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Oct 10

BAND AID II – “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Popular49 comments • 6,205 views

#638, 23rd December 1989

From the biggest-selling single of all time, to the ninth-biggest seller of 1989: charity hit glut illustrated in a single stat. Pete Waterman – pop’s Mr. Rent-A-Conscience with three charity chart-toppers to his name – stressed at every turn that the whole thing was Bob Geldof’s idea. Perhaps he was aware of the potential for anti-climax, or perhaps just nervous of the cynicism likely to greet a record largely manned by the PWL roster. Either way this is the sound of a golden goose croaking its last (for a while).

The usual caveats apply: the record did some good, it’s churlish to assume anything less than noble intentions on the part of the participants (even those with rapidly receding careers) – oh, and it’s better than “Let’s Party”, but what isn’t? Even so, Band Aid II can’t escape comparison with the original on a number of levels – performances, participants, production, impact – and it fails on every one. Actually, no, the singing isn’t awful – Sir Cliff sounds warmer than he does on his own Christmas hits – though the most credible singer has the most horrible moment: Lisa Stansfield shuddering her way through “no ra-i-i-i-n or r-i-i-i-ver flow”. You could make a case that the 1984 version overdid the jauntiness once the drums came in, but it’s got nothing on the Hit Factory’s one-size-fits-all rhythm track bopping its way through this one. They treated the song itself, of course, as sacrosanct – but “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” gained some of its power and all of its excuses by being a rushed, passionate response to a terrible situation. Presenting it as an inviolable classic highlights its perceived weaknesses. Notably, That Line gets split between Jason Donovan and a Goss, and they overstress the “won’t be snow” bits after to draw attention away from it.

And no matter the quality of the record, it’s hard to compare the line-ups and not feel a sense of decline. The 1984 Band Aid was made by an aristocracy of stars who’d conquered America, ushered in the video age, and helped reinvent pop as a global presence. It turned out to be a last hurrah, but it didn’t feel that way. This was close to the end for the 1989 crop, too – having owned this year, the PWL brand of cheerful plastic pop fell out of favour very quickly. The difference was that their peak had only been local, and even at the time Band Aid II’s line-up seemed slight.

Of course this was a little unfair on 1989’s music. The exciting stuff was happening elsewhere – club music, hip-hop, indie, all of them enjoying surges of creativity as the pop decade staggered wheezing over the line. The constraints of the song and of Pete Waterman’s rolodex stopped Band Aid II from being more diverse. But so did the credibility of the project – Band Aid and Live Aid had given pop a brief sense of mission: now that had devolved into a kind of dull civic duty thanks to years of hopeless charity releases. Doing it all over again just underlined the fact that the original impulse had become one more fundraising tactic, as surprising as a raffle at the school fete. There was nothing special about the idea, nothing special about the record, nothing special about the performers, and – it suddenly seemed – nothing special about pop any more at all.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    swanstep on 16 Oct 2010 #

    Decadal thinking does do your head in. I recently heard Mark Kermode suggest that the 70s ended and the 80s began in 1977 with the release of Star Wars; Season 3 of Mad Men pretty much showed the 50s giving way finally only at the end of 1963; and a number of people have argued that regardless of what was going on at #1 the 90’s were well underway in the body of music in 1989 (and probably since Surfer Rosa and It takes a Nation of Millions in 1988).

    Anyhoo, Flashback (1990) attempted to make light of this sort of thinking. Its key line was Dennis Hopper’s crazed old druggie Hippie counseling uptight FBI agent Keifer Sutherland:
    Once we get out of the 80s, the 90s are going to make the 60s look like the 50s.

    Great essay by Tom and comment by Punctum of course.

  2. 27
    Mutley on 16 Oct 2010 #

    #3 and #25 More pedantry regarding Britain’s first black artist at number one in these charts – Winifred Atwell had number ones in 1954 and 1956. Winifred wasn’t born in the UK but she lived here a long time, although eventually settling in Australia.

    Even more pedantry – in the listing of all the number ones by date her name is spelt both as Attwell and Atwell. I believe that the latter is the correct spelling.

  3. 28
    Billy Hicks on 16 Oct 2010 #

    “And there WON’T be SNOW in AFriCA THIS CHRISTMAS TIIIMEEE!”
    “THE GREATEST GIFT THEEEEEY’LL GET THIS YEAR IS LOOOVVVVVE!”

    …oh yikes.

