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Will The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ Finally Reach U.K. No. 1 in Memory of Shane McGowan?

Mr. Nimbus | 12/19/2023

In the 36 years since The Pogues released the band’s now-seminal “Fairytale of New York,” the acerbic holiday classic has occupied every single position on the Official U.K. Singles Chart’s top 20 — except for No. 1.

If there was ever a year when that changed, this would be it.  

Following frontman Shane MacGowan‘s death on Nov. 30, “Fairytale of New York” is once again in the running for the coveted top spot on the annual “Official Christmas Number 1” chart put out by the U.K.’s charts organization, The Official Charts Company (OCC). On Monday, the track was No. 5 on the preliminary Christmas chart, which closes at midnight on Thursday (Dec. 21); the winner will be announced on BBC Radio 1’s The Official Chart show the following day. A mix of fan engagement and label strategy may push it up the ranking — but, as in previous years, the song faces strong competition, and a fairy tale ending is far from guaranteed.

“It’s going to be very, very tight this year and it’s not really until the week itself that you can tell who the main contenders are going to be,” says Martin Talbot, chief executive of the OCC.

Sales for MacGowan’s duet with Kirsty MacColl, co-written with Jem Finer, climbed to 77,000 in the week after MacGowan’s death, a rise of 170% from the week before, according to the OCC.   

U.K. streams of “Fairytale of New York” crossed 9 million over the same period, reports OCC, giving the song its biggest-ever streaming total in the country outside the Christmas period. Total U.K. streams over the past month stand at just under 23 million, up 13% on average compared to the same period over the past five years.

The singer’s death also saw several covers of the song generate renewed traction on TikTok — including clips of Ed Sheeran, Saoirse Ronan and, of course, Travis Kelce, who recently earned his first Billboard chart-topper with “Fairytale of Philadelphia,” a spoof on The Pogues’ original version featuring his brother, Jason Kelce.

Despite the song’s New York setting and memorable black and white video (featuring a cameo from Pogues fan and Hollywood star Matt Dillon), “Fairytale of New York” has proved considerably less popular in the United States, where it has never reached the Billboard Hot 100. It has charted on Billboard‘s Holiday Digital Song Sales chart, climbing to a new peak of No. 16 in the wake of MacGowan’s passing (on the chart dated Dec. 9, 2023). According to Luminate, “Fairytale of New York” also earned just under 400,000 on-demand U.S. streams the day MacGowan passed (Nov. 30), marking a 227.2% increase in streams from the day prior.

Tom Gallacher, the London-based senior director of digital and marketing at Warner catalog imprint Rhino Music, which owns the worldwide rights to The Pogues’ repertoire, including “Fairytale of New York,” says that organic searches for the song and the group’s catalog on streaming services were “significantly up” across multiple markets in the week following MacGowan’s passing, with the biggest surges taking place in the United Kingdom and Ireland. (The song returned to No. 1 in Ireland in early December).

In tribute to the late frontman, who was born on Christmas day 1957 and died from pneumonia in a hospital aged 65, Rhino is re-releasing “Fairytale of New York” on 7-inch vinyl (limited to 5,500 copies) in the United Kingdom, with all proceeds going to homeless charity Dublin Simon Community. The direct-to-consumer release shipped on Monday (Dec. 18), meaning that those sales will count towards the all-important Christmas week tally.

“When you have a very tight chart race, physical product can make the difference,” says Talbot. “It also acts as a good marketing tool, reminding people about a record.”

MacGowan’s widow, Victoria Mary Clarke, has meanwhile given her backing to a fan-led social media campaign to get the song to No. 1 almost four decades after it was first released in 1987.

“Fairytale of New York” propelled The Pogues to a new level of mainstream success and is the band’s highest charting song to date; when it peaked at No. 2 on the U.K. chart, it was behind only the Pet Shop Boys‘ version of “Always On My Mind.”

The song served as a single from the Pogues’ 1988 album If I Should Fall From Grace With God — which became their highest-peaking entry on the Billboard 200, at No. 88 — and is routinely voted the U.K. public’s favorite Christmas song in polls.

Despite its enduring popularity, “Fairytale of New York” has also generated controversy over the years concerning its lyrics, in particular the Kirsty MacColl-sung line “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy fa–ot.”

Shane MacGowan of The Pogues

Shane MacGowan of The Pogues performs at 02 Arena on December 20, 2012 in London, England.

Caitlin Mogridge/Redferns/Getty Images

In 2007, BBC Radio 1 announced that it would be bleeping out the slur to avoid offending listeners before immediately reversing its decision following complaints by fans and MacGowan’s mother, Therese.

In 2020, the BBC Radio 1 again announced that it would play a censored version of the track with the offending word, along with “slut,” removed. In response, musician Nick Cave accused the broadcaster of “mutilating” the festive classic.

Addressing the issue in 2018, MacGowan said that the words were not intended to offend but reflected the language that the song’s female character — “a woman of a certain generation at a certain time in history… down on her luck and desperate” — would use.

“Sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively,” said MacGowan.

Currently leading the race for the U.K. Christmas No. 1 is pop duo Wham!, whose evergreen 1984 single “Last Christmas” has spent the past two weeks at the top of the British charts.

The Yuletide-themed George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley song first went to No. 1 on New Year’s Day 2021, at the time breaking a chart record — now held by Kate Bush‘s “Running Up That Hill” — for the longest time a track has taken to top the U.K. singles chart.

“Last Christmas” has now topped the Official U.K. Singles Chart on five non-consecutive occasions, but never on the “Official Christmas Number 1” tally — traditionally seen as the most coveted chart position in the U.K. music industry.

To give “Last Christmas” a final push, Wham’s label, Epic, is releasing a limited-edition vinyl version of the track as well as a CD single release, complete with download promotion.

Hot on Wham’s heels is U.K. Eurovision 2022 entry, Sam Ryder, whose original song “You’re Christmas To Me” (East West/Rhino) climbed eight places to No. 2 in the first 48 hours of the current Dec. 15-21 chart week.

Other front runners include Mariah Carey‘s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (currently No. 3 based on preliminary sales), Ed Sheeran and Elton John‘s “Merry Christmas” (No. 4), Noah Kahan‘s “Stick Season” (No. 6) and British TikTok collective Creator Universe’s charity fundraising cover of Wizzard‘s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” which is just outside the top 10.

If “Fairytale of New York” does finally top the charts on Friday it would be a “beautiful and fitting” tribute to the late singer, reflects Gallacher, who says MacGowan’s best-known song continues to resonate with audiences because “it goes beyond the usual saccharine sentiment of a lot of Christmas songs.”

“It’s totally unique,” adds Mike McCormack, U.K. MD of Universal Music Publishing Group, which represents “Fairytale of New York” on the publishing side.

“Only a lyricist as gifted and uncompromising as Shane could have written a Christmas song so joyfully sad and unconventional,” McCormack continues. “It’s the antithesis of all the other mainstream perennial hits but is honest and heart-warming… I don’t think it’ll ever be beaten as the greatest Christmas song.”

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus




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