Feb 10

FERRY AID – “Let It Be”

FT + Popular60 comments • 6,475 views

#588, 4th April 1987, video

A newspaper is a version of the world, and a successful newspaper builds a world that not only reflects the real one, it infects it. In its 80s heyday The Sun was not only the highest circulation daily paper in Britain, it had a cultural weight that went well beyond that: it comforted its readers and haunted its enemies in the way the Mail does now. The Sun’s mix of tub-thumping, scandal, sex, games and coupons might have simply been a variation on a winning tabloid formula that stretched back to the Boer War, but editor Kelvin McKenzie pitched the paper exactly right for its brash, greedy times.

“Let It Be” is The Sun’s number one record, its logo proudly on the label and the sleeve. The disaster which sparked the single – a car ferry capsized due to crew negligence, killing 193 people – might not ordinarily have led to a charity record, but several of the dead were Sun readers, on board the Herald Of Free Enterprise because the paper had run a special offer on ferry tickets, away-day breaks to Europe being a reliable sales booster. So the Sun owned the event from start to finish, acting as chief mourner. After the disaster it hit on Stock Aitken and Waterman to produce the record and started working its, and their pop contacts book. Within a week this is what they’d come up with.

“Let It Be” itself is – like “Everybody Hurts” – one of those songs which was doomed to be a charity record sooner or later. I’ve never really enjoyed it – for all its obvious sincerity it feels too generalised and woolly for me to find it a source of comfort, and without that sentimental connection the hymnal pace is a chore. But simplicity and honesty have always suited McCartney well and it’s certainly not a song I’d sneer at. Also, its very solidity makes it – on paper – a good frame for a record that’s going to use a lot of voices.

Even so the Ferry Aid “Let It Be” is a discombobulating listen. For a start, in commercial and stylistic terms the talent is more than usually mismatched. But charity records always have their lesser contributors, and things like Paul King’s inability to sing the word “be” are all part of the experience. A bigger problem is that the music won’t get out of the way – the kind of stateliness “Let It Be” needs is completely alien to SAW, who garnish the record with bibbling keyboards, horrid synth tones, a chuntering mid-paced beat, and that’s even before you get to the Knopfler and Gary Moore guitar solos: the ‘something for everyone’ ethos of the charity record line up taken to an extreme. The uncomfortable thought that comes to mind hearing SAW’s backing, though, is that this is pretty much the type of thing those ill-fated passengers would have heard had the ferry sailed and they’d wandered into the cocktail lounge to hear the on-board entertainment.

At least until the ending, anyway. Kate Bush does her line, in the deep register she’d just used on “Don’t Give Up”, and it’s a revelation: her warm, sad, cocooning voice suits the song and the occasion absolutely. There are a few seconds near-silence after that, as if everybody else is suddenly thinking “Oh shit, this could actually have been good.” And then the moment passes and it’s time for the mass chant, and for the single to finish on a note of laughter, high-fiving and applause. Because that’s what charity records and newspaper campaigns are all about: happy endings. It’s The Sun wot Number One it.



  1. 1
    Tom on 25 Feb 2010 #

    There is a great deal to look out for in the video to this – of particular note is the Other One From Curiosity Killed The Cat showing he’s a “hep cat” by smoking a cigarette while Ben “lays down” his vocal.

    And the moment just after Kate Bush’s vocal is EXTRAORDINARY but I won’t spoil it for you.

  2. 2
    Alan on 25 Feb 2010 #

    “And the moment just after Kate Bush’s vocal is EXTRAORDINARY”

    you beat me to it!

    “And what did you think of Kate’s vocal, Macca?”

    in any crowd there is a freeloader. hello there simon bates

  3. 3
    Kat but logged out innit on 25 Feb 2010 #

    I’ve had a massive mental block on this song until today – I’ve only ever seen it written down in lists of #1s and somehow my brain interpreted it either as something to do with Bryan Ferry or a cover of Ferry Cross The Mersey (which obv wouldn’t have gone down well in Liverpool if the Sun had had anything to do with it, er). I definitely had no idea Nick Berry or Curiosity Killed The Cat were involved.

  4. 4
    punctum on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Round about teatime on Thursday 6 March 1987, the Townsend Thoresen/P&O passenger ferry The Herald Of Free Enterprise set sail from Zeebrugge, bound for Dover. As it was a roll-on/roll-off ferry, for both cars and passengers on foot, the ferry had doors at both bow and stern. However, someone had neglected to close the bow doors before the ferry set off from port, with the almost immediate result that as soon as it hit the sea, water began to flood into the ferry at a high rate. Some 90 seconds later the ferry capsized into the North Sea, and 193 of the 450 passengers on board, trapped within the vessel, were killed, mostly by drowning or hypothermia caused by the freezing water.

