The myriad polls of Christmas pop music tend to throw up the same results year in year out, with the “nation’s favourite” usually turning out to be as predictable as the contents of supermarket crackers.

But, according to music licensing body PPL, The Pogues ‘A Fairytale of New York’ is the most played Christmas song of the century. Its popularity is beyond contestation, being present in the Christmas UK Top 20 singles in seven different years since its release, including 2014.

Shane McGowan
'A Fairytale Of New York', written by Shane McGowan (above), is the most played Christmas pop song ever.

Incredibly, it has never been Christmas Number 1, having been beaten into second place by the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of ‘Always On My Mind’ back in 1987 when it was first released. Nevertheless, polls consistently reaffirm its popularity, having in the past been voted the best song to cook to at Christmas, as well as the best song to drive to.

Despite it being somewhat overplayed since it was popularly rediscovered in the last decade or so, the song does have an undeniably magical quality to it. The lyrics were written by the Pogues’ leader Shane McGowan while he was bed-ridden recovering from pneumonia on a 1985 tour of Europe, and therefore retains a strange sensation of a waking dream.

The song was also never originally envisaged as a duet – on the initial demos, McGowan sang both the male and female sections. Producer Steve Lillywhite suggested that his wife Kirsty Maccoll sing the part of the disillusioned female character to the song, which McGowan later admitted was a masterstroke.

If you ever get the opportunity to see the Pogues perform live, their rendition of the song is very moving. Since MacColl’s tragic death in a boating accident in 2000, the audience is now encouraged to sing her vocal parts in a very emotional call-and-response. Appropriate, then, that McGowan was born on Christmas Day!

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