Friday, April 17, 2015

36: Fairytale of New York - The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This is the only Christmas song that made the final list of forty - apologies to fans of Wizzard and Chris Rea - although 'Gaudete' by Steeleye Span only missed the cut at a very late stage. It's not only the best Christmas song ever (and that includes Bill Barclay's '12 Days Of Christmas' which continues to spike my YouTube every year), it's a lovely lilting Irish ballad that stands up - lyrics apart - at any time of year.

It's really two songs, not one: the first is the initial slow verse setting the scene, followed by the jollier section once Kirsty MacColl joins in, and finally reverting to the first tune again for the third verse. It means there's a definite musical disconnect when it goes from the third verse into the final chorus becasue the two tunes really are quite different (sorry Pogues, no amount of drum build-up papers over that crack) but aside from that it's great, in the real sense of the word 'great'. With the unique vocals of Shane MacGowan balanced in anger and tone by MacColl, it's an astonishing piece to listen to. And even if you don't pay attention to the words very much, the final refrain in the chorus will always stand out:

"And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day."

And even if that phrase - musically and lyrically - is all you get from the song, its mission is sufficiently accomplished. Christmas music and Irish folk doesn't get any better than this.

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