In an extract from his new book On This Day Vol 2: Irish Histories from Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1, Myles Dungan recalls how The Pogue’s Christmas classic was kept off Number One 30 years ago. Can you name the song that beat them to the coveted Christmas No. 1 slot in the UK?
Back in 2001, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the establishment of 2RN, forerunner of Radio Éireann and RTÉ Radio, this station conducted two separate polls to attempt to find the seventy-five most beloved Irish songs. One was a poll of music professionals conducted through IMRO, the Irish Music Rights Organisation, the other was a reader/listener poll conducted through the RTÉ Guide. The results were varied, but there was absolute unanimity about the number one song.
Written by Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer of the Pogues, and sung by MacGowan and the extraordinary Kirsty MacColl, ‘Fairytale of New York’ has become a Christmas anti-classic all over the world. In the UK it is the most-played Christmas song of the twenty-first century. It’s also, arguably, the greatest song not to have reached number one in the British pop charts.
The song had its origins two years before its release. As with most of the mythology surrounding the ‘Fairytale’, there is disagreement about how it began. One version suggests that Elvis Costello jokingly challenged the Pogues, the least sentimental group of all time – outside of The Clash – to write a Christmas hit.