The Story Behind “The Fairytale of New York”

One of the greatest Christmas songs of all time is “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl. We have already discussed why it is one of the most depressing Christmas songs of all time. But what is the story behind the song?

This BBC special investigates the making of the Christmas classic. Check it out.



Why do you love “The Fairytale of New York”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    All-Star “Fairytale of New York” on Jimmy Fallon


    On a recent Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Sam Beam from Iron & Wine joined Calexico for a rousing version of The Pogues holiday classic, “Fairytale of New York” (a song discussed in a previous Chimesfreedom post about depressing holiday songs). As if that were not enough, Glen Hansard and Kathleen Edwards joined in the fun too. Check it out. [February 2014 Update: The video is no longer available from NBC, so below is an amateur video of the same group performing the song at the WWFUV Holiday Cheer Concert.]

    Iron & Wine, Calexico, Kathleen Edwards, and Glen Hansard recently played together, including a performance of “Fairytale of New York,” at a Holiday Cheer benefit concert in New York.

    What is your favorite “sad” holiday song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Top 10 Depressing Holiday Songs

    The previous post on Three Depressing Holiday Songs got us started thinking about the best depressing holiday songs.  So, this post features Chimesfreedom’s Top Ten Depressing Holiday Songs.  We selected these top 10 based upon three categories. Points were given for (1) deep depression and sadness; (2) quality of song; and (3) familiarity of the song.

    (1) Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues: Scored high in all three categories.  Discussed in previous post in more detail, but all you really need is the opening line of the song: “It was Christmas Eve, babe,/ In the drunk tank.” Score:  97 points.

    (2) “Blue Christmas” – Elvis Presley, etc.: Gets high on the list because very familiar and a good song, but the music is not that sad. For more, we discussed the story behind Elvis Presley’s most famous performance of the song. Score:  93 points.

    (3) “The River– Joni Mitchell (and covers): Received most of its points from the deep depression category with both depressing lyrics and music.  Discussed in previous post in more detail.  Score:  91 points.

    (4) Pretty Paper” – Roy Orbison:  The lyrics to “Pretty Paper” are a little vague, but a guy is alone on the sidewalk hoping “that you won’t pass him by.” “You’re in a hurry” so you leave him there crying as people laugh in the distance. You suck. Anyway, it has Roy Orbison’s voice, which automatically puts it high on the sounding-sad scale.  If he sang “Jingle Bells” it would make this list. Score:  89 points.

    (5) Do They Know It Is Christmas?” – Band Aid: Very famous and depressing: “Where nothing ever grows/ No rain or rivers flow.” And then there is Bono wailing, “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of yooooooooooooo!”  “Do They Know It’s Christmas” would be higher on the list, but by the end we are happily singing “Feed the world” and letting people know it is Christmas Time whether they want to know it or not.   But while it did raise money for a good cause, the song has an extra tinge of sadness because it also reminds us that we did not find a solution to hunger in the 26 years since the song was released.  We mock, but we love the song. Just avoid the two remakes from 1989 and 2004. Score:  88 points. Trivia Question: Who sings the Bono part in the 2004 Band Aid 20 remake?

    (5) “Christmas in Prison” – John Prine. We like John Prine and the quality of “Christmas in Prison,” so we are putting it above some other songs even though you may never have heard it. Plus, you got prison: “The search light in the big yard / Swings round with the gun / And spotlights the snowflakes / Like the dust in the sun.” Check it out below.  Score:  84 points.

    (7) “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” – Tom Waits: Scored high on the depression scale, but not a song for many repeated listenings and not as famous as some of the above songs.  Discussed in previous post in more detail.  Score:  79 points.

    (8) I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas” (tie) – Bing Crosby and others: Familiarity got these two into the top ten. The music sounds depressing, but the person is missing one Christmas and seems to still have family they will see again. For “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” the guy who wrote the lyrics was thinking of a homesick kid in college.  C’mon kid, there are people starving in Africa.  At least “White Christmas” gets bonus sad points from its popularity being connected to WWII soldiers missing home.  These songs are sad, but not hooker-in-prison sad.   Score:  78 points.

    (9) “Billy’s Christmas Wish” – Red Sovine: “Billy’s Christmas Wish” may not be as well known as the other songs here, but the song is unbeatable on the depression scale so it makes the list on that alone. Consider: (1) the little boy’s father is in prison for shooting the mother’s boyfriend; (2) the mother works in a bar and lives with an abusive “Mr. Brown;” and (3) then the little boy dies on Santa’s lap at the end. Seriously, that is the song. And then Santa has the nerve to tell us not to be sad because the boy wanted to live with God so “now everything’s alright.” That makes us think that Santa killed Billy.  Score:  72 points.

    (10) “The Rebel Jesus” – Jackson Browne. The Top Ten List must have room for a song that gets to the heart of Christmas and how the spirit of it gets corrupted, calling us out for our hypocrisy. Everyone may not know this song, but it is a beautiful song of the season. Score: 68 points.

    Well we guard our world with locks and guns,
    And we guard our fine possessions.
    And once a year when Christmas comes,
    We give to our relations.
    And perhaps we give a little to the poor,
    If the generosity should seize us.
    But if any one of us should interfere
    In the business of why there are poor,
    They get the same as the rebel Jesus

    I went shopping today and bought a present for my mom, and then I sang along to “Do They Know It’s Christmas” without doing anything about the poor.  I am a worthless human being.  Thanks Jackson Browne for making me feel like crap.   If you need to feel a little better, you may use the charity of your choice or use these links for CARE, Oxfam, or UNICEF.

    Honorable Mention: “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” – John Denver: You do not hear this one a lot, and I just discovered Alan Jackson covered the song. The song is sad with the kid worrying whether daddy will be drunk again this Christmas, but it is played as a clap-along song so not as depressing as it could be. Plus, the kid has it good compared to Billy in the Red Sovine song.  Score:  54 points.

    Bonus Recent Excellent Sad Holiday Song: Mike Ireland and Holler‘s “Christmas Past.” I found this song last year and really like it, and when you hear it, the melody sounds like a song you have heard many times before. The song features various memories floating by and ends with: “The only company I keep exists in memories / Leaving me alone on Christmas Day.” Sad, but a pretty song.

    Bonus Links: In preparing this post, I did some googling and saw that others had compiled similar lists that you may see and compare here, here, here, and here.

    What’s your favorite depressing holiday song? Post a comment.

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