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"Why I Never Listen To The Pogues' Version Of Fairytale Of New York And It's Got Nothing To Do With That Word"

By Darragh Berry

December 13, 2018 at 11:08am

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There's a few things I want to clarify before I go into detail about why I don't listen to The Pogues' version of the Christmas classic 'Fairytale of New York' (FTONY) anymore.

Last year I composed a piece called 10 reasons why FTONY is the best Christmas song of all time.

I still stand by it. It is the greatest Christmas song of all time and I love the original. It doesn't matter who sings it (as long as it's not Ronan Keating), it's the one tune that you don't mind pressing play on in November.

I have great admiration for Shane MacGowan as a songwriter and was delighted to have got in touch with him last week (via his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke) to talk about his favourite cover version - surprisingly it's Saoirse Ronan's version which you can find here - and what he really thinks of that one line in the song that has been a massive talking point in recent weeks.

And while on that note, that's not why I stopped listening to The Pogues' version either. There's been so much commotion about that word and there's really no need.

If it offends at least one person then it should be bleeped. But sadly, whoever wants to sing that word, will still sing it anyway.

In the same way that you wouldn't hear the other 'f' word, the 'c' word and most certainly not the 'n' word on radio, we shouldn't hear this word over the radio either.

If Kirsty MacColl felt the need to change the line for television 25 years ago, surely that belief should still ring true today.

Right, now that that's sorted. Let's get into the business end of things. Reason number 9 alone in the piece above about why FTONY is a classic is the version that's played by Christy Moore.

And his version is the basis for my whole statement about why I don't listen to MacGowan and MacColl singing this song anymore.

Christy was one of the first people to hear this song. It was sung to him by MacGowan himself in the early 80s in a pub in Tipperary and as Moore states he asked him to "sing it over and over again until finally, I had the words."

How Moore stumbled across the song is a love story in itself. With the original FTONY, you get the story about a struggling couple with a drug-fuelled, violent relationship.

With Christy's version, you get a story within a story within a song as he begins and ends with telling the audience how himself and MacGowan exchanged sweet nothings.

Christy Moore's ability to sing the whole song by himself is mesmerizing. It's a duet, and was intended to be sang as one. As good a singer and talented as Saoirse Ronan is, she wouldn't dare sing the classic without Jimmy Fallon's help.

But Christy braved to go where no person had ever tried nor wanted to go before and sang it by himself.

Ed Sheeran and Gavin James have followed suit since and the latter is probably the closest to have matched Moore's single singing version.

Close but no cigar all the same.

It's a struggle to sing this by yourself. MacColl's opening lines fly by and when you try and sing "You were handsome, pretty, queen of New York City" after having belted out majority of the second verse at the speed which Moore sings it, the engine in the lungs will be on low capacity.

To get a bit musically technical and boring for a few minutes; Christy Moore sings this song the way it was meant to be sang.

When MacGowan envisaged FTONY, you can be sure it didn't feature all the diddly-eye that his band would later sprinkle all over the track in the studio.

It was meant to be slow, it was meant to be sad, it was meant to be a Christmas tragedy and remind everyone that Christmas can be a pretty poor period for some people.

But you don't get that with the original version. Sure, you feel for the characters during their argument but towards the final "boys of the NYPD choir", you feel all warm and joyous again despite how the song ends.

This is because of the happy, upbeat music in major chords that is played alongside it by accordions and fiddles and tin whistles.

When Sinead O'Connor covered 'The Foggy Dew', she slammed the original version by The Dubliners. She felt that she needed to do it justice, slow it down and make it a lot less cheerful than the Dubliners had it.

After all, it was a song about soldiers being killed by "Britannia's huns with their long-range guns."

The same could be said for Christy's version of FTONY. It's just him, a guitar and the brutally honest tone of his voice.

When he says that he "build his dreams" around the girl in the story, you look at their relationship a lot differently than in the original.

The verses in Moore's version and the original are different also and this changes the entire meaning of the song.

In the original, the "I could have been someone" line is the last verse while in Moore's version, it's the second last version.

Why does this make a difference you ask? Well, in the original it finishes with the heartwarming "can't make it all alone, I built my dreams around you" which makes you think 'aw, maybe there is a chance for them'.

But in Christy's version the last line is "You're a bum, you're a punk, you're an auld whore on junk, lying there almost dead in a drip in the bed...Merry Christmas your arse, I'd rather be dead."

In the original, it looks like the couple's undying love is stronger than the crippling drug and alcohol habit that consumes them but in Christy's version, it seems like no matter how much they love each other, it'll never be enough.

Finally, it's a lot easier to sing Christy's version than MacGowan's. Nobody and we mean nobody can sing like the famous Pogues frontman.

It doesn't matter how many teeth you knock out of your head, he just has a unique, out of tune but in tune at the same time, shouty type of voice that can't be matched.

But Christy's version is a lot calmer and much lower and if you play guitar, like myself, you can easily pick up the chords used in Moore's version in the video above - there's very few - and just adjust the capo to suit your voice.

Maybe I'm a bore, but those are the reasons why I prefer Christy's version but I understand completely that without the original, they'd be no cover version and for that reason, the original will always be the greatest version in the world, just not in my own little opinion.

READ NEXT:Nine Reasons Why Leaving Your Whole Christmas Shopping Until Christmas Eve Is The Best Feeling Ever

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