…does it matter?
Of course, it *@?ing matters you daft £$%^&*!
Back in 1987, The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl on vocals released what many believe to be the greatest Christmas single of all time, ‘Fairytale Of New York.’ A bittersweet tale, it tells of an Irish couple in New York.
Mostly told from the husband’s point of view, Shane MacGowan’s Christmas Eve reverie thinks about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank.
When an old man in the same cell sings a passage from the Irish ballad “The Rare Old Mountain Dew”, the MacGowan begins to dream about the song’s female character. The remainder of the song 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. MacColl’s putdown of ‘You scumbag, you maggot you cheap lousy faggot/happy Christmas? Your arse!/I pray God it’s our last’ amazingly got past the censors at the BBC (who had baulked at George Michael’s ‘I Want Your Sex’ a mere matter of months earlier. Then again, fifteen years previously Lou Reed’s pretty bleedin’ obvious ‘But she never lost her head/even when she was giving head’ showed that it wasn’t always black and white). It remains one of the most vitriolic put-downs on record.
According to Wikipedia ‘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.’
Though it’s hard to imagine the song without Kirsty MacColl singing the female line, it wasn’t intended that way. Originally the part was to have been sung by the Pogues’ original bassist Cait O’Riordan, who had previously taken lead vocals on ‘A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday’ and ‘Haunted.’ O’Riordan left the band in 1986, having married the band’s producer Elvis Costello, who had worked with the band on their sophomore album Rum, Sodomy And The Lash.
Funnily enough, it was the band’s next producer Steve Lillywhite’s wife, Kirsty MacColl who sung the lead, but she had only been asked to provide the guide vocal. The band liked her contribution so much, they asked her to record it for the real thing…and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kirsty MacColl died, tragically, in December 2000 , whilst Scuba Diving in Mexico with her two sons (see here for details about the Justice For Kirsty campaign, which has now been stood down). She is probably best known for her part in this song, but if you haven’t heard any of her other albums, may I recommend that you check out the Electric Landlady and Tropical Brainstorm albums, just for starters.
The song has been a hit many times since, and has made the charts in 1991, 2005-2011, this year it has already re-charted. It’s been 25 years -wouldn’t it be great if it finally reached the position it deserved?
The 1987 Top Of The Pops performance, introduced by Mike Read
Just Shane and Kirsty for Top Of The Pops in 1992…