In 1984 charity hit the charts: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Band Aid 1984 (youtube.com)

Band Aid 1984

Introduction

On December 4th, 1984, the charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas? was released. It was highly successful and was responsible for the monster that was We Are The World and the musical event of the 1980s: Live Aid.

Band Aid - October 23 1984 BBC (bt.com)

October 23rd, 1984, BBC

October 23rd, 1984

On October 23rd, 1984, BBC News broadcast a report on the famine in Ethiopia, that already had cost hundreds of thousands of lives. At the time it was highly unusual for the BBC to cover foreign stories using own people and equipment.

Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the plains outside Korem, it lights up a biblical famine, now, in the 20th century. This place, say workers here, is the closest thing to hell on earth.

The text was accompanied by images of a bleak landscape filled with starving refugees, surrounded by corpses and emaciated children. The shocking images went global, and were also broadcast in The Netherlands. I vividly remember being shocked and saddened by what I saw. In England Bob Geldof saw the documentary as well. He was shocked, angry, sad and decided to do something.

Early November 1984

Band Aid - Bob Geldof & Midge Ure (dailymail.co.uk)

Band Aid – Bob Geldof & Midge Ure

On November 2nd, 1984, Midge Ure and Bob Geldof talked to each other over the telephone about the documentary and their desire to do something about the hunger in Ethiopia. On November 5th they convened and concluded that the best thing they could do was to do something they knew how to do, create a song and release it. The revenues would be offered to humanitarian aid.

Subsequently, Bob Geldof started making some calls. Sting, Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran) and Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet) were on board quickly. Geldof realized this could turn into something huge and started calling everybody he knew. He arranged for everyone to participate for free (which included record companies, cover designers, music magazines, etc.).

All they needed was a song. It had to be a new original song, because they didn’t want money to be spent on royalties. Within a few days, Ure and Geldof came up with the initial template for the song.

Ure recorded the music in his own studio and had John Taylor (Duran Duran) and Paul Weller (The Style Council) come over for bass and guitar. Weller’s contribution was scrapped from the released version.

Producer Trevor Horn was asked to produce the song, but he was unavailable. He did give Ure and Geldof the keys to his Sarm West Studios for use on Sunday November 25th, 1984. In the meantime the press was geared up for the idea.

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? - Video (hq-music-videos.com)

Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Video

November 25th, 1984

The day of the recordings, which started at 10:30 AM, starting with the closing choir part (“Feed the world / Let them know it’s Christmas time again”). Phil Collins brought his drum set and played the drums over the existing programmed beat (in one take).

Ure took on producing duties and decided who would sing which part.

(Paul Young)
It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade

 

(Boy George (Culture Club))
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

 

(George Michael (Wham!))
But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it’s hard

Band Aid - Feed The World (imdb.com)

Band Aid – Feed The World

(Simon LeBon (Duran Duran)
But when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear

 

(Sting (The Police)
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears

 

(Bono (U2) & Sting)
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom

 

(Bono)
Well tonight thank God it’s them
Instead of you

 

(Boy George & others)
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

 

(Marilyn & Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17))
Here’s to you

 

(Paul Young)
Raise a glass for everyone

 

(Marilyn & Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17))
Here’s to them

 

(Paul Young, Marilyn & Glenn Gregory)
Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

 

(All)
Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Trevor Horn produced the B-side, which contained the song’s music and recorded messages by artists who were unable to attend on November 25th, like David Bowie, Paul McCartney, members of Big Country and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Holly Johnson.

November 26th, 1984

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? (eurythmics-ultimate.com)

Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Geldof appeared on British radio to promote the record. All proceeds would be donated to charity and he started a campaign to get taxes on the record refunded by the government (in which he succeeded).

December 3rd, 1984

The single was released in England. One week later the single entered the charts at the number 1 position, where it would remain for the next five weeks. The chart’s number 2, Wham!’s Last Christmas, would never reach the number 1 spot in England. Wham! decided to donate all proceeds of their single to the Band Aid Trust as well.

December 4th, 1984

The single was released in The Netherlands. It was hugely successful there as well and reached the number 1 position in the charts early 1985.

Consequences

USA For Africa - We Are The World (cdandlp.com)

USA For Africa – We Are The World

Bob Geldof had hoped to collect around £ 70,000 for the charity. That initial goal was met, and then some. Within a year the single had generated close to £ 8 million.

The song’s organization eventually turned into Live Aid, which was staged on July 13th, 1985 (more on that day in another article). It also caused Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson to make an American version, resulting in the monstrous USA For Africa’s We Are the World.