    Subsequent legal investigations uncovered a systematic culture of wilful neglect, chaos and incompetence on the part of the ferry owners and its staff, essentially based upon cutting corners, minimising expenditure and a mindset focused on profit at all costs. The findings were those of corporate manslaughter, but because of the labyrinthine laws at the time no individual ended up being prosecuted or sentenced for their part in one of the worst peacetime disasters at sea.

    The Sun newspaper, that stalwart herald of unregulated Thatcherite free enterprise, took a great deal of the initial brunt, since many of the passengers on the Herald were there as a result of a special bargain travel offer for Sun readers, and were therefore obliged to take the moral lead in raising funds for the families of the victims. Stock, Aitken and Waterman were called in to put the record together, and they quickly assembled most of the leading names in chart pop at the time. Boy George was back again in the line-up, along with the likes of Erasure, Mel and Kim, Bananarama, Kim Wilde, Nik Kershaw, Holly Johnson, Pepsi and Shirlie, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Swing Out Sister, Level 42, the Cutting Crew and Nick Kamen, as well as PWL Studios’ teaboy Rick Astley, who joined in with the final mass singalong to gain work experience. Mark Knopfler and Gary Moore contributed anguished guitar solos. McCartney gave permission for an excerpt from the original 1969 recording of “Let It Be” to be used – still, I believe, the only legit Beatles sample on a non-Beatles record.

    As with all such charity records, Ferry Aid was convened on the turn of a dime, arranged, produced and performed as quickly as possible, but does the urgency of the exercise negate the complete absurdity and inappropriateness of “Let It Be” as a song fit for this purpose? As David Stubbs noted in Melody Maker at the time, a better title might have been “Pursue The Matter To The Highest Court” or even (in my view) “Smash The System” – but no, 193 people dead because of idiocy and corporate miserliness; we should simply let it be.

    Worse (as Stubbs also pointed out) are the gut-busting levels of “soul” strained for in the singing throughout the record; particularly for something coming from the SAW hit factory, it seems to stand for everything “Respectable” (or “I Heard A Rumour”) is against, a kind of shame about pop (ashamed to be pop), wanting to sound Real and Emotional and Passionate. This reaches its nadir in the excruciating climactic exchange between Edwin Starr (how the hell did he get involved?) and Ruby Turner where larynxes pop bubbles and blood vessels are on the point of haemorrhaging with the amount of screeching “soul” being imposed on the record like a feral cat in the latter stages of electrocution.

    And then – suddenly and completely unexpectedly, like the ghost of the Herald of Free Enterprise sailing icily over the River Styx – floats in the (separately recorded) voice of Kate Bush singing the song as a lullaby, warming its callous cockles with her fulsome sea of honey. She appears to be on another record entirely, and it crosses the studio hi-jinx with opaque remorse and reproach. She sails away and the mass singalong ensues, though thankfully SAW know better than to extend it to “Hey Jude” interminability; three choruses, the last acappella, a round of self-satisfied applause, and that’s it. The irony of SAW making a decidedly anti-Sun charity record two years later will be addressed when we get there; but “Let It Be” was a well-meaning but utterly foolish enterprise which finally helped allow the guilty parties an escape route which should have been as firmly sealed off as the bow doors of the Herald of Free Enterprise weren’t.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Do you know, I hadn’t heard this for 23 years until today. It is remarkable how many of the things that are bad about it passed me by at the time… the production, the random deployment of vocalists, the hideous sensation of self-congratulation over the last backing free minute, the unending length of the thing.

    I always really hated the solos at the time, though.

    In terms of casting, its an odd half way house between Band Aid and The Crowd – neither quite a representative superhero line-up of all the biggest stars of the day, nor an interesting collection of anyone from any showbiz background.

    I don’t think that being sung by a collective could ever do the song any favours, really, even under happier circumstances. What’s good about it is a sense of McCartney’s humility and the personal meaning that Mother Mary holds for him – especially in the Anthology version where you hear him play it to John Lennon for the first time.

  6. 6
    Tom on 25 Feb 2010 #

    #4 Punctum was there really a sense in the aftermath that the Sun shared responsibility for the tragedy (rather than its readers being the victims of bad luck)?

