The very best Christmas song is, of course, also the only one to involve someone being called “an old slut on junk”. This December marks 25 years of ‘Fairytale of New York’, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s glorious drunken hymn to broken dreams and bitterly cold recriminations. In the last quarter of a century it’s become rightfully regarded as a classic, and this year it will be re-released as a limited edition 7” vinyl which The Pogues are supporting with a one-off UK gig at London’s O2 Arena on 20th December. However, when it was first released in 1987 it didn’t even take the Christmas number one slot. Who kept them off the top? That and more in our behind-the-fairytale guide to the 25 things you should know:
1. Despite the wintery subject matter, the song was actually recorded in July, in sweltering heat.
2. The song started life as a bet. Pogues producer Elvis Costello bet Shane MacGowan and co-writer Jem Finer, the band’s banjoist, that they couldn’t come up with a Christmas record that wasn’t slushy.
3. The song was originally planned as a duet between Shane MacGowan and Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan. However, O’Riordan married Costello and left the band in 1986, before the song was recorded.
4. Costello was replaced as producer by Steve Lillywhite, who asked his wife, Kirsty MacColl, to record test vocals to help the band hear how the duet could work. They were so astounded by her performance they had to keep it.
5. Before hearing MacColl, MacGowan had suggested Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde as a possible partner for the duet.
6. The song was recorded not in New York, but at RAK Studios near Regents Park in London.
7. Due to illness, guitarist Philip Chevron had to drop out of the American tour that coincided with the video shoot for ‘Fairytale Of New York’. He was replaced by Joe Strummer, and the band added ‘London Calling’ and ‘I Fought The Law’ to their encores.
8. Although Shane MacGowan appears to play the piano in the video, the instrument was actually played by James Fearnley. Much to his chagrin, Fearnley had to wear Shane’s rings for the close-up shots of his hands.
9. When the band arrived back from their American tour they went straight onto Top Of The Pops to perform the song with MacColl. It features some spectacularly bad miming:
10. The lyrics mention: “The boys of the NYPD choir still singing ‘Galway Bay’.” The NYPD doesn’t actually have a choir, but it does have an Irish pipe band who are featured in the music video. They didn’t know ‘Galway Bay’, so they played the ‘Mickey Mouse Club March’ instead, and the video was later slowed down to fit the beat.
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