"Fairytale of New York" is a song by the Celtic punk group The Pogues, released in 1987 and featuring the late British singer Kirsty MacColl. The song is an Irish folk style ballad, written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, and featured on The Pogues' album If I Should Fall from Grace with God. The song features string arrangements by Fiachra Trench. It is frequently cited as the best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio and magazine related polls in the UK and Ireland.
The song was originally planned as a duet by Shane MacGowan and Pogues bassist Cait O'Riordan, but O'Riordan left the band in 1986 before the song was completed. The Pogues were at the time being produced by Kirsty MacColl's then husband Steve Lillywhite, who asked his wife to provide a guide vocal of the female part for a demo version of the song. The Pogues liked MacColl's contribution so much that they asked her to sing the part on the actual recording.
The song follows an Irish immigrant's Christmas Eve reverie about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank. When an inebriated old man also in the cell sings a passage from the Irish ballad "The Rare Old Mountain Dew", the narrator (MacGowan) begins to dream about the song's female character. The remainder of the song (which may be an internal monologue) takes the form of a call and response between the couple, their youthful hopes crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, as they reminisce and bicker on Christmas Eve.
MacColl's melodious singing contrasts with the harshness of MacGowan's voice, and the lyrics are sometimes bittersweet - sometimes purely bitter: "Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it's our last". The lyrics "Sinatra was swinging" and "cars as big as bars" seem to place the song in the late 1940s. The title, taken from author J. P. Donleavy's novel A Fairy Tale of New York, was chosen after the song had been written and recorded.
Twice MacGowan and MacColl sing, "The boys of the NYPD choir still singing "Galway Bay". The New York Police Department (NYPD) does not have a choir, but it does have a Pipes and Drums unit that is featured in the video for the song. The NYPD Pipes and Drums did not know "Galway Bay" and so played a different song for the music video, and the editor put it in slow motion to fit the beat.
The video featured Matt Dillon as the NYPD patrolman who arrests the intoxicated MacGowan.