Dec 07

Can’t make it all alone

FT6 comments • 561 views

I’m in severe danger of starting to hate an excellent song. Not because of what “Fairytale Of New York” is – whole-hearted, rambunctious, sad and sentimental – but because of what it’s being used for: “the great anti-carol” as Sean O’Hagan typically puts it in a piece in today’s Observer, a stick to beat ‘commercialised’ and ‘banal’ Christmas with. Weirdly, O’Hagan’s analysis of what’s going on in the song – the mixture of the “romantic and sordid” – is pretty astute, so it’s doubly frustrating that he reaches for “gritty realism” as the key thing to take away from it. I don’t want to fight cliche with cliche here, but it reinforces a long-standing impression that broadsheet journalists with a thing for ‘realism’ in pop are lazy thinkers who get a nice little cultural stiffie over other people’s misery.

Pop and Christmas go so well together because both are such a mix of fantasy and reality, hope and expectation, grinding practise and evanescent magic: the Pogues and Kirsty track takes an honoured place in any list of great Christmas songs but it’s no more realistic than Slade’s rowdy family Christmas, or “Blue Christmas”‘ tinsel-tinted loneliness, or even “In The Bleak Midwinter”. The Christmas tree has a religious trunk and commercial branches but its roots go deeper than either – this is a fucking horrible time of year and as human beings we need to invent something to cheer ourselves up and let us dream a bit. Which “Fairytale Of New York” does admirably, no thanks to its false-friend defenders.

Here’s a worse song than “Fairytale”, no more than a dirgey blast of irritation really, though this year more than ever I’ve found myself wanting to point people to it. This excellent video, by a Liverpool-based artist, gives me an excuse. 


  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 23 Dec 2007 #

    Another annoying thing about it is its use by unthinking rockists as a stick to beat the Pet Shop Boys with – “Can you believe what kept it off number one?”. Yes I can, and I bought and like both!

    And it has now come to rather dwarf the rest of The Pogues’ songs, in exactly the same way thats happened to the Human League and Dexys. A Pair of Brown Eyes is their central song, I think.

    Its not that horrible a time of year, the fogs and bright winter light of this time can be quite renewing – in a way, I’d rather just enjoy them over a fortnight’s holiday without having all this Christmas fuss and noise to bother with.

  2. 2
    Andrew Farrell on 23 Dec 2007 #

    Two great anti-realist facts, both about the (also excellent) video:

    1. Shane MacGowan can’t play the piano. The opening shot is the accordianist’s hands in Shane’s rings and jacket.

    2. The New York Police Department doesn’t have a choir. What you see in the video is the Pipes and Drums band. Moreover, said band don’t all know Galway Bay, so in the video they are in fact singing The Mickey Mouse Song.

  3. 3
    Al Ewing on 23 Dec 2007 #

    The older I get, the less I like it – it was once my favourite Christmas number, but now that place has been taken by ‘Sleigh Ride’, with strong showings this year from Bing & Bowie’s ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and even a brief flirtation with the God-licious ‘Savior’s Day’.

  4. 4
    Lena on 24 Dec 2007 #

    The Pet Shop Boys are far more ‘gritty’ and real to me than The Pogues (esp. at the time, for personal reasons).

  5. 5
    DV on 27 Dec 2007 #

    so, eh, which Pet Shop Boys kept it off number one?

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 27 Dec 2007 #

    Always On My Mind

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