If the Celtic punks' poetic holiday ballad were to hit No. 1, Pogues accordionist James Fearnley says it would be a bittersweet accomplishment.
Christmas Music for People Who Hate Christmas Music
He said when he found out the song charted at No. 2 in 1987, he "got really emotional about it."
"I wasn't disappointed at all that it'd gotten to No. 2," he explained. "It was the fact that it got so high, I just came over all weepy."
Since that's been the song's highest charting, he says he has always liked retaining some "underdog" status. If it were to achieve that benchmark in 2014, the irony would be that this is one of the few years recently when they haven't embarked on a U.K. Christmas tour.
"If it does [go to No. 1]," he says with a laugh, "it's like, 'Oh, f--- you. Why couldn't you have done this while we were actually working?'"
This past June, the U.K. charts began counting 100 streams to the equivalent of one download or physical single in its compilation. Since, Official Charts' brand manager Lauren Kreisler said they've seen songs' streaming volumes are higher a few weeks after their release, as awareness grows and they're added to playlists. This effect is magnified now during the holiday season, giving tracks like The Pogues' a boost.
"For the first time this year, we can see in the Official Chart, not just what new music people are purchasing or downloading in December, but what the Great British public are listening to also," she said.
According to a 2011 report by British performance rights organization PPL, "Fairytale" is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century. But in the landscape of celebratory or tritely longing Christmas classics and pop songs, the Pogues' "Fairytale" stands out unconventionally as an ode to holiday dysfunction. Despite that -- or because of that -- it seems better suited alongside Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales than it does with "Last Christmas" by Wham! This month, it was voted the greatest Christmas song of all time by U.K. digital streaming service Blinkbox Music users, proving its national resonance.
"'Fairytale of New York' is not about any of the conventional Christmas subjects really, at all," says Fearnley. "It's about love and disappointment and betrayal and dysfunction and whatnot.... Maybe I'm so close to it that I can't seem to understand the sort of level of meaning that other Christmas songs would have for other people. But it seems realer somehow."
The song also remains "indestructible" from various renditions -- many of them at the hands of the Pogues' own singer, Shane MacGowan, and a number of collaborators filling in for MacColl after her death in 2000. "The song's immune to whatever its chart position happens to be as much as it is to the renditions and it has suffered too," he said. "So I suppose it'll be immune, too, from being No. 1, if it gets there this Christmas."
Checking the charts' most recent posting, "Fairytale" still looks like that underdog that Fearnley cherishes for this year's top Christmas spot. It's fighting an uphill battle facing off against "Something I Need" by Ben Haenow -- the X Factor winner who was announced this week. (It's become a holiday tradition in the U.K. for X Factor winners to take the top spot.) Also, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk," Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" and Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" in an anti-X Factor drive are all gunning for the top spot as well.
This year's Official Christmas No. 1 will be unveiled Sunday at 7 p.m. GMT. The Official Chart Top 40 is counted down on BBC Radio 1 from 4-7 p.m. GMT, and the full Top 100 is posted on OfficialCharts.com.