Ed Sheeran’s recent cover of “Fairytale of New York” coincides with the 30th anniversary of the original release, which was penned by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan and performed by MacGowan and Kirsty McCall. Writer and performer, Peter Murphy spoke with Seán Rocks on Arena about the song’s continued influence.
Peter described the unrelenting popularity of the track, noting the high-profile covers, its steady position in the music charts since 2005 and approximately 1.2 million sales. But it didn’t claim the #1 spot upon its release back in 1987.
“I don’t think Shane MacGowan has ever forgiven The Petshop Boys. It was a cover of “Always on my mind”, the Willie Nelson song, made famous by Elvis [that made #1].”
How the song came to be is not completely clear, as Peter explained.
“The origins are shrouded in some dispute. The late, lovely, Frank Murray, the Pogues’ manager, maintained that he suggested doing a Christmas single for Christmas of ’85… and Elvis Costello maintained that he made a bet with the band while finishing Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (which he produced) that they couldn’t write a Christmas song.”
As for why it remains so front-and-centre in the public consciousness, Peter thinks it stands out because of those memorable opening lines (“It was Christmas Eve, babe. In the drunk tank. An old man said to me, ‘Won’t see another one’.) and an interesting structure.
“I think part of the DNA of why the song has lasted is that it’s not really a Christmas song… It’s set at Christmas but it’s almost like a Broadway play.”
Listen back to the full discussion on Arena here.
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