In the interest of a green Christmas, I'm recycling, almost entirely, a post from 2008, in which I suggested Fairytale of New York is the ultimate Christmas song. An odd choice, but I stick by it; read on to find out why. And it's today's entry in my musical advent calendar, in which I've been picking some of my favourite songs and albums. It winds up tomorrow. Here's the original post:
Fairytale of New York is - hard to believe - more than two decades old. The 1987 collaboration between the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl has come a Christmas classic, in spite of itself. It's dark, serious material (the famous opening lines of the lyrics, after all, are "It was Christmas Eve babe/ In the drunk tank"), yet I'd put it up as an ultimate Christmas song: it's full of emotion, and isn't Christmas sometimes also about wistful thoughts of ruined, piercing self-reflection as anything else?
I'm not alone. In 2004, the song topped a British poll of favourite Christmas songs. The Wikipedia entry notes that the song has come out on top on other surveys, and has been identified as a Christmas favourite of everyone from Cliff Richard (!) to Ricky Gervais.
The song has been re-released in recent years, largely to draw attention to MacColl's family's campaign to investigate her 2000 death in Mexico.
I think the song has become evergreen because it's kind of timeless; it's clearly set in the past (the reference to Sinatra has sparked at least two debates I've been privy to, pertaining to the era in which the song is set), but that doesn't really matter too much.
Here's an excerpt from a piece Alan Connor wrote for the BBC Magazine in 2007, on the history of the song:
The video, which features Matt Dillon in a cameo in its opening moments, is a gem. Here it is.