Sep 09

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

FT + Popular/120 comments • 13,677 views

#543, 15th December 1984, video

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is significant in one way, and insignificant in another. First, it raised a lot of awareness and money and established the pop single as an excellent mechanism for doing those things. This was significant. Gargantuan “supergroups” like this fell out of favour but charity records will be a constant from here on.

This isn’t an unalloyed good, and not just because most of the records are atrocious: private charity can generally do very little about the root and structural causes of bad situations, and Band Aid’s chosen name is a dark pun. Band Aid – and subsequently Live Aid – provided a readymade narrative of success: a way to give the famine story a happy ending. The Ethiopian famine set the tone for media coverage of Africa as a failed continent: a basket case constantly requiring the help of Western governments and citizens.

But it would be absurd to have expected Geldof and Ure to be able to change this, and wrong to have preferred that they did nothing. They did their best, it was a very good best, and there are individuals alive now who would not be if it wasn’t for this single, which isn’t something I can say with confidence of “Mouldy Old Dough”. However, feeding the world is well outside what I’d generally expect pop to do – so this whole introductory hand-wring is a way of saying that I’ll be listening to charity records as records, not as charities.

And as a record, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has stuck it out better than I thought it would, mostly because it’s become a record about Christmas, not a record about tragedy. As a record about tragedy it’s notoriously heavy handed, but heavy-handedness is exactly what Christmas hits thrive on. It starts with a lift from Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” and then gets jauntier and jauntier until by the end it’s positively festive. Because I’m lucky enough to enjoy Christmas, and because this record came out when I was small and enjoyed it even more, the main feeling I get from “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is one of immense well-being and the sense that all is right in the world.

The cognitive dissonance works because it’s what the song’s very clearly about: “Here’s to you – raise a glass to everyone! Here’s to them – UNDERNEATH THE BURNING SUN!” (a line that always makes me imagine the song as a comic strip). So the more “Christmas” turns into a drunken singalong, the more we giggle at the scratched-up, awkward greetings on the 12″, the more we bellow out That Line, the guiltier we then feel, and the more we give. Well, that’s the theory. Since the recording session turned into a massive party when Francis Rossi got his bag of coke out, it’s fair to say that the song’s immense capability for inappropriate bonhomie has been coded in from the start.

The main contemporary criticism of Band Aid – voiced by Chumbawamba, but also by every playground cynic – is that the stars involved were doing it for the sake of their careers. This is surely completely true, but that’s how celebrity charity operates. It’s also worth pointing out that from this perspective the Band Aid single didn’t actually work: it’s not just Marilyn whose career headed dumperwards. This is where “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is insignificant: it felt and looked like the sealing of pop’s new establishment, when in fact it was their peak. The bands split, faded, took ill-advised sabbaticals, leaving U2 and George Michael the great survivors. Within only a couple of years the British pop landscape would look very different.



  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I can be the first person to recall Taylor Parkes’ brilliant line “Do they know its Christmas? Probably not, because they’re Muslims”

  2. 2
    Rory on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Except that Ethiopia is largely Christian (although what were the groups affected by the famine in 1984? Can’t remember). My ‘do they know’ joke was going to be about their adherance to a different calendar. So who knows when they celebrate Christmas.

    Much more to say here, but a lunch date beckons!

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Such a jumble of mixed responses this evokes for me, and I suspect, for anyone who followed pop at the time.

    The thing that really strikes me about it, is how much better it works with the video than on its own. With the pictures, it looks like a great Christmas party starring a host of your favourite pop star pals. Without it, the tag-team vocalists and wierd lurches between cheer and doom just sounds a bit jarring and odd, not particularly in the intended ironic contrasting of fortunes way, but just sonically – from Joy Division (good spot!) to Black Lace.

    Of particular interest to me then and now was the heirachical nature of the vocals, showing who was in and out in November 1984 as effectively as a league table. The one who doesn’t quite fit in here is Bono, not as yet much of a hit singles presence, displaying just how irritating and – sometimes, if you’re in the right mood to go along with it – thrilling a singer he can be. Nothing else exposes how poor Simon Le Bon’s ‘bellowing swine’ vocal stylings were than his moment in the spotlight here, too.

    Best moment – “The only bells a ringing are THE CLANGING CHIMES OF DOOM!” for its barefaced black comic phrasing. Worst moment – that awful weedy sub-Telstar fanfare.

    One missing voice is Phil Oakey, who was invited but turned the chance down because he misunderstood and thought that he was being asked to record a duet with Bob Geldof, an understandably unappealing prospect.

  4. 4
    Tom on 4 Sep 2009 #

    From the Smash Hits coverage of the recording:

    “Suddenly the place is choc-a-block. You can’t move for pop stars. You can’t even go into the toilet without bumping into someone like Simon Le Bon.”


  5. 5

    is the r0ssi anecdote an fact?

  6. 6
    Tom on 4 Sep 2009 #

    The source seems to be a Rossi interview in Q from a few years ago.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Well at least this is the “best” incarnation of Band Aid…

    I think it was my first real experience of a ‘Christmas record’ being too, um, not alive for the glam lot but I’d take their racket over this of course. For kids I think there was general approval of this recognising it as some special event if not really understanding the big picture. “Pop stars can save the world? Wow now I REEEALLY want to be one…” Oh dear.

  8. 8
    lonepilgrim on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I always thought the intro sounded a lot like Vienna – reflecting Midge Ure’s input. There’s something compelling about the record as an artefact – it isn’t just of its moment, it is that moment – but as Billy says at ♯3 the lurching mood and vocal ‘stylings’ are jarring to say the least.

    I struggle with conspicuous displays of charidee which irritate the puritan pilgrim side of me. It’s along way from:
    But when you give to the poor do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving be in secret and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

  9. 9
    ace inhibitor on 4 Sep 2009 #

    not bad this, on first listen. did they do anything else?

  10. 10
    Pete Baran on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I have to give it a 8, because it is so tied up with so many great memories, and I bought it and I really like it as a single. To the extent that a Ure / Geldoff future collaboration was something I looked forward to as a child. Clearly the bloom is off the rose on the whole charity aspect, but at the time and aged 11 I was ideally placed to ask WHAT CAN I DO, and not take no for an answer. To the song itself, I loved the interplay of voices, the spot the star on the cover and the sheer inanity/hilarity/TRUTH of:

    This has since of course been reworked into one of the funniest jokes known to mankind, and we will see it again. But it oddly gave me faith that pop could do anything which took a long time to be shaken. And also one of the best Christmas songs ever, because it is quite loopy.

