We’ve sort of known it all along but now it’s official – Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacCall is the most popular and most played Christmas song of the 21st century.
Greatest Christmas song ever? ~ How it was written ~ Painful birth of classic ~ Shane as Sinatra
Producer Steve Lillywhite ~ Kirsty MacColl vocals ~ Kirsty MacColl stage fright
Unofficial NYPD choir ~ Lure of Big Apple ~ Not just for the Irish ~ Alternative Christmas
Most played Christmas song ~ Lyrics censored ~ The video ~ Lyrics and chords
It’s no surprise to the millions of us who’ve long regarded it as a much needed breath of fresh air at this time of year. I mean, Christmas is great but it can be stressful – fighting your way through shopping malls to buy all your presents, all the time having your ears bombarded with schmaltzy music everywhere you turn.
But then, just when you think you can’t stand another word about Rudolph and reindeers, something magical happens. The mood changes as the sound of a single piano suddenly wafts across the airwaves.
No matter how busy you are your ear prick up because you realise you’re listening to the opening bars of Fairytale of New York, and you know that for the next few minutes you’ll be safe from schmaltz and fake sentimentality.
One of the great fascinations with Irish folk songs is that they almost certainly went through numerous versions, towns and even countries before emerging in the form we know them today.
The Wild Rover is a good example. We’ve already looked at how it may have begun life as an anti-drinking song.
Now I’m grateful to Mike Walton of the Worcester Folk Club in England who’s alerted me to an English song with a similar theme to the Wild Rover, albeit with a raunchier ending.
With St Patrick’s Day coming, thousands of Irish music fans will be polishing up the old vocal chords in readiness for a session of hard drinking and hearty singing.
The Wild Rover will no doubt be near the top of the list – every year thousands of people belt it out enthusiastically in between sips of Guinness in pubs across the world.
Because of its title, Whiskey in the Jar is often seen as a drinking song, celebrating the wild life.
That doesn’t really do it justice though. Whiskey in the Jar isn’t really about drinking at all; it’s about rebellion against authority and has a sub-plot involving betrayal by a lover.
It’s strange how songs can suddenly develop a life of their own and go off in directions never expected by the people who wrote them.
The Fields of Athenry is a good example. When I first heard it back in the 1970s I thought it was a traditional song and couldn’t understand how it escaped my attention all those years that I’d been following Irish traditional music.