Jon Bon Jovi’s new version of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” (listen below) has been making the wrong kind of headlines.
“Horrified fans react to Jon Bon Jovi’s new cover,” proclaimed the Dublin-based Irish Times.
The British newspaper, The Independent, similarly chimed in with “Jon Bon Jovi horrifies fans with ‘Fairytale of New York’ cover: ‘My day is ruined’ “
I’ve listened to it too, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s horrifying, it just doesn’t work, in part because Bon Jovi — who released the song as part of a new three-song holiday EP, A Jon Bon Jovi Christmas — sings both parts of the lyrics, which originally constituted a duet. That’s never a good idea, especially since this song was conceived as a conversation between two people with distinct personalities, not just two people who just happen to be singing together.
“I could have been someone/Well, so could anyone” has a certain resonance when the lines are sung by two long-warring spouses, in dialogue. When just one person sings them, as Bon Jovi does, it doesn’t have the same power.
The Pogues released the song in 1987 as a duet featuring their frontman, Shane MacGowan (who co-wrote the song with bandmate Jem Finer) and guest singer Kirsty MacColl. MacColl’s husband, Steve Lillywhite, produced it.
MacColl died in 2000. But Lillywhite — a hugely successful producer whose credits include albums by U2, The Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and the Dave Matthews Band — has weighed in on Bon Jovi’s version. “The worst ever version of this song. Sorry Jon … embarrassing and pointless,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
Lillywhite also, though, on Twitter, praised a new version of the song by New Jersey-based artists Helen O’Shea and Mike Montrey, writing “nice take on it !! love the drop bridge..” You can listen to that version as well, below.
O’Shea grew up in Ireland and first heard “Fairytale of New York” there. She has always wanted to do her own version with some slight lyrical modifications (since the coarse language in the original version has kept it off some U.S. radio stations) and felt this year was the right time to make it happen.
“Steve’s support means the world to us as we hope to bring this beautiful song to more listeners all over New Jersey and the rest of the US,” wrote O’Shea on her Facebook page.
Here are the Bon Jovi and O’Shea/Montrey covers as well as the original. I think most listeners would agree that the O’Shea/Montrey take evokes the spirit of the original more effectively than the Bon Jovi version.
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