"Fairytale of New York" is, unequivocally, the best Christmas song. Because it's actually a bleak story about the false veneer of holiday spirit as a metaphor for the soul-crushing deceptions of the so-called "American Dream" that leads people to hatred, drug abuse, and worse … and still returns for one more rousing chorus.
In short, it's perfect. So perfect that you may just want to listen to it over and over and over again. Which is why I put together this Spotify playlist consisting of 99 covers of the song, plus the original version by the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl.
And then — just because 100 wasn't round enough for me — I recorded this quick cover of the song myself, using an Irish Gaelic translation by Fred McCluskey and Ger Maher (which cleverly skirts around that bit of ugly language in the third verse, which makes sense in the context of the fictional story but absolutely shatters any Christmas delusions).
Just, um, don't bother looking up Shane MacGowan's recent birthday performance of the song from the Late Late Show, 'cause it's pretty painful to watch, and not just because of him. Oof.
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The Pogues gave rise to an entirely new genre of music: Paddy Punk. For better or worse (during an interview with Spider Stacey, I was told it was the latter), thousands of bands have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to ape the Pogues' sound. In my opinion, these pretenders to the throne may sound great but they can never hope to measure up, due to two factors: They lack Shane MacGowan's dark, poetic view of the world and James Fearnley's percussive accordion playing.
Here's the thing, though: unless he's singing or I've heard it before, I might not know that MacGowan wrote a particular pile of lyrics. But the moment I hear a tune being played I've no doubt that it's Fearnley minding the box. His sound rang in my ears throughout my teen years and continues to do so, today. Recently, Fearnley and a number of other notable musicians came together to form a new outfit, The Walker Roaders. From what I've heard so far, a whole LP from them should be a very fine thing.
From the band's Facebook page:
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In the course of a widely celebrated thirty-year career, the sound of seminal London-Irish band The Pogues launched a generation of rowdy and explosive Celtic-Punk bands. James Fearnley, co-founder and long-time accordion player in that legendary group, has now teamed with two of its most notable devotees, Flogging Molly co-founder and Grammy Award-winning producer Ted Hutt and Dropkick Murphys’ multi-instrumentalist Marc Orrell, forming The Walker Roaders whose music splices anthems of Celtic-punk with the poetry of The Pogues.
One story pegs Elvis Costello as the original impetus for The Pogues' Fairytale of New York. Another points to the band's manager. Either way, it took Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan two years to write the now-classic anti-Christmas Christmas song. The story behind it is an interesting one. This Polyphonic video tells it.
(Nag on the Lake, Open Culture) Read the rest
The Pogues were my entry point into punk. They caused a massive shift in my understanding of music: they made my growing up to play the mandolin, tenor banjo and bodhran feel cool. The music I played needn't be something from the past. As much as I loved and continue to adore traditional Irish tunes, The Pogues showed 15-year-old me that there was new life in the tunes I knew; new themes to explore. Discovering A Pair of Brown Eyes, Thousands are Sailing and The Broad Majestic Shannon kicked open other musical doors for me. It wasn't too long until my Discman was pushing The Waterboys, The Levellers, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span into my skull.
I've got fond memories of The Pogues Live at the Town and Country. When I was 18, I skipped my high school prom in favor of shipping off to Halifax. I'd fallen in love with a girl there, the summer previous. She was waiting for me. The relationship smouldered itself out, as flames that burn too hot, too fast, often do. Before we parted ways, she bought Live at the Town and Country on VHS for me as a birthday gift.
I watch it and listened to it until there was nothing left of that tape. Read the rest