  7. 7
    punctum on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Sun journalists certainly thought so; I knew a few back in the day from university etc. and the attitude at the paper was we don’t really give a toss about the disaster but it makes great headlines, it’s a Good Story and we can make minimal gestures towards something which, if we didn’t actually cause it, we certainly encouraged the pathway towards it. Plus, of course, it was great publicity for the paper, which was the main aim.

  8. 8
    Billy Smart on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Didn’t The Sun bully Boy George into participation, IIRC?

    They tried to pull of the same trick again after the Kings Cross fire at the end of the year, and persuade the Pet Shop Boys to release or rerecord their recent song ‘Kings Cross’ for charity. To their credit, the Pet Shop Boys held out. Its a song about prostitution, for one thing.

  9. 9
    Birdseed on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Can anyone name an all-star charity single that has a video not set in a recording studio? Is that really the only way to do it?

    Not even the best of the genre – “Sun City” by Artists United Against Appartheid – entirely escapes that fate, though at least they try including other stuff.

  10. 10
    Raw Patrick on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Chumbawamba released their own, anti-Murdoch, answer record:

    SCAB 1 SCAB AID “Let It Be” 7 inch single ’87
    Released a week after a single with the same title was released by “Ferry Aid”, a pop star charity record a la “Live Aid”. A butchered version of the Beatles song backed by a quiet rant against The Sun newspaper.

  11. 11
    MikeMCSG on 25 Feb 2010 #

    SAW and Mel and Kim replaced themselves at number 1- the only other instance I can think of was John Lennon in 1981. Highly ironic that Mel helped out The Sun considering what happened shortly afterwards.A number of the artists were very dubious about taking part, Andy Bell in particular. In a portent of things to come Siobhan ‘Nana excused herself from the session

    Kate Bush getting a second bite at the No 1 cherry is the only positive about this record. She had previously appeared at the Secret Policeman’s Ball for Amnesty International (I think her very last onstage performance) well worth checking out on youtube for the moment her dress strap breaks. Unfortunately she has quick hands.

    It’s notable that McCartney didn’t take part in the sessions; Pete Waterman had been loudly proclaiming how much they wanted to work with Macca so the snub was surely deliberate.

    #2 I don’t know why you’re singling out the over-maligned Simon Bates; there were loads of dubiously qualified people on the session including virtually the entire roster of Page 3 girls. And on the flip of the record in a moment that Chris Morris must surely have heard you have the Wanker of Wankers, Steve Wright declaring “We hope everyone who lost a relative goes on to have a great life as a result of this record.” Think of that the next time you hear him sneering at some unfashionable act on TOTP2.

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Re 11: God, what’s the context? Agree that Simon Bates is over-maligned and dumbfounded that Steve Wright not only escaped Radio 1’s night of the long knives but prospered at Radio 2. He’s like a snidier Bernard Manning, sniping at anything remotely ‘other’ whether it’s gays, vegetarians, or members of Pilot who are less chiseled than Morten Harket. Bastard.

  13. 13
    MikeMCSG on 25 Feb 2010 #

    #12 Actually Wright is nasty about Morten too. I remember him announcing one performance by A-ha as “how to be good-looking but dull” and a few years back on his R2 show he played “Cozy Prisons” then said “Hasn’t that Morten Harket got skinny arms?”

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 25 Feb 2010 #

    re 13 compared to Steve Wright everyone has skinny arms – and that’s all I have to say about this record

  15. 15
    rosie on 25 Feb 2010 #

    The best thing about this is that it gives us an opportunity to discuss the single event that, above all, sums up the decade. It was a pretty lethal decade – Valley Parade; Kings Cross; Hillsborough; Clapham. Clapham probably hit me hardest because many of the dead passengers were, or had recently been, colleagues of mine. The Bournemouth to Waterloo service that crashed was bringing many fellow Chase Manhattan Bank backroom workers up to the London office for the day. All of those disasters could be ascribed to the sacrifice of safety on the altar of the religion of the day – profit at any cost. The Sun was its high priest.

    But Zeebrugge was the most cynical of the lot. Later in 1987 I went to an OU summer school at Preston Polytechnic (more anon) where I met and became friends with a woman whose husband was a chippy on the Herald of Free Enterprise who had just gone off duty on arrival in Zeebrugge. From her I heard the version of events that didn’t appear in the Sun or any other alleged newspaper. The skipper, David Lourie, along with other Ro-Ro (“Roll on, Roll over”) skippers, had been instructed by senior management to stop faffing about on departure and to raise the bow doors as the boat was departing, not before. I suppose Lourie could have taken a principled stand, but doubtless that would have cost him hos job and career and somebody else would have been found to carry out management instructions.

