The History of “Fairytale of New York”

The stories behind the two-year journey to the best melancholy drunk Christmas song of all time.

The Guardian recently ran a marvelous story everyone should read: it’s the behind-the-scenes story of how the Pogues’ great song “Fairytale of New York” came to be written and recorded. It also courteously includes playable videos for the album version of the song and an unreleased demo version, in case you’re one of the poor benighted souls not yet familiar with “Fairytale of New York”.

The song, a heartbreakingly raw duet half-telling the story of a pair of lovers down and out in a basically mythical New York, is perhaps the best-known song by the Pogues, and the details of its creation are fascinating.

Appropriately for a song that pivots on an argument, there is disagreement as to where the idea originated. Fearnley, who recently published a memoir, Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues, remembers manager Frank Murray suggesting that they cover the Band’s 1977 song Christmas Must be Tonight. “It was an awful song. We probably said, fuck that, we can do our own.”

Singer Shane MacGowan maintains that Elvis Costello, who produced the Pogues‘ 1985 masterpiece Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, wagered the singer that he couldn’t write a Christmas duet to sing with bass player (and Costello’s future wife) Cait O’Riordan.

For the record, my preferred origin story is “drunken bet with Elvis Costello.”

I don’t mean my preferred origin story for this song, I mean for everything.

“How did you gain your superpowers and become Amazing Man?”

“Drunken bet with Elvis Costello.”

“Gramma, how did you and grandpa get married?”

“Drunken bet with Elvis Costello.”

“Can anyone here tell me how the very first Christmas happened?”

“Drunken bet with Elvis Costello.”

May your holiday season be long on sentiment and relatively short on bitter alcoholic recrimination, everyone.

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About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, and possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.

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