit]

Chart (2009) Position
UK Singles Chart[9] 191


The song has featured in many UK-based surveys and polls:-

  • Number 1 in the VH1 greatest Christmas song chart three years running, 2004, [10] 2005[11] and 2006
  • Number 11 in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Christmas Moments
  • Number 27 on VH1's Greatest Songs Never to Make Number One
  • Number 23 on VH1's greatest lyrics
  • Number 29 on 4Music's Noddy Holder's Big Christmas 50
  • Number 83 in Q Magazine's 100 Greatest Ever Songs*
  • Number 84 on BBC Radio 2's top 100 greatest songs of all time poll
  • The Hits music channel rated "Fairytale of New York" number one in 'The Nation's Favourite Christmas Song' countdown
  • In December 2008 The Music Factory UK did a poll which found that the song was the favourite Christmas song.[12]
  • Number 1 song of the 80s by voters of The Radcliffe & Maconie show on BBC Radio 2 & BBC Four's Pop On Trial season in January 2008
  • The UK's second-favourite single to have missed the Number 1 slot[13]


On 18 December 2007, BBC Radio 1 banned the words "faggot" and "slut" from "Fairytale of New York" to "avoid offence".[14] The words, sung as Kirsty MacColl and MacGowan trade insults, were dubbed out. MacColl's mother, Jean, called the ban "too ridiculous", while the Pogues said they found it "amusing". The BBC said: "We are playing an edited version because some members of the audience might find it offensive." Later that evening Radio 1 backed down and said that after a day of criticism from listeners, the band, and MacColl's mother, they reversed the decision.[15] The unedited version was then played later on that day. Other BBC radio stations, including the typically conservative Radio 2, had continued to play the original version throughout this period, the ban having applied to Radio 1 only. The MTV channels in the UK also removed and scrambled the words "slut", "faggot" and "arse" from the song.

In his Christmas podcast, musical comedian Mitch Benn commented that "faggot" was Irish and Liverpudlian slang for a lazy person, and was unrelated to the derogatory term for homosexuals.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pogues track wins Christmas poll". BBC News. December 16, 2004. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Lynskey, Dorian (December 6, 2012). "Fairytale of New York: the story behind the Pogues' classic Christmas anthem". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Connor, Alan (2007-12-21). "Smashed Hits: Fairytale of a fairytale". BBC News Online Magazine (British Broadcasting Corporation). Archived from the original on 2007-12-24. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  4. ^ "The anti-dote to schmaltzy Christmas videos". Irish Music Daily. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  5. ^ Taylor, Jerome (19 December 2007). "BBC backs down on plan to censor 'Fairytale of New York'". The Independent. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  6. ^ Entertainment Wise, November 1, 2005. The Pogues Re-release 'Fairytale of New York'. Retrieved November 17, 2005.
  7. ^ "Sales of the Pogues' 'Fairytale Of New York' reach 1 million 25 years after release", The Independent, 31 December 2012
  8. ^ "Fairytale of New York: the story behind the Pogues' classic Christmas anthem". Guardian UK. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "Charts Plus Year end 2009" (PDF). Charts Plus. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  10. ^ BBC News, December 16, 2004. Pogues track wins Christmas poll. Retrieved November 17, 2005.
  11. ^ BBC News, December 15, 2005. Fairytale still the festive pick. Retrieved December 19, 2005.
  12. ^ MTV UK: Nation's Favourite Christmas Song Results[dead link]
  13. ^ "Ultravox's Vienna tops 'number two' poll". BBC. 1 January 2013. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  14. ^ Daily Telegraph, December 18, 2007. BBC censors The Pogues' Christmas classic. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  15. ^ BBC News, December 18, 2007. Radio 1 backs down in Pogues row. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  16. ^ "The Mitch Benn Christmas Podcast". Mitchbenn.com. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 

External links[edit]