    As it happened, Lourie lost job and career anyway when the subsequent enquiry made him a scapegoat. Jeffrey Sterling, head honcho at P&O who ought to have taken the rap if he had any decency, got a peerage for his trouble in Margaret Thatcher’s resignation honours list. That just about sums it up.

  16. 16
    koganbot on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Here’s a quite moving version of “Let It Be” by Brooke White, a couple of years ago on American Idol. It made me admit, finally, that “Let It Be” had a nice melody.

    (Oh yeah, and if anyone wants to post a list of best Kate songs, it’s about time I came to terms with her, too. I’ve tended to roll my eyes, but she is excellent here.)

  17. 17
    koganbot on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Oh, and I fear that this is my last excuse to link “Where’s The Dress?” (My apologies if someone else has already linked it.)

  18. 18
    Steve Mannion on 25 Feb 2010 #

    best Kate songs? just listen to the first 8 singles, all of The Dreaming and the first half of Hounds Of Love imo

  19. 19
    koganbot on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Thank you. I will do so.

  20. 20
    inakamono on 25 Feb 2010 #

    This was the ‘get off the bus’ moment for me — I watched the video and didn’t have a clue who most of those people were. I’d been trying to get off the bus for years, but something always came along and captured my attention for a few more minutes. But this, when I realized I could only name about five people there, showed me it was time to let go. Pop music had been fun, but it didn’t belong to me any more.

    Even so, this is a quantum-leap better than the Beatles version, or the Live Aid calumny: this was just about the only time the song sounded good, coz singalongamacca only really works when macca isn’t there to sing along.

    And Kate Bush — what a triumph! How to redeem a lost cause, eh; you can almost feel the Herald of Free Enterprise try to right itself in response.

    Sadly, Thatcherite free enterprise was always destined to sink — “sadly” in the sense that so many people’s lives were destroyed on the altar of her ideology, not “sadly” in the sense that it didn’t work.

  21. 21
    LondonLee on 25 Feb 2010 #

    There was a little ironic comment at the time about a boat being called the Herald Of Free Enterprise going down at the height of the Thatcher 80s.

    Is is very shallow of me to wonder why Gary Moore is still wearing his overcoat? But at least he’s standing up I guess, unlike the other guitar hero on the record who looks like he needs a pipe and slippers.

    The video is also a depressing snapshot of the dearth of pop talent around at that point.

  22. 22
    anto on 25 Feb 2010 #

    A record with its heart on its on its sleeve and trousers round its ankles.
    The whole sentiment-before-principle stance of charity records – in both how they’re made and purchased is something I’m never entirely comfortable with and this one seems particularly foul as it was organised by the same newspaper which just five years earlier had gloated over the wreck of the Belgrano.
    With all sympathy for the poor people on board the H.O.F.E who lost their lives they surely deserved a better memorial than this.
    Totally agree with Tom about Kate Bushs contribution. If she had been permitted to sing the song by herself it might have been the finest appeal single ever (not much competition, but still..). As it turned out it’s something like the worst.
    Someone should have told Gary Moore to get over himself.

  23. 23
    LondonLee on 25 Feb 2010 #

    I think that’s par for the course with him. Second concert I ever went to was Thin Lizzy when he was in the lineup and he kept trying to upstage Phil Lynott. A fool’s errand, that.

  24. 24
    MBI on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Let It Be is my favorite Beatles song, and as misguided as this is, the singalong section at the end still moves me somewhat.

    As an American, let me express my surprise at the causes which will launch charity records in the UK. A shipwreck killing 200 people isn’t something to be brushed off by any means, but in the U.S. you need a death toll in the five figures to launch a proper celebrity team-up song.

  25. 25
    taDOW on 25 Feb 2010 #

    i don’t think ‘we’re all in the same gang’ has any recording studio shots nor ‘self destruction’ (just barely though – public enemy are at a radio station). i can’t remember if that corny allstar ‘perfect day’ was actually for a charity (it’s definitely the same lineage musically regardless) but it was just ppl staring at the camera right? i know this sort of allstar charity single stayed alive in the uk whereas in the us it basically stopped occurring and when it did it didn’t have anywhere near the success (chartwise or, dear god, as music) as ‘we are the world’. did the general lameness of these songs (nearing some nadir hear, though not reaching it just yet) + the relative success of the roughly contemporary hal willner albums prompt the different (and much more favorable, to my ears at least) red hot + blue?