  11. 11
    Conrad on 4 Sep 2009 #

    #9 Yeah, they gave a big concert a few months later in honour of Phil Collins’ ability to be in two continents at once

  12. 12

    Not sure if I ever saw the sleeve before! Crass-style collage: comfy and cosy meets ghastly news verité. Not that they invented this style (step forward John Heartfield) but they probably made most use of it on record sleeves earlier in the 80s.

  13. 14
    enitharmon on 4 Sep 2009 #

    As a record this is pop’s equivalent of that scene in Citizen Kane where Kane is speaking at a political rally, dwarfed by the huge image of himself at the back of the stage. The song is much, much, more than a song; it’s a potent icon of its time. At the beginning of 1984 the darkest shadow over our world was the threat of nuclear annihilation; by the end of the year we were made aware of new horrors in the world. CND began to decline from this point on, even as the Cold War began to fade away beside the glimpse of rising dissent in parts of the world hitherto ignored.

    SIt’s almost impossible to assess DTKIC simply as a song rather than as a phenomenon. But fortunately, if we can manage to deconstruct it, what remains isn’t at all bad and I’d be inclined to give it a 7. Its natural precursor in pop terms is, presumably, All You Need Is Love. (I wonder what mark Tom will give to all the other inc… hop hop hoppity hop aaaaAAAAAARRRRRGGHHHH!

    And so, dear Populistas, we come to the parting of the ways for Popular and me. This is the moment I’ve anticipated for some time, exactly halfway through the 1980s, when both my own life and the world of pop both reach a major watershed. By Christmas 1984 I am living full-time in London. Not long into the new year I’ll be working there too, commuting daily on the Central Line between Notting Hill Gate (or Holland Park once I got tube-wise) and Bank. I found a berth in the backrooms of the City in the run-up to the Big Bang and it was a life-changing experience – one may not necessarily approve of what was going on but it was undoubtedly an exhilarating place to be and by no means entirely inhabited by greed-is-good go-getters as the myth would have it. And anyway, I am no longer engaged with the charts. In 1984 there was a smattering of number ones I knew nothing of before I found Popular, something that hadn’t happened in Popular terms since the very early 1960s. In 1985 the ones I don’t recognise are the majority. It’s time for me to pass on.

    All credit to Tom for a blog that’s kept my attention for five years now, since the project got a mention in the Guardian. It’s been a wonderful journey and the company has been great. Of course, if I’m passing this way in the future I might just drop in for a brew. After all, even dear Waldo couldn’t keep away in the end!

    Bon voyage!

  14. 15
    Andrew F on 4 Sep 2009 #

    That Line is one of my favourite bits of pop, I have to admit. Surely the course of human history would have changed if it had gone to anyone else?

  15. 16
    Tom on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Is it true that his participation was on condition he got to sing it?

  16. 17
    Nick P on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I feel bad that I’ve only started posting on popular since the songs have started to suck and thus come across as a bit of a grumpy adolescent who doesn’t really like pop music. That’s probably because in 1984 I was a grumpy adolescent and listening to all these songs again I find I’m channeling my younger self. Although I still had a love for pop, there were some shockers that reached the top in 84.

    This record’s biggest crime is being mediocre. When you’re 15, that is unforgivable.

    These days hearing it makes me smile, as I always have a mental image of Paul Weller in a deerstalker.

  17. 18
    Michael Daddino on 4 Sep 2009 #

    On Christmas ’84, I caught the making-of-Band-Aid documentary on MTV during a momentary period of post-present relaxation. There’s a bit in it where Bono sings his part in the studio with no accompaniment, no effects, no playback. Now I heard Bono before; MTV had played the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” video a whole bunch of times and I was rather impressed by it. But what came out of his mouth was such a grotesque, painful, self-absorbed whine the likes of which I had never known that I spontaneously burst out laughing. And of course I immediately felt bad about it, because–after all–ETHIOPIA. (To say nothing of ARTISTE.)

  18. 19
    Conrad on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Erithian – always really loved reading your contribution.

  19. 20
    wichita lineman on 4 Sep 2009 #

    The structure is a mess – I’m all for non-v/c/v/c/m8/c (to fade) number ones (plenty more to come) but this openly sounds like they were making it up as they went along. The ending is a redux of the hated Hey Jude. And the lyric, almost every line, is patronising (“pray for the other ones”) and clumsy. Most of us like a twinkly, twilit Xmas living room – does anyone really banish shade at Christmastime? Just Bob and Midge (and maybe Paul Young, seeing as he didn’t question it).

    Personal shit: the big finale was Stuck On Repeat in my head while I was trying to do one of my first year town planning exams in 1986.

    re 7: debatable! At least one star on that who trumps all the main players here.

    re 14: Likewise. Sad. Are you leaving to spend more time with your family, or on E&B FC programme notes?

  20. 21
    LondonLee on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Being a snottily superior art student at the time I was one of those cynics who berated the motives behind this. I never hated the record itself, I think it’s OK as a record (6 seems about right) and I liked the vocals of the two Georges, Boy and Michael. I do remember feeling vaguely guilty that I never gave a penny toward Band Aid or Live Aid but managed several quid for the striking miners and their families.

    I mostly remember Live Aid happening the day after I finished my second year at art college. I missed the first half of the concert because I was on a train back to London hungover from a very merry end of term party. Like a lot of people I was aware that this concert was going on but it wasn’t until later in the day that it seemed to become this massive event.

  21. 22
    MikeMCSG on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Good point Tom about the disintegration of the pop hierarchy as represented by this collective. I would suggest that Band Aid/Live Aid might have postponed the cull until autumn 86 a theme to which I’ll return.

    Considering how quickly it was cobbled together it’s not a bad song although like much of Midge’s work it’s well-crafted rather than inspired. By the way I’ve read the intro was sampled from Tears For Fears’s “The Hurting” but it does sound like “Atmosphere” too.

    There’s some great anecdotes about the recording session in Midge’s autobiography “If I Was” . My favourite concerns the B-side which is basically just a compilation of pious messages over the backing track. Apparently Spandau Ballet’s spare part, Steve Norman,submitted one that went ” Steve from Spandau Ballet here. I’d like to say Hi to all our friends in Ethiopia. Sorry we can’t make it down there but maybe we’ll get to tour there next year” !!!

