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.