  26. 26
    lonepilgrim on 25 Feb 2010 #

    there’s quite a history of songs about sinking ships as this list that I just googled demonstrates:

    Gordon Lightfoot\ Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
    Stan Rogers: Wreck of the Athens Queen / Fogarty’s Cove
    Stan Rogers: The Mary Ellen Carter
    Stan Rogers: Barrett’s Privateers
    Dick Gaughan: Shipwreck
    Gordon Lightfoot: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
    Leadbelly: The Titanic
    Pete Seeger: The Titanic
    Jaime Brockett: The Wreck of the U.S.S. Titanic
    Martin Carthy: Lord Franklin
    Pint and Dale: The Wreck of the Lady Washington (Hearts of Gold)
    Harvey Reid & Joyce Andersen: The Wreck of the Isadore (Great Sad River)
    Weavers – The Wreck of the John B.
    God Moves on the Water * Blind Willie Johnson * Praise God I’m Satisfied

    and there’s also dylans’s ‘talkin bear mountain picnic massacre blues’

    now why didn’t they cover one of those?

  27. 27
    swanstep on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Kate B. just sounds tired and depressed to me (understandable). So, a pretty dreadful record on every level it seems.

    The vague, otherworldliness of the ‘it’ in McCartney’s lyric is nicely balanced in the original by the sense of personal encounter (‘me’), and together with the lone voice and beautiful piano part, everything just works I reckon. In the context of a big social disaster, however, the ‘it’ starts to seem evasive, and the sense of personal encounter/’me’ evaporates with all the different (and then massed) voices. So, while Tom may be right that LIB was doomed to be a charity record at some point, I suspect it was also doomed to be a *pretty poor* charity record!

    Thanks to both punctum and rosie for their detailed backgrounders. I would add just the caveat that negligence, corner-cutting, and all the rest of it know no ideological boundaries (crony-capitalist-at-best, illiberal, non-democracies in the South Pacific have had a bunch of negligence-related disasters with their government-run ferries recently). That said, calling your ferry HOFE (capitalism is a monarch? an angel?) definitely invites ideologically specific criticism!

  28. 28
    rosie on 26 Feb 2010 #

    lonepilgrim @ 26: In something closer to a pop context, Fairport Convention’s version of A Sailor’s Life springs readily to mind.

  29. 29
    Alan not logged in on 26 Feb 2010 #

    wot no Harry Chapin ‘Danceband on the Titanic’?

  30. 30
    The Clapton Pond Regeneration Project on 26 Feb 2010 #

    Re. 11 and 12: Plus let’s not forget he killed all those prostitutes in Ipswich, yet still has a flourishing career on Radio 2. One rule for the rich, another one for the rest of us…

  31. 31
    lord darlington on 26 Feb 2010 #

    30 – I prefer his deadpan stand-up stuff. The Ipswich episode was a bit League Of Gentlemen for me.

    29 – Same subject matter in And The Band Played On by Flash & The Pan

  32. 32
    Erithian on 26 Feb 2010 #

    Lest we forget – Nicholas Ridley made a gag of quite stunning tastelessness just four days later. At a press conference, referring to a fellow minister who was steering a Bill through the Commons, he said “Although he is the pilot of the Bill, he has not got his bow doors open.” A teacher wrote to the Guardian saying that she’d been discussing the growing phenomenon of the “sick joke” with her class, and they were looking out for the first joke of the “roll-on, roll-over” variety. She just hadn’t expected it to come from the Secretary of State for the Environment…

    taDOW #25 – it’s bunny-bait of course, as we’ll come to it in ten years’ time, but “Perfect Day” was originally just a BBC corporate-ident video, but once it became clear it was popular enough to be a hit single, had a Children in Need connection tacked onto it.

  33. 33
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Feb 2010 #

    There are two longer stories I’d like to see here;

    One is a behind-the-scenes critical exploration of the charity singles phenom: which takes cognisance of sir blob’s position (“whatever it takes to souyrce the money”) as much as david stubbs’s (“of course the real crime here is an aesthetic one”), because think there’s a lot of really really interesting political and social tensions (the melody maker line is something like Art for Art’s Sake as a Stance of Radical Refusal, which is a lot easier to argue off in semi-detached corners of culture than it is in the cockpit of mainstream debate)

    (shorted version: if you want to swing people to your cause, do you pick a perfomance that’s popular or a performance that’s good?)