    At times this sounds like a parody of the original – hey, imagine Band Aid if it was made in the *late* 80s, LOLZ! You can imagine how Stock/Aitken/Waterman were feeling, from their humble beginnings with the likes of Dead or Alive, they’ve steadily grown in popularity over the decade until almost completely taking over the chart this year. Their hopes must have been high for 1990 – how on earth can they fall from this high? Simon Cowell right now is in exactly the same situation of chart dominance, and I’m just waiting for the inevitable fall that I predict sometime around 2012.

    Yeah, it’s bad, but there’s an odd charm to it. What would have been even worse had they done it, say, fifteen years later, in a really awful time for pop music. They’d probably have the likes of Coldplay and The Darkness in it and a rap break from Dizzee Rascal, but thankfully Geldof saw sense. Erm, didn’t he?

  4. 29
    rosie on 16 Oct 2010 #

    Mutley @ 27:

    Quite right for calling Marcello on that one. Winifred was originally from Trinidad, Emile from St Lucia, and in both cases that would make them British at the time. Winifred didn’t sing, of course; the first black vocalist to top the British chart would be Frankie Lymon by my reckoning but others may know different. The most that could be said of Emile Ford is that he was the first Black British Singer to top the British chart. An uncharacteristic lapse on Marcello’s part.

  5. 30
    Jimmy the Swede on 17 Oct 2010 #

    MAJOR: We called her Winnie ’cause she looked like Winnie!
    FAWLTY: She wasn’t black!
    MAJOR: Black? Churchill wasn’t black!

  6. 31
    Chris Gilmour on 17 Oct 2010 #

    Perfectly valid points from all, and yes, a sad way to say goodbye to an incredible decade, but….I really like it. I like the song anyway, I like the jaunty Soul II Soul-type rhythm track and the SAW production, I like that it’s not in thrall to the original. One thing it does feel like for me is a goodbye. With Black Box, Soul II Soul, and Madchester over the last few months, pop, and the way I related to pop, was changing incredibly quickly, and while it was fun for me as a young kid, it needed to change the same way I was. So that’s probably why I have a soft spot for it. Also the last single I would buy on seven inch for over 10 years.

    @1: Technotronic are credited on the sleeve, albeit as ‘Technotronics’. As well as Glen Goldsmith!

  7. 32
    rosie on 17 Oct 2010 #

    thefatgit @ 24:

    Michael Holliday’s suicide might not be in the same league as Ian Curtis’s (although the demise of a shy Liverpool schoolteacher under pressure to be a star does provide a sinister foreshadowing of the celebrity cult of the Noughties) but would there have been a Glasto in its pomp without Woodstock? Did the 80s music video not have its roots in A Hard Day’s Night? Did House not begin with Tomorrow Never Knows? SynthPop with Good Vibrations? What did Stock Aitken Waterman not owe to Holland-Dozier-Holland? How many big 80s names would not cheerfully acknowledge the influence of (any permutation of) the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Beach Boys, the Doors, Bob Dylan, Cream and the Yardbirds?

    I rest my case, m’lud!

  8. 33
    thefatgit on 17 Oct 2010 #

    You’ve trumped me there, Rosie! We’re into the territory of “if it wasn’t for this, there wouldn’t be that” which is an ongoing narrative, as Punctum’s posts on Popular have often demonstrated. I was a mere babe in the ’60s, but so much of that decade has been digested and appreciated as great music by me and anyone who has an interest in Pop. And maybe there are precedents from the ’40s and ’50s which shaped the Dylans and Jaggers and Lennons. It’s not necessarily a case of “my decade is better than your decade”, but when my grandkids ask me about the music I grew up with, I’ll be talking about the day I brought home “Blue Monday” and played it over and over. It’s not better than “Good Vibrations” for example, but it’s mine.

  9. 34
    rosie on 17 Oct 2010 #

    …and, in the end, the greatest decade for pop is always going to be the one where you were a teenager. So fair dos all round!

    Of course, there’d have been no Beatles, Stones etc without Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, or the Brill Building.

    And there’s have been none of those without traditional West African music, Cajun music, Irish and Scottish folk music and so on to cross-breed.

    I’ve often said in these pages that there’s nothing new under the sun.

  10. 35
    Billy Hicks on 17 Oct 2010 #

    Some of my favourite years for pop are 1989, 1999 and 2009, weirdly. 1989 because it’s the peak of high-energy 80s brilliance. 1999 because I was the perfect age for the Steps/S Club 7 manufactured group era (and then later to discover the incredible trance music around that year), and last year was simply the soundtrack to the best year of my life, turning 21 and a whole world opening up to me. In contrast, 1990, 2000 and 2010 just seem like inferior copies of the previous year.

    Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting Popular getting to ’99 and ’09 as the nostalgia factor will be at its extreme.