    I must painfully confess something here. I didn’t buy it. As a second year student I wasn’t managing my grant as well as in the first year but that’s no excuse. The thought does trouble me now and again (Catholic guilt for you).

  22. 23
    Conrad on 4 Sep 2009 #

    The song is okay-ish, it seems to exist in a bit of a vacuum sound/production-wise. It dosn’t really sound like a record that’s been listening to Horn, Rushent or any other of the producers/taste makers of the early 80s.

    There’s a mid-70s pub rock vibe which makes Status Quo’s presence wholly appropriate.

    I think it’s easy to take pot shots at the lyrics, but given the subject matter it was never going to be easy to strike the right balance between getting across a message without sounding patronizing.
    And there’s no doubting the sincereity of the project.

    But – it has a lot to answer for, not least Geldof’s subsequent deification, and several other ghastly charidee records.

  23. 24
    will on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Yes, those some of those lines are terrible, but for a rushed job I don’t think DTYIC is bad. It’s certainly a darn sight more palatable that the godawful charidee aggregations to come. 6 is about right for a record that wasn’t supposed to be a poised work of art, but a last minute response to a humanitarian crisis.

  24. 25
    lonepilgrim on 4 Sep 2009 #

    re ♯12 the sleeve is by Peter ‘did I ever tell you I designed the cover for Sgt. Pepper’ Blake – not his best work. Was this the sleeve for the original or the re-release?

  25. 26
    wichita lineman on 4 Sep 2009 #

    “I think it’s easy to take pot shots at the lyrics, but given the subject matter it was never going to be easy to strike the right balance between getting across a message without sounding patronizing.”

    Well, that’s the problem. There were songwriters out there who could manage a non-patronising lyric about famine. If you’re not up to the job, don’t try. Or put your ego aside aside and ask someone (not Midge Ure) to give you a hand.

    Marilyn was asked, but not Morrissey. Shun the indies, get Kershaw on the blower! No wonder Moz said that the record had inflicted more pain in the world than the famine (not saying I agree…).

  26. 27
    Dan R on 4 Sep 2009 #

    It’s not really such a bad song as such but the mixture of intent and song is fairly awkward. The good intentions behind the song mean that the song doesn’t have to be good, but they’re not just asking you to ‘give us yer fookin’ money’ so somehow the song is supposed to stand in itself. So I both feel like a heel for disliking the song, yet also oddly justified.

    I don’t dislike the song THAT much, I should say. I like the singalong fade-out (but then I also like the last four minutes of Hey Jude). The doom-laden opening is appropriate to context and the dramatic middle-eight nicely interrupts a song which has been gradually getting way too Bono Vox for its own, or anyone’s, good. The weedy synth noises date it terrifically. The clanging chimes of doom could only have clanged like that for one Christmas. Overall, it sounds much more like an Ultravox song than a Boomtown Rats song – or maybe an Ultravox song with a slowed-down Boomtown Rats chorus tacked onto the end. I think I remember seeing a short programme about the making of the single at the time which showed Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in a taxi on their way to the studio, still writing the lyrics. No wonder they’re a bit broad-brushstroke.

    The remarks about Ethiopia not being a Christian country misses the point of course that this is a Christmas record in the spirit of Slade, Wizzard and the others: Christmastime is just about giving presents and having fun. And that reasonably contrasted with the experience depicted on the Nine O’Clock News.

    At the time, it did seem somewhat miraculous that a song could be recorded and released so quickly, with so many people giving up time and ego to work on it. Okay, maybe not giving up all that much ego, but some nonetheless.

    We criticise this song on the good Aristotelian principle that it must be held responsible for the awful charity records that followed (which we may well have an opportunity to remark on in coming months) though it’s striking that this really is one of the best of them; how many charity records are still played and still remembered as charity records?

    This clip is a lovely little tribute to the way it’s burned into our collective memory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcAUKOICPn4

    6 is about right though, I reckon.

  27. 28
    punctum on 4 Sep 2009 #

    To paraphrase one of the singers on this record, a year has passed since I wrote my note (well, more like eleven months, but who’s counting?). Readers may recall that at that stage I was ignominiously sent to the stands by the referee for some truly atrocious and borderline psychotic behaviour here for which I offer no excuses other than the fact that I was at the time extremely frustrated and totally fucked up for various extra-Popular reasons. Which of course is no excuse at all. I do, however, offer profound apologies to the various other hapless members of this community who were forced to put up with my bullshit. I wish it hadn’t happened but, as another 1984 hit puts it, people are people, and as yet another 1984 hit puts it, I am what I am. What can I say (hang on, wasn’t that a 1977 hit?) except that (to misquote a 1976 hit) sorry can change from being the hardest to the easiest word to say if life changes for the better, which I am happy to say mine has. So here be my olive branch for those who are prepared to accept it.

    Last time I was here I wrote about a communal Christmas singalong which was pretty much the polar opposite of this one. In the interim my favourite era of pop has passed by, and while I’m afraid I haven’t taken meticulous note of everything that’s flowed under the Popular bridge in the interim since (a) since last I was here my wife has joined me in London and, as I intimated above, life is infinitely better as a result and (b) my hands have been full (together with other projects which aren’t a direct concern here, but do include a book which is due to be published next autumn plug plug) with assessing the albums on my main blog (plug plug 2) but to look at this half decade of number ones you’d be mildly perplexed at what all the New Pop fuss was about. The chart toppers alone hardly begin to reflect the slow revolution that was bubbling throughout this period – are there any less representative years of number ones than 1981 or 1982 (except perhaps 1967)? And the ones for 1983-4 in quarter-century retrospect do look a wee bit stolid, un peu Dale Winton’s idea of the eighties. No, New Pop (Mark I) was all about moments (in love) – Clare Grogan’s tongue, Billy’s beret, the awesome impossibility of “O Superman,” David Sylvian’s eyebrows – and while the Frankie trilogy is still maybe my favourite trilogy of singles in all of pop (“where sex and horror are the new gods” and the trio of number ones swept all of those up), “The Power Of Love” is as poignant and clutching a farewell to an era as “You Never Give Me Your Money” was to its.

    This didn’t mean the end of New Pop, as such; as Robin Scott remarked back in 1979, “it’s all around you,” and its lessons were to be absorbed, mutated and re-learned over the next couple of generations (including, most excitingly, the present one). But Band Aid does draw a pretty firm line under the whole period.

