It is that time of the year when the radio airwaves and shopping malls resonate to the sounds of Christmas. From Cliff and his mistletoe to Noddy and his tinsel top hat they will be the soundtrack to our lives for the next few weeks yet one record stands out above all others.
That – of course – is The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York and my guess here is that ninety-seven per cent of Sabotage Times readers are nodding along in agreement with that statement.
It is without doubt our generation’s White Christmas and like White Christmas it is beautiful. That, however, is the only similarity because from the moment that Shane MacGowan sings: “It was Christmas Eve, babe in the drunk tank” you know this is no ordinary piece of Christmas revelry.
It is Shane at his broad majestic best where “Sinatra is swinging and all the drunks are singing” and the listeners are there with him.
New York on Christmas Eve with the cars as big as bars and him and his girl and those bittersweet words:
“You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray to God it’s our last”
Frankly what’s not to like?
If it was a mere poem it would stand up and be counted but it is much more than that because as well as the wonderful words it is a beautiful tune.
It is clever; the strings, the chord changes and the call and response lyrics with Kirsty MacColl never sounding better especially when it all comes together with the exquisite refrain:
“The boys of the NYPD choir still singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day”
It is then when you are hooked…
You can add in Kirsty’s (then) husband’s wonderful production and the tremendous engineering of the record and appreciate that it really is a wonderful technical piece of work but it’s a song that tugs at the heartstrings.
The words, the music, the drama and the melancholy means that every time you hear it, it lifts your spirits, makes you smile and makes you want to sing along.
For me it is up there with A Rainy Night in Soho - where the wind whistles all its charms and Shane’s friends fall into heaven and hell - in The Pogues scheme of things and there aren’t many better songs than that anywhere… in December or any other month in the calendar.
Meanwhile it will be sung with gusto by people on their Christmas dos and whilst queuing up for their turkeys, by punks, drunks and sluts, couples kissing on the corner and all those people that could have been someone.
Quite simply it is beautiful and by far and away the greatest Christmas record ever…
Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Shane.