  11. 36
    Jet Simian on 17 Oct 2010 #

    This all-but passed me by at the time, and it didn’t trouble the Number One slot here in NZ. My main association seems to be Clive James’ yearly once-over on TV getting great mileage out of Jason Donovan in the interviews: “If we only save ONE child, then it will have all been worthwhile…” etc.

  12. 37
    swanstep on 18 Oct 2010 #

    @Billy Hicks. Yes, that 1998/1999 trancey dance is really great isn’t it? Strange how something that, on the face of it, should be quite repeatable and extendible in fact turned out to be just a season (albeit one that we all get to revisit). Can I tempt you to share with us what grabbed you in your world-opening-up year about 2009? [disclosure: Gaga, Glee, the brooklyn crowd (Dirty Projectors esp.), and some UK gal pop (Bat for Lashes esp.) were the new stuff that jumped out for me in 2009.]

  13. 38
    Snif on 18 Oct 2010 #

    Well, we can be thankful there wasn’t a USA For Africa II

  14. 39
    punctum on 18 Oct 2010 #

    #29: argh, what I meant was “first British black male singer to get to number one” but the fine detail got lost. This is what happens when I post comments without proper sub-editing/fact-checking first (MC indulges in self-spank; don’t worry readers, I’m the one who’s going to hell, you are only watching).

  15. 40
    rosie on 18 Oct 2010 #

    @39

    Nice one Marcello!

    Shirley Bassey is the first British-born black vocalist to top the charts but amazingly, and unless anybody knows different, we have to wait until 1974, and Marcel King of Sweet Sensation, for the the first British-born black male vocalist to reach the summit.

    This is assuming that Marcel King was black (sadly I see he is no longer with us). It was only this weekend, and after forty-five years of assuming he was black, that the purveyor of 60s soul hits 1-2-3 and Like a Baby, Len Barry, was white! Doh!

  16. 41
    Mark G on 18 Oct 2010 #

    The most that could be said of Emile Ford: Synesthesia!

  17. 42
    weej on 18 Oct 2010 #

    @40 – I genuinely never realised that Shirley Bassey was black before.
    She just always looked like, well, like Shirley Bassey.

  18. 43
    Mutley on 18 Oct 2010 #

    In the overview of black British-based or born early chart-toppers, let us not forget Danny Williams (born in S. Africa but lived in the UK for much of his life) who was number one with Moon River in December 1961.

  19. 44
    MikeMCSG on 18 Oct 2010 #

    # 3 Dep Mod’s absence is significant of nothing more than Geldof’s antipathy towards synth acts (turning a blind eye to his collaborator’s day job of course). OMD were told they weren’t wanted for Live Aid. Possibly this was down to the New Romantic thing happening at the same time as the Rats’ fall from grace ?

    I remember Matt Aitken complaining in 2004 that this record had been airbrushed from history in all the news coverage that year but I think what’s in the grooves accomplishes that task by itself.

  20. 45
    wichita lineman on 18 Oct 2010 #

    Re 40: Anglo-Indian male singers to hit number one before Marcel King: Cliff, Engelbert, Peter Sarstedt. Sadly, Boris Karloff never made a record. As far as I know.

    Re 44: I really don’t think this is at all bad. It lacks the 1984 version’s hideous Olympic fanfare before the “feed the world” refrain, and – I have to disagree with Tom for once – I don’t think SAW “treated the song itself, of course, as sacrosanct”; they toy with it and erase or mute the more embarrassing and pompous aspects of the original. The next version consciously magnified them.

  21. 46
    Snif on 18 Oct 2010 #

    “”Sadly, Boris Karloff never made a record. As far as I know.”

    Unless you count Bobby “Boris” Pickett :-)

  22. 47
    Auntie Beryl on 18 Jan 2013 #

    One of my more risible habits is spending large chunks of December with music channels on in the background, with “Magic’s Christmas Cracker Top 50” inevitably introduced by a reluctant Ricky Tomlinson or confused Tony Christie.

    You can imagine that away from the established festive Canon there are some rum selections; singles that weren’t hits even at the time, long forgotten attempts by Cliff to recreate Mistletoe And Wine, dubious comedy/celebrity cash- ins, and the like.

    I’ve not seen Band Aid II once. It’s been removed from history. Could there be a boring legal reason for this, its broadcast being prevented by the same limitations that led to Live Aid being unavailable on VHS or DVD for years?

    Or do broadcasters genuinely think it’s shite? Band Aid 20 makes it in every time.

  23. 48
    mark g on 18 Jan 2013 #

    Very true, you have the ‘latest’, the ‘original’, this is the third choice out of two

  24. 49
    Trinidad on 15 May 2013 #

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