    If we’re talking about assessing charity number ones purely on their merits as records, then it would not take long to analyse “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Essentially it is a cheap, shitty little tune which sounds like the theme from Z-Cars played on a Stylophone. And that’s not me talking – those were the words of Bob Geldof when first he heard Midge Ure’s backing track. Over it come the voices of prominent British pop stars of the day, some solo, others in harmony and at the end everyone together, singing for charity in the manner of those old Decca All-Star Hit Parade compendiums of the ’50s where sundry leading crooners took turns in singing each other’s hits.

    If only it were that simple. But it is I think absolutely impossible to consider these records in some idyllic notion of etiolated aesthetic isolation. There were of course precedents, notably George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, not to mention “All You Need Is Love.” But the Band Aid single, and consequent phenomenon, was – to paraphrase Danny Kelly’s remarks about Sgt Pepper in his introduction to the NME’s 1985 Top 100 albums poll, an Exocet to the heart of pop, and pop records in particular, which as a side-effect of attempting to save actual lives struck several near-fatal blows to popular music.

    As “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the last word to the experimental idealism of 1967-75 , so can this part be aptly closed down with “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The irony of its being co-written and co-initiated by the leading light of the last gasp of glampop (Slik) need not be underlined. We can applaud to a certain degree the “bloody doing something about it” activity arising out of the determined apathy of punk and the subsequent aesthetic liberation of post-punk and New Pop.

    However, Band Aid was determined to attack and resolve a painfully central question about music and its role, if any, in changing the world, however slightly. All those Lennon sales pitches about peace and having no possessions were all very well, and anarchy is never less than tempting – but what price any of this against the undeniably greater factor of saving the lives of millions of people (though, again in my year’s absence, I have had occasion to rethink my views about the 1980-1 Lennon triptych/hidden quatrain of number ones quite radically)?

    The solution Geldof found was an uncomfortable one. As general post-Band Aid trends would go on to confirm, it very quickly turned out to be an option of better music or a better world. And even the efficacy of Band Aid and Live Aid in terms of the latter can be questioned, since most of the billions raised by the enterprise seem to have gone straight into the pockets and coffers of the ruling Ethiopian elite, all the better to crush and control their hapless subjects. As Geldof himself realised by the time of Live 8, it was the system which needed changing from the ground upwards rather than sending in astronomical sums of undefined money – i.e. relief from the ruinous interest rates demanded by the West in terms of Third World debt repayments, an end to the industrial/military interdependence which actually favours tinpot tyrannies in famined nations over workable democracies, and so on.

    Does that therefore mean that Geldof simply shouldn’t have bothered? This is a hugely uncomfortable question. By decrying “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” one is in danger of favouring mass deaths so that we fortunate Western consumers can continue to avail ourselves of higher-quality art. Yes, it should have been done in preference to not having been done. But still there are those side products which in another way have proved massively destructive.

    Possibly only someone in Geldof’s position could have turned Band Aid into action in 1984. In the same week that “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” went to number one, “Dave,” the then-current single by the Boomtown Rats, was sitting at number 100. The Rats, four years after their last top ten hit, were fading fast, and so Geldof’s evenings were quieter; quiet enough for him to be sitting in front of the TV to watch Michael Buerk’s Nine O’Clock News report from Ethiopia. The author of “Looking After Number One” then speedily set about disabusing that song’s central notion; inspired by Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” Geldof and Ure wrote the song, recruited as many musicians as they could assemble in West London of a late autumn Sunday morning, recorded and mixed the single, and released it in the space of some 2-3 weeks.

    It was all done on the turn of a determinedly amateur dime, and sounds it. Of the featured singers, Paul Young and Boy George appear to carry the bulk of the song while George Michael, Simon LeBon, Tony Hadley and Sting do their respective vocal party pieces and Bono is left with that deliberately ambiguous, if clumsy, line. The lyric is awkwardly phrased (“clanging chimes of doom”?) but obviously heartfelt, at least in Geldof’s heart if not necessarily in those of anyone else present.

    What counted though, besides the direct (hopeful) life-saving effects, was what this all meant to the concept of the pop record as an art form and/or simple three-minute tickler in itself. In addition, of course, it slaughtered and buried New Pop. No more room for shiny yellow philosophical abstracts; this was cold rationalism run carefully riot. No more room, either, for the divided loyalties essential to any pop movement which can count itself as truly alive – in the Christmas 1983 edition of the BBC’s children’s programme Saturday Superstore Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and the Police – in their entirety – all appeared as guests, but each group refused to be filmed in the company of the others or even talk to the others. Twelve months later and we have Simon and Sting and Tony all shaking hands, mucking in together and being mates – what was the point, then, if it had only ever been about business? It torpedoed the concept of rivalry which would take a decade to resurface with the (engineered) Blur/Oasis “war.”

    Moreover, by assessing the personnel on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and subsequently those invited to Live Aid, we were conveyed a horribly clear diktat about who mattered and didn’t matter in pop – suddenly there was a pecking order. Nearly all of the original motivators of New Pop were conspicuous by their absence; Heaven 17 and Bananarama were there, Phil Oakey was invited but (pace Bill’s post at #3, and this is how he put it in a radio interview at the time) angrily declined when the rest of the Human League weren’t. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were gigging in New York and couldn’t attend the recording but Holly Johnson (together with Bowie, McCartney and Big Country) did a specially recorded message for the B-side (“I can’t get the laugh right Bob”) which Trevor Horn astutely and mischievously made the centre of his 12-inch remix. But as for ABC, Adam Ant, Marc Almond and the Associates – and these are just the “A”s – commercially they were all more or less washed up by the end of 1984, lucky even to squeeze into the Top 40 for a week. The ambulance chasers – the Durans, the Spandaus, the Wham!s, those eager to please – all dutifully turned up; Jon Moss helped out on drums alongside Phil Collins but Boy George flounced in too late for the photo shoot. Those who still awkwardly stood outside, and/or apart from, the 1984 mainstream – the Smiths, New Order, Scritti – were not asked; others unable to attend but who subsequently turned up at Live Aid included the Thompson Twins, Sade, Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox.