    (nitty gritty details i\’d like to know more about: was the choice of song here — “let it be” — was positively or negatively ideological: ie taking a strong risk, diving into the potential controversy, by opting for a title and a “philosophy” which is translates as “laissez faire”, as in “good can only come when the market decides; when every individual is left to pick their own path”… or taking a minimal risk, this being a well-loved easy-to-singalong beatles staple, of uncontroversial and very-unconcrete content, which people on all sides of politics will, if they don’t actively embrace it, at least not actually boycott it…)

    the other thing i’d like to see a fully researched history of: is the gradual arrival in the chatter of pop of the sun in particular — this was an 80s thing, and not at all a foregone conclusion till round about 1987, i’d say… how pop’s chatter moved out beyond the music papers and fanzines and quite localised and specialist discussion, into the contested mainstream

  34. 34
    Mark G on 26 Feb 2010 #

    These charity singles act as a sort of “receipt” for amount paid.

    More and more, more recent ones have been “a minimum of 20p from the sale of this single/download” type.

    (The most recent one is not, let’s leave it at that)

    Yeah, we can’t have a fuller debate on this point while there are more examples of the genre to come.

    Oh, and Kate Bush had a bad cold/flu if I recall correctly, which is why she was alone in the studio.

  35. 35
    punctum on 26 Feb 2010 #


    Ideally one would want to make a decent AND relevant record.

    The choice of “Let It Be” as an uncontroversial singalong is in itself a highly political act; I fail to see how the use of a song so unconnected to, and indeed opposed to, the purpose of the fundraising, has any worthwhile benefit, and by “worthwhile” I do not mean the raising of funds.

    Briefly, New Pop wanted to infiltrate and change the mainstream, but the mainstream (principally via John Blake) dutifully absorbed it and, as all mainstreams do, diluted it until its original purpose was impalpable.

  36. 36
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Feb 2010 #

    by “worthwhile” I do not mean the raising of funds

    but this is exactly the point: if the purpose is the raising of funds, should aesthetics step aside? The reason I’d like to see this first story in fuller detail is exactly because I’m interested in the pragmatics of realising the ideal in the first paragraph…

    In the third paragraph, I’d cavil mainly at the idea that the Sun was (at that time)* the “mainstream” — I think it was a very successful rival avant garde, which was rather more effectively diverting the mainstream than the “counterculture”, or whatever you want to call it: and I think its cynical boldness in this very project is an example of its avant gardism (it’s “highly political”, as you say — in other words, i suppose, what I’m calling a “positively” rather than a “negatively” ideological move: by which i mean it’s injecting controversial content, rather than subtracting it)

    *but of course it’s not hard to argue that it already so dominated the mainstream that etc etc; but this is why I want to see the full story — when does it gain dominance, and when (and why) does it begin to reach out towards pop culture…

  37. 37
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Feb 2010 #

    (but i don’t generally think of the mainstream as a thing in itself: for me it’s the sum of a totality of smaller forces, of varying and sometimes antoagonistic kinds…)

  38. 38
    Tom on 26 Feb 2010 #

    Obviously it’s often in the interest of a paper to act like its the mainstream – a confident mainstream in its case, an embattled one in the case of the modern Daily Mail. This is what I was trying to get at with the reflect/infect stuff in my review. (The Sun still DOES act like it runs Britain of course, but the fear that it actually might seems to have receded.)

    Something I’m interested in w/charity records is the apparent faith that a range of star names is what motivates people to buy them: would sales have been lower or higher had Paul King, say, not appeared on this record?

  39. 39
    punctum on 26 Feb 2010 #

    #36: The question with things like Ferry Aid is not so much raising of funds but more “why are we raising funds in the first place?”

    I’d say Paul Dacre’s Mail has ultimately been rather more successful in the avant-gardism tabloid stakes since reliable sources tell me we’re pulling closer and closer to the unravelled cloak AHA IT WAS ALL A PUT ON DO YOU SEE NOW LET’S SMASH IT ALL UP moment. Once a hardcore socialist, always a hardcore socialist, eh PD?

  40. 40
    Johnny on 26 Feb 2010 #

    This talk of whether “Let it Be” is an appopriate song choice reminds me of the events surrounding the Columbine school shooting tragedy in the US. The song chosen for the public funeral of the slain students, “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, centered around the key couplet:

    “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right
    I hope you had the time of your life”

    Er…In what way is a murder spree at a school “right”, in the end?