Criticism

The song was met with quite some criticism, lyrically in particular:

  • Imperialistic and patronizing message
    Africa can’t do it on its own, it primarily needs (predominantly white !) British pop stars.
  • Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you
    So: be glad it’s them? The line Bono initially didn’t want to sing (understandably).
  • And there won’t be snow in Africa
    What about Mount Kilimanjaro?
  • No rain or rivers flow
    The longest river in the world, the Nile?
  • Do They Know It’s Christmas?
    A rather strange question to be asking at a continent with almost 400 million Christians.

In 1985 The Smiths’ Morrissey stated: “I’m not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I’ll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of Great Britain. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn’t done shyly. It was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music”. A typical Morrissey statement, which generated the desired attention, and was probably a shared sentiment in ‘alternative’ circles, but essentially sounds like a failed joke, and a rather cheap one at that.

Feed The World (youtube.com)

Feed The World

Review

The song definitely has its limitations, but getting all the artists together for one common cause was no small feat. The ultimate goal was generating money for a good cause, with many still unaware of the inhumane famine in Ethiopia. And the single delivered, big time.

Following Band Aid many initiatives were organized: USA For Africa, Live Aid, Farm Aid, Comic Relief, Hands Across America.

The song in itself may be nothing too special, yet I still like hearing it and it still stands as a monument of sincerity and humanity in the, up to then, grim, depressing and cold 1980s.

Conclusion

Years later Bob Geldof said: “I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ and the other one is ‘We Are The World'”. I don’t entirely agree with Geldof’s assessment.

The question that needs to be addressed is whether or not all that money has been raised and spent wisely. Of the millions and millions that have been raised (with Live Aid as well), a large sum most likely went straight into the pockets of the local warlords.

In hindsight, the whole endeavor probably was naive, because all the food aid arguably prolonged the reign of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu and therefore extended human suffering.

Singers

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? - Ad (etsy.com)

Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Ad

Robert “Kool” Bell (Kool & the Gang), Bono (U2), Pete Briquette (The Boomtown Rats), Adam Clayton (U2), Phil Collins (Genesis / solo artiest), Chris Cross (Ultravox), Simon Crowe (The Boomtown Rats), Sara Dallin (Bananarama), Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama), Johnny Fingers (The Boomtown Rats), Bob Geldof (The Boomtown Rats), Boy George (Culture Club), Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17), Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), John Keeble (Spandau Ballet), Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet), Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet), Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran), Marilyn, George Michael (Wham!), Jon Moss (Culture Club), Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet), Rick Parfitt (Status Quo), Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran), Francis Rossi (Status Quo), Sting (The Police), Andy Taylor (Duran Duran), James “J.T.” Taylor (Kool & the Gang), John Taylor (Duran Duran), Roger Taylor (Duran Duran), Dennis Thomas (Kool & the Gang), Midge Ure (Ultravox), Martyn Ware (Heaven 17), Jody Watley, Paul Weller (The Style Council), Keren Woodward (Bananarama), Paul Young.

Musicians

  • Phil Collins – drums
  • John Taylor – bass
  • Midge Ure – keyboards and programming

Other versions

  • In 1989 Do They Know It’s Christmas? was re-recorded, using the moniker Band Aid II, by Stock, Aitken & Waterman. The single was released on December 11th, and this version was very successful as well. Proceeds were once again targeted at Ethiopia. Some of the artists cooperating: Bananarama, Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue, The Pasadenas, Chris Rea, Cliff Richard, Lisa Stansfield, Technotronic and Wet Wet Wet.
  • On November 29th, 2004, Do They Know It’s Christmas? was released under the moniker Band Aid 20 (as a reference to the 20 year anniversary of the original), this time aimed at help for Darfur, Sudan. The release coincided with first ever release of the Live Aid concert on DVD. Some of the artists cooperating: Bono, Chris Martin, Katie Melua, Róisín Murphy, Snow Patrol, Joss Stone, Sugababes and Robbie Williams.
  • On November 17th, 2014, Do They Know It’s Christmas? was released using the moniker Band Aid 30, this time aimed at the Ebola crisis. Some of the artists cooperating: Bastille, Bono, Paloma Faith, Guy Garvey, Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora, Ed Sheeran, Karl Hyde and Jessie Ware.

The English satire programme Spitting Image released the song We’re Scared Of Bob in 1986 (as a B-side to The Chicken Song), containing ‘revelations’ of several artists that they only participated because they were afraid to say ‘no’ to Bob (Geldof).

Band Aid at Live Aid (pinterest.com)

Band Aid at Live Aid

In closing

What do you think of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?. Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: In 1984 charity hit the charts: Do They Know It’s Christmas?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

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