    Perhaps the most peculiar inclusion of all was Paul Weller, the sole representative of “punk” (if we don’t count Geldof) present. Since he’d spent the best part of three years loudly slagging off nearly all of the artists in the studio, hardly anyone would talk to him except Phil Collins, Marilyn and his old mates Bananarama – though he was awestruck by the unexpected and unannounced appearance of Kool and the Gang, in town to promote their “Fresh” single and just dropped into the studio, he spent most of that Sunday trying to convince fellow musicians to participate in a fundraising single for the striking miners (only Heaven 17 agreed, and helped produce the Council Collective single “Soul Deep” which sold considerably less that season than Band Aid). He must have wondered why he’d even bothered (he can be heard, deep in the mix, on the line “where nothing overflows”).

    In its five weeks at the top – it debuted the same week as Wham’s only UK million-selling single, the double-sided “Last Christmas”/”Everything She Wants,” entered at number two, where it was compelled to stay for the entirety of Band Aid’s run at number one (the first occasion in UK singles chart history where the top two were both new entries, but since George Michael was prominently featured on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” he could hardly complain) – it passed the three million sales mark, shattering the record set by “Mull Of Kintyre,” and would remain the UK’s all-time best-selling single until 1997. The effects, as we are bound to see in 1985, were immediate – all of a sudden, pop in itself was no longer enough, yet Geldof was only setting in active motion what the Beatles had started back in the sixties. But now there seemed little, if any, room for fun, mischief or sex; the Frankie trilogy, with both “The Power Of Love” and Welcome To The Pleasuredome still in the top three, already seemed like a vaguely decadent and indulgent remnant of another era. Now the scene would be set for Soul and Sincerity and Good Works and Efficient Passion; the old values had speedily reasserted themselves, and charity records would soon routinely ascend to number one, not because they were good records, but because…well, do we want a better world, and can that better world still accommodate better music? The subsequent evidence might suggest that the two are incompatible. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is a poor pop record which ended up being maybe the most important pop record, such that it seems “indecent” even to give it a mark. But the mark it has left on pop may take centuries to wash away.

    (Good God, 2284 words – this is why I need an editor…)

  28. 29
    Steve Mannion on 4 Sep 2009 #

    wichita re ‘At least one star on that who trumps all the main players here’ i’m not sure which other version you mean but perhaps somebody who may be top of the charts as we speak?

  29. 30
    David Belbin on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Nice to see you back, Marcello!

  30. 31
    Dan R on 4 Sep 2009 #

    A chastened and apologetic Marcello? How do we know it’s really him?

    *Reads essay-length comments* It’s him lads!

  31. 32
    LondonLee on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I didn’t buy this but I bought ‘Soul Deep’ and ‘Strike!’ by The Enemy Within.

    I’m wondering in what order Bob and Midge called the various pop stars to get them to participate and if there was ever a sense of “well, Sting and LeBon and Boy George are doing it so I’d better be there too..” behind some of the decisions.

  32. 33
    MBI on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I heard somewhere that Bono himself, despite the gusto with which he sings The Line, was himself a little disquieted by the lyric and took it up with Geldof himself, asking if that was REALLY how the song should go. Geldof response was yes, that’s EXACTLY how it’s supposed to go, “think about it,” and Bono was all like, yeah, I did think about it, that’s why I’m talking to you right now. I like to think this anecdote isn’t made up.

  33. 34
    Billy Smart on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Altogether now – #2 Watch: Five weeks for ‘Last Christmas/ Everything She Wants’ by Wham!

    A lot to say about those two fantastic songs.

  34. 35
    punctum on 4 Sep 2009 #

    “Strike!” by the Enemy Within – great record! Adrian Sherwood, Keith LeBlanc and Arthur Scargill in unlikely dub-hop conference – and KLB also pulled off the unlikely feat of making Malcolm X a chart artist (well, the record got to #64) with his “No Sell Out” cut-up from earlier in ’84.

  35. 36
    johnny on 4 Sep 2009 #

    i definitely have a soft spot for this song. as a four-year old with a 10-year old sister, this was a Major Event in my household. it’s become one of those songs where you feel that the holiday season isn’t quite complete until you’ve heard it at least once (just the once being preferable, of course).

    still, one of my pet peeves is faux-‘dramatic’ contrasts in art, and unfortunately it is the key device used throughout this song. it’s easy and it’s lazy. how dare we celebrate anything while someone somewhere is having a hard go of it? several of the participants here learned a lesson in the importance of the guilt-trip in Pop, and would use it to great effect in the coming years (Phil Collins and Bono, I am looking at you).

    after all, here we sit typing away, happily poking fun at “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, while people in other parts of the world are suffering. may i propose a charidee single featuring the Popular regulars, to be recording and filmed at the upcoming get-together? make sure to reserve the line you’d like to sing by initialing the sign-up sheet (i’m taking “it’s good to be Popular/but better to be free”).

  36. 37
    misschillydisco on 4 Sep 2009 #

    #34 billy, i can’t listen to last christmas without thinking of ‘reunited’ by peaches and herb.

    as for band aid – like pete (way above), after this i too thought pop can do ANYTHING.

  37. 38
    koganbot on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Hi Marcello. Also nice to see you over on Yet Another Year In Pop. I barely pop in here myself, not knowing most of the music and often not having the time to listen.

    Other business:

    Had no clue about this “Marilyn” so I went a googling.

    Results 1 – 10 of about 13,400 for marilyn “do they know it’s christmas”. (0.24 seconds)

    First hit: BAND AID – “Do They Know It’s Christmas” | FreakyTrigger

    Also, here’s Nick Tosches’ “The Heartbeats Never Did Benefits,” which offended me when I first read it in Fusion back at the time of the Concert For Bangladesh, and I suspect it still would but also know that some of its attitudes (in that piece and many others) seeped into me and became mine. Won’t have time to reread this morning, but looking briefly at the start, Tosches is no better than some of you guys at knowing which religion is associated with which country, though Tosches could well be deliberately making the “mistake,” as he is with the Krishnas, all part of his takedown of piety. (By the way, the first musical group ever to be associated with “punk” is, indeed, the Heartbeats, Tosches being the one to make the association, the piece being “The Punk Muse” in summer of 1970, iirc, “muse” being as important to Tosches as “punk,” the punks being the ones envisioning the muse.)

  38. 39

    we should totally do a charity single! kat can play bass and pete can play drums! i will write the words! *grips pencil, tongue in corner of mouth: the clanging chimes of glee*

  39. 40
    Tom on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Blimey, ringing out the old, ringing in the – er – also old.

    (Meaning longevity of commenting, naturally ;))

    Goodbye Rosie – really enjoyed your comments here, hope you’ll pop in sometimes, and not just on Popular.

    Marcello – apology fully accepted. I was in a very odd place personally at the time too, so we’ll say no more about it.

    #39 – who’s got a recording studio handy then?

  40. 41
    Pete Baran on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I can play drums but by guitar skillz are better. And I do have a recording studio handy too.

  41. 42
    Tom on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Poor Marilyn has become almost ungoogleable.

  42. 43
    lonepilgrim on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Great to see you back Marcello – and I for one recommend your blog which has been a revelation – John Wesley Harding got to number 1?

  43. 44
    punctum on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I really liked “Calling Your Name” – very smart New Pop take on Northern Soul, one of Langer/Winstanley’s best productions.

    For those curious to investigate further, his solitary album has recently been reissued on CD by Cherry Red.

  44. 45
    koganbot on 4 Sep 2009 #

    OK, I couldn’t stop myself from reading the Tosches (though by the way I’ve never heard “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which tells you something about my priorities). Here’s Tosches, with a line that I did remember more or less correctly over 38 years:

    The Harptones never played any benefits for anybody. But they benefited more people than George Harrison ever will.

    Then he goes on, ever more problematically:

    I mean really benefited people, not in the monetary or philosophical sense, but in an immediate gut-level, affective sense.

    Seems to me that in getting food into people’s guts (as opposed to failing to get food into people’s guts) Harrison may actually be benefiting quite a lot of people in a gut-level affective sense. Tosches’ argument is basically that affiliating rock with this sort of socio-humanitarian Meaningfulness is bad for the music and bad for its audience; even if this is true (and you should definitely read the article, though the change in meaning, from small m to big M, that Tosches decries was a fait accompli, benefit concerts or no benefit concerts)… even if this is true, so what? That’s not whom George was trying to benefit. Not that there can’t be arguments about such benefits not benefiting those they intend to and about benefits perpetuating bad systems etc. But Tosches isn’t making those arguments, or anyway is only hinting at them.

  45. 46
    Tom on 4 Sep 2009 #

    One of the things we’ll explore later (or we could explore it now, but there’s records which fit better later) is the idea that charity records are DELIBERATELY bad. There’s a tension between “hurrah I get to party with my pop pals and people benefit” and “this is serious and should not be fun too”.

  46. 47
    Rory on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Blimey, pop out for lunch and follow it with a meeting and in the meantime a dozen encyclopedias get posted, including the return of DJ Punctum and the departure of Rosie (a tip of the hat from the still-relatively-new bug to you both).

    There was more I was going to say, but a lot of it has already been said, so there remains only my personal response to this single. Nearly 25 years ago I held that picture sleeve in my hands (yes, lonepilgrim @25, it was the original), forked over A$2.99 (if I remember the 1984 price of 7″ singles correctly) and took it home to wrap up and give to my brother for Christmas. For me, it represented a passing of the torch: he was the one interested in pop singles now, and he was the one excited to hear a full-throated Simon Le Bon jockeying for space with the two Georges. The only bits that held my attention were Bono’s contribution and the greeting on the b-side from Stuart Adamson of Big Country, which along with U2 was now one of my favourite bands. It also helped that I was quite partial to the sound of bells.

    I strongly remember the air of spontaneity surrounding the single at the time, that “Instant Karma” aspect noted by Marcello, which made buying it feel like a spontaneous act too, even if it was no more so than most of my single purchases. I’m still prepared to forgive the lyrics and music their infelicities for being such a rush job, but actually, I don’t feel there’s that much to forgive; this stands up as far more listenable than… certain songs to come… and as charity songs go, is only rivalled for me by 1985’s “Sun City” (which came nowhere near bothering our spoiler bunny). Those first ten seconds and the “Feed the World” finale still get me, whether they’re accompanied by the video or not. (I’d forgotten that the video cut to Sting for the “bitter sting of tears” line. Ha! You guys.)

    I can’t remember which came first, my awareness as a teenager of the Ethiopian famine or my awareness of this song, but it doesn’t really matter: Geldof raised awareness of the wider issues among my generation even if he didn’t create it, and gave us something to focus on other than nuclear brinkmanship and our own personal dramas. All credit to him for giving it a go without over-obsessing about the potential ramifications.

    I agree that this isn’t a song that can be considered in isolation; it isn’t even a song that can be considered only alongside its video. It has to be considered in relation to its moment, to the much bigger moment it led to six months later (and no, I don’t mean its sister single), and to the attitudes and lives that were changed along the way. Did all of those changes stick? Undoubtedly not, but that’s no reason to downplay the effort.

    Perfect? Of course not; I still don’t like half the singers on it, and that synth sound in the middle still sounds thin and weedy. I’m not even sure I’d call it “superb” or “excellent”; if I were considering it just as a song, I might give it 6 or 7. But “The sort of singles that justify the existence of pop music by themselves. Impossible to imagine ever not enjoying it. Difficult to imagine anyone else not enjoying it.”? For very different reasons than “I Feel Love”, “Heart of Glass” and “Stand and Deliver”: yes, yes and yes. 10.

  47. 48
    anto on 4 Sep 2009 #

    ok time for me to admit I have something in common with Peaches Geldof.
    We have Fathers who share the same alma mater – Blackrock College South Dublin don’t ya know?
    Anyone who has read Geldof Seniors autobiography “Is That It?” (worth a look as it’s far better than anything he’s ever put on a disc bless him) will know young Bob even as a teenager no shrinking violet had many a run-in with the Masters at the strictly authoritarian and devoutly Catholic Blackrock and even long after the Boomtown Rats became famous the gangly vocalist was considered an embarressment to his former school.
    Attitudes changed because his charity work and my Dad recalls going to a re-union at Blackrock in about 1985/86 as he walked in he was faced with a poster of the Band Aid organiser with wording along the lines of


    Well it’s one way to impress your Teachers.

  48. 49
    Jonathan Bogart (but as they say logged out innit) on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Like Frank, I am a poor benighted American and have never heard this song. (I’ve barely heard its American counterpart; as a vice-president who will not go away long enough for us to miss him said of Vietnam, I had other priorities in the 80s.) (Like motor skills, feeding, and learning to read.)

    But I wanted to pop in and recognize both Rosie and Marcello, both of whom made Popular fascinating reading for me when I first discovered it two years ago. Sorry that it seems we have to lose one to gain the other, but I hold out hope that Rosie’s hints of something more will bear fruit.

  49. 50
    intothefireuk on 4 Sep 2009 #

    A day is long time in pop(ular). Nice to see Punctum back in the house – fully recommend his albums blog as a companion piece to this (kind of).

    So, Band Aid. I bought it of course – I felt I had to. I was, like so many, caught up in the moment. It did, after all feature quite a few of the artists whose work I had bought into over the last few years. I was,at the time, a little disappointed that Bowie wasn’t able to make a contribution to the A side – I think he was supposed to sing the opening line instead of Young – but thankfully that passed. A lot of what I have to say about this has already been said and probably more succinctly than I could. The intention behind the project far outweighs the recorded results. The record itself doesn’t entirely hang together despite reasonable contributions from all involved. The verses are ok but the middle 8 and the final refrain are pretty ham-fisted and grate somewhat. It certainly didn’t fit with my idea of a Christmas single and I still wince when I chance upon it on a Christmas Compilation.

    Personally I like to believe that none of the artists involved thought that it would enhance their respective careers – I always got the feeling that their participation was well intentioned even if there was an air of competitiveness in their presence – they couldn’t possibly know what the future held (other than perhaps a one hit wonder due to their fame and the projects charitable aspirations). Live Aid, however, was a different matter.

  50. 51
    tonya on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I think this went to #13 in the US, and it was a huge deal to MTV in America. Far from the end-of-rivalry-we’re-all-friends some commenters are mentioning, my memory of the making-of video is how bitchy the stars all seemed to each other. Maybe that was just Boy George.

    I don’t know where these other American commenters who claim to have never heard this reside, I still hear it every Christmas in grocery stores and the like. I went to an emo label showcase last December which ended with all the bands onstage playing this, and everyone in the audience singing along.

  51. 52
    swanstep on 4 Sep 2009 #

    I thought the first few bars recycled (+Bells) the opening of Ure’s cover of ‘No regrets’ (not ‘Vienna’ let alone Joy Div.)… moreover it’s fairly easy to bust out into ‘Do they know…’ at any point though No regrets, e.g., ‘No turning back, do they know it’s la la la…’

    Like the end bit (like everyone else)…Appreciate the hortatory ‘Feed the world’ and much prefer it to the self-regarding ‘We are the…’ note of…argh narf bunnies. It was the climax of the year’s didacticism (Relax, Choose life, Hide yourself, Stop making sense, Tag that body for identification purposes…), and it was all a bit much, but in something like xmas tradition, the end bit saves it.

    7 for the sing along. 3 for everything before that except 10 for Geldof getting Bono to do the wicked global reductio of how many religious folk actually do think: ‘Thank you god for not killing us with that tornado and instead using it to kill all of our neighbors.’ (Watch CNN during tornado season and you get versions of this every day from multiple hayseeds!)

  52. 53
    MBI on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Yeah, seriously, I hear this song every year in the winter months, and I’m certainly an American. The song I don’t hear very often is “We Are the World.” (Thank God.)

  53. 54
    Billy Smart on 4 Sep 2009 #

    #28. My version of the Oakey reasoning comes from an NME interview (I think) around the time of ‘Human’ a couple of years after the event, so I can see how he might have changed the story by then.

    December 1984 is also the time of the transmission of the sacred text of inter-band pop star tribal rivalry, of course – the Spandau Ballet vs Duran Duran Pop Quiz Xmas Special!

  54. 55
    Billy Smart on 4 Sep 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Band Aid performed ‘Do They Know Its Christmas once on Top of the Pops.

    25 December 1984. Also in the studio were; Frankie Goes To Hollywood (performing all three of their hits), Howard Jones, Duran Duran, Nik Kershaw, Culture Club, Thompson Twins, Jim Diamond and Paul Young. “The Appearing Artists” were the hosts. IIRC this all-star spectacular was broadcast live, with Wham! due to appear but held up in traffic, and it was, alongside ‘Doctor Who – The Caves of Androzani’ that March, just about the most exciting thing that I’d ever seen on television.


    Note not just the notorious substitution of Weller for Bono, but the inclusion of Black Lace amongst this line up of the greatest British pop luminaries of the day…

  55. 56
    TomLane on 5 Sep 2009 #

    Tonya: this did go to #13 in the States, and like you I hear it every year on any station that plays Christmas music. At the time of its release this got as much video play as airplay in the U.S. As a Christmas chestnut maybe it’s not “White Christmas”, but there’s no doubt that it feels like a Christmas song. I’ll give it an 8 for Christmas nostalgia, and will say that the lyrics aren’t any worse than the ones on “We Are The World”.

  56. 57
    Kat but logged out innit on 5 Sep 2009 #

    #39 – actually I’ve already appeared on a recording of this song, that GK did as part of Kooba Radio’s Broadband Aid in someone’s house in Catford a couple of years ago. Lord knows what happened to that. Anyone who has heard me sing at karaoke can guess what sort of vocal performance I put in.

    As for Band Aid itself, I’ll have to wait till the next time round to comment – I was just too young to remember the original and my memories are all mixed up as to who was in what version etc.

  57. 58
    Mark M on 5 Sep 2009 #

    Re 38: Frank, the link to the Tosches piece isn’t working, at least for me.

    I’ve got to say that I’ve always enjoyed multi-artist videos, the simple pleasures of the “look it’s so and so” aspect, and this was a significant chunk of the Smash Hits stickers album come to life, although sadly Band Aid, unlike the Smash Hits stickers album, did not include The Fall.

  58. 59
    peter goodlaws on 5 Sep 2009 #

    Rosie, thanks for the memories. Hope you, like me, will pop back every so often too. I have been recovering my steps back in 1970 and when I finally reach the point I originally came in (Spring 1972), I hope to find time to fill some spaces back in the sixties too. Meanwhile “Peter Goodlaws” (ang: “Waldo’s Protege”, as if you didn’t know) is also shoving off at this time. Like Rosie I shall soon be faced with records I have no remembrance of. Looking down the list, there are one or two in 1987 which are simply references in a book to me and nothing else. The “Curse of Baby Jump” gets us all in the end.

    Marcello – Very pleased that you are back. You fled the scene just as Waldo was saying goodbye in a less dramatic fashion. I hope that you will do your own “Time’s Arrow” and double back now. You are a mighty wordsmith, my friend. Sorry about “Marshmallow Hamilton”.

    Interesting that Conrad at # 19 responded to Rosie’s (Enithmarmon’s) departure by paying tribute to Erithian! I know both these folk personally now and I suspect that our Kentish Manc friend will be wetting himself.

    Hope to turn up at one of the Popular nights out sometime.

  59. 60
    enitharmon on 5 Sep 2009 #

    Indeed – I am Rosie from Barrow and not Ian from Erith (actually I believed for a long time that Erithian was Ian from Erith but I understand that is not ion fact the case. Humble apologies, Erithian!)

    I still have some tidying up to do in Popular as I go over the old ground where my comments were lost in the great Haloscan bubble, so I’ll be mooching around the stacks for a while yet. Meanwhile, look out for a great new FreakyTrigger occasional series, coming soon from a long cul-de-sac a considerable distance from you. And one day I hope to join Populistas in the pub way down in the grimy South ;)

    Oh, by the way Peter/Waldo, there are things in the bunny’s gander-bag that are very familiar to me, but that I never knew were number one singles!

  60. 61
    Izzy on 6 Sep 2009 #

    Tom – are going to give ‘Last Christmas’ a special-case review? I think it deserves it!

  61. 62
    Conrad on 6 Sep 2009 #

    re 59/60 er, well spotted. It was Friday afternoon…apologies to both!

  62. 63
    wichita lineman on 6 Sep 2009 #

    Ah, Rosie, I guess you won’t be retiring to spend more time writing the Erith & Belvedere FC programme notes. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on the early, sparsely commented entries.

    Marcello, I’m hoping you might be giving us your thoughts on Xmas ’79-’84 entries too. Very pleased to see you back. Great “first” comment.

    For the record, pouting stick-in-the-mud that I am, this is my most disliked record in all pop (Earth Wind & Fire’s Got To Get You Into My Life coming in second) and I’m quite surprised that I’m in a minority of one.

    Re 29: Good call, Steve! Without wanting to bait the bunny too hard, I’d forgotten all about the third version. I was thinking of the second. Clue: it’s not Rolf Harris.

  63. 64
    Tom on 6 Sep 2009 #

    #29 and #63 – the one Steve was thinking of is surely the only time the BA project has “picked a winner” in terms of future pop success! (Unless U2 count…)

  64. 65
    Tom on 6 Sep 2009 #

    #61 Izzy – nope, the highest-selling #2 is still a #2! It’s my favourite Wham! single, and my favourite post-glam Xmas single, so it’s a shame.

  65. 66
    koganbot on 7 Sep 2009 #

    Here’s the Tosches link, and if that doesn’t work, here it is sans html:


  66. 67
    Erithian on 7 Sep 2009 #

    Such a lot of waterfront to cover!

    First of all, many thanks to Conrad and Wichita for their tributes when they thought I was the one that was resigning from Popular. It’s bit like reading your own obituary! As you’ll have realised, “Enitharmon” (a character in the mythology of William Blake, Wiki tells me) was the alias lately adopted by our good friend Rosie. While “Erithian” (a term used by the chronicler of 19th-century sport in Erith, “Tumbler” Bell) is the alias of, not Ian, but Brian from Barnehurst – whose claims to fame now include being an alumnus of the same Manchester school those lads were planning to blow up last spring in homage to Columbine!

    Secondly, my own tribute to Rosie – you’ve signalled your departure for some time, and this particular entry, one of the most significant marker points in pop history for all sorts of reasons, is a suitable time to bow out if you’re going to. As others have said, you’re always welcome to make a return visit to fill in bits of your journey from Bank back to Barrow.

    Thirdly, a very hearty welcome back to Marcello, and the fervent hope that he’ll find time to revisit the glorious half-decade of pop we’ve been discussing since the bust-up he refers to. Not wishing to revisit old debates, but some of your postings at the time did indicate a degree of stress, and it’s good to see you back mate. The project may have been thriving in your absence, but your superb contributions always take it to another level (no reference to chronic boy band intended).

    And finally – in the words of Oyvind Vinstra, on with the music. (If you spot that reference to Radio Active, you’re as sad as me!)

    It strikes me that the first Band Aid got an easier ride from the cynics than the one twenty years on. One or two people asked the question about why they should know it’s Christmas if they’re not Christian (I’ll come to that in a moment) but generally everyone was carried along with the heroic efforts of its instigators, and the boos were reserved for the Government when it was seen to be dragging its feet about waiving tax on the record sales. By the time of Live Aid the Guardian published a monumentally sour piece by Terry Coleman, who asked why the whole thing couldn’t be tucked away in a highlights package on late night BBC2 (and that it was OK to have it on Radio 1 because “they would only have been playing rubbish anyway”) which earned him a letter to the paper nominating him for the Curmudgeon of the Year award.

    It’s easy to attack Geldof and Ure and indeed any of the artists involved for boosting their careers on the back of this, but how better to use their talents to serve a cause? In a different context, when the Israeli Eurovision entry this year was a Muslim/Jewish duo singing a plea for harmony, I thought: you’re not going to solve the Middle East situation with a pop song, but if writing and performing pop songs is what you do, then it’s an honourable thing to try to do so. Same here: as Mother Teresa of all people said to Geldof, “You can’t do what I do, I can’t do what you do, but it’s important that we both do it.”

    (LondonLee #32 – I think the story goes that Geldof called Paula Yates, who was presenting The Tube in Newcastle; Ultravox were guesting that week, so Midge was able to discuss it; then he called Sting who was a friend from new wave days, and within 24 hours Duran and Spandau were on board, and the rest fell into place from there.)

    There have been mixed comments about the record itself, but I would maintain that considering its genesis it’s a phenomenally good record. There was a cracking bit of radio a few years later in which Bob acknowledged that it was entirely Midge’s record, and Midge revisited the master tapes to deconstruct the song: confirming, as MikeMCSG says at 22, that the doom-laden intro was sampled with permission from Tears For Fears, then playing the individual sounds (the didgeridoo-like undertone, the bells, the drum track) that created the atmosphere. The finished work has bags of pace and momentum, held together by a fine Phil Collins contribution. It’s such an easy thing to get wrong, as (with a fine disregard for Spoiler Bunny) the 