  41. 41
    thefatgit on 26 Feb 2010 #

    With every charity record since Band Aid, I have begun to question their “worthiness” for raising funds for this disaster or that catastrophe. Raising money in these cases is always going to be a kneejerk reaction. “Something must be done” everybody says and the music industry rushes out a record for everyone to buy, and the funds are raised end everyone feels better and carry on with their lives. The single becomes the focus. A tangible piece, an artefact that we can pick up and say “at least I did my bit”. Earthquakes are random, as are tsunamis, but Zeebrugge and to a certain extent Ethiopia were preventable. No single person was held to account. And this is the problem with Ferry Aid, it doesn’t assuage the feeling of injustice. It’s merely a rallying point for the public to donate money to ease their grief/guilt/whatever. Each time a new charity record is released, the public are almost pavlovian in their response and propel the single to #1 without considering it’s quality or where the money will go.

    I was working for British Rail when Clapham Junction occurred. I was part of the team that restored the track after the disaster. Many of us worked longer and harder than normal to get the system working again. The accident was preventable and ultimately led to the privatisation of British Rail. Railtrack, later re-named Network Rail, stayed under Government control. The train operators were privatised, the maintenance of the tracks were sold off to outside contractors. As a result, under Payne Restructuring, my job as well as many others, was lost. Since then, Paddington and Potters Bar indicated that no real improvement to Rail infrastructure had happened. Vital lessons had not been learned.

    Clapham inspired no charity single AFAIK. Here’s the thing, I don’t think a charity single could have had a positive lasting result to the disaster. First of all, a train full of commuters from the Stockbroker Belt not making it to work that day was not “sexy” (wrong word maybe, struggling to think of an alternative) enough for pop stars to make a charity single. Secondly, the families of the victims would have been appalled that something as trite as a pop record could ease their grief and growing anger over Thatcher’s government shrinking their subsidy to BR year on year, forcing management to cut corners on health and safety, in this case not updating the ancient signalling system at Britains busiest railway station. If you took the train to work in London from Surrey or Hampshire, there was no real alternative, you still had to pass through Clapham Junction.

    The real difference in the case of The Herald Of Free Enterprise, was that the ferry operator Townsend Thoresen, eventually was wound up as passengers voted with their feet, upon learning of the company’s disregard of health and safety in favour of making a quick profit. The Sun owed a debt to the families of the victims for using TT as the ferry operator. The motive of the “Let It Be” single was to assuage guilt first, offering comfort for victims’ families second.

  42. 42
    thefatgit on 27 Feb 2010 #

    Rosie, just read your post re: Clapham. You must have known or met quite a few people affected by the crash. In case you were wondering, our teams were not permitted to work until all the wreckage etc. had been cleared. Most of us worked in silence apart from giving and receiving necessary instructions. It was the most eerie and solemn experience of my working life.

  43. 43
    thefatgit on 27 Feb 2010 #

    One final point: Charity singles, as a result of natural disasters have a degree of merit, because of the randomness of the event, we feel compelled to help in whatever way we can. Charity singles for those disasters caused as a result of human error or negligence are diminished because of our anger at the injustice of such an event. That’s the only way I can equate it.

  44. 44
    rosie on 27 Feb 2010 #

    One wonders what will be dug up following the news from Chile this morning. And shudders.

    Was there a Tsunami Aid single five years ago? If there was it – apologies for this in advance – washed over me but I can imagine a bad taste competition for the least appropriate candidate. Something by Jan and Dean, for example.

  45. 45
    Tom on 27 Feb 2010 #

    Tsunami Aid: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_World_Project

  46. 46
    Tom on 27 Feb 2010 #

    The song was (IIRC) written by Mike Read (the DJ). I am fairly certain I have never actually heard it.

  47. 47
    CPB on 27 Feb 2010 #

    As I happened to have the YouTube window open anyway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwTLvJ5GU90

    I definitely remember Mike Read being involved (which would also explain Cliff) but I don’t entirely recall whether he wrote it or co-wrote it. Either way, the turnaround does give the faint impression that he’d been waiting for a disaster to record it for.

  48. 48
    lonepilgrim on 27 Feb 2010 #

    You know things must be bad in Haiti when you see this lot offering help:


  49. 49
    Jimmy the Swede on 28 Feb 2010 #

    #43 – I think this raises an important point. Acts of God are one thing, disasters caused by human error are quite another because they are to varying degrees avoidable. Therefore, one’s tolerance to the inevitable charity record is likely to be diminished correspodingly. The bleak truth, is, though, there is always low comedy to be found in any tragic situation. On a pure “Boxing Day Bobby” level (see Waldo on “She” 1974), it does nor stretch the imagination too much to concoct the story of a failed unpopular band blowing up their local gig venue, a place where they had been abused many times by patrons, killing everyone. Naturally “Islamists” are blamed and our boys (the devestated house band, who just by the grace of God were not performing that night) rush into a studio to record the tribute, fighting off the usual sanctimonious suspects they accuse of opportunism when they try to mussel in. The superstars back down and the record sells shitloads; and although our band doesn’t earn anything from it, they have achieved a number one record, are destined to be discussed by a bunch of saddoes on a blog in the future, and don’t look back…

    Pretty grim, huh? C’mon, all you creative writers, let’s be ‘aving you!! Could YOU do it, Mr Sinker?

  50. 50
    swanstep on 28 Feb 2010 #

    the story of a failed unpopular band blowing up their local gig venue, a place where they had been abused many times by patrons, killing everyone. Naturally “Islamists” are blamed and our boys (the devestated house band, who just by the grace of God were not performing that night) rush into a studio to record the tribute, fighting off the usual sanctimonious suspects
    Work in some jihadi-wannabes, i.e., who were originally very happy to celebrate and wrongly take credit for the club’s destruction (death to america and israel man!), but who start fuming once ‘our boys’ figure out that it wasn’t Islamists wot dunnit but instead it was Creep Monkey Patrol (or whatever the unpopular band is called), and you may have something.

  51. 51
    CarsmileSteve on 28 Feb 2010 #

    wow, i see su pollard and several members of the grange hill cast in that singalong bit at the end as well…

  52. 52
    CarsmileSteve on 28 Feb 2010 #

    oh and bonnie tyler!

  53. 53
    Erithian on 1 Mar 2010 #

    So, the people whose only Number 1 glory came as a result of this song were… Nick Kamen, Paul King, Mark King, Taffy, Jaki Graham, Gary Moore, Mark Knopfler, Nik Kershaw, Edwin Starr, Curiosity, Ruby Turner, Hazel O’Connor, The Nolans, Steve Strange, Su Pollard, Mandy Smith, Maxi Priest, Go West, The Alarm and, er, Simon Bates. Plus the still-delectable Linda Lusardi and various other Page Three girls. (Eat your heart out Katie Price.) Any others I’ve missed?

  54. 54
    Billy Smart on 1 Mar 2010 #

    The Alarm!? Steve Strange!? With every new comment, I discover yet more pop personalities hidden in the fabric of this dismal single…

  55. 55
    MikeMCSG on 1 Mar 2010 #

    #53 Ian, a couple of minor corrections to the list. The Nolans were also (and more prominently) on The Crowd’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and Nik Kershaw wrote a nineties number one. I think possibly Mark King played on Midge Ure’s “If I Was” but don’t take that as gospel.
    Also Steve Strange famously appeared in the “Ashes To Ashes” video but that might be stretching a point !

  56. 56
    Rory on 9 Mar 2010 #

    Coming to this cold, it doesn’t sound quite as objectionable to me as most of you find it, but it’s still quite objectionable. 3, including a bonus mark for Kate Bush’s interlude.

    If they were going for maximum inappropriateness, they should have covered “Here Comes the Sun”. Or something by the Doors.

  57. 57
    taDOW on 4 Dec 2010 #

    obligatory/amazing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8cNHCP3juQ&feature=player_embedded

  58. 58
    lonepilgrim on 4 Dec 2010 #

    re 57 that’s like a vision of purgatory where the botoxed hordes of daytime TV are condemned to sing for eternity

  59. 59
    Rory on 6 Feb 2011 #

    RIP Gary Moore, whose only Popular appearance was here. I was listening to my favourite Thin Lizzy album, Black Rose: A Rock Legend, just this morning – he deserves to be remembered for the likes of that rather than this.

  60. 60
    Erithian on 7 Feb 2011 #

    Did anyone catch Bob Geldof paying tribute to Gary Moore on Radio 5 this morning? Talking about blues musicians, the day Clapton played on one of Geldof’s songs and the thrill of watching him feel his way instantly into a track he’d never heard before; then about the Irish connection to the blues which inspired Moore, Rory Gallagher and Van Morrison. Nicky Campbell was listening enraptured until Geldof, suddenly aware of his lyrical flights of fancy, said “Sorry if I’m sounding a bit of a twat here…” Cue hurried presenter’s apology.

    RIP Gary too – “Parisienne Walkways” one of my favourite singles of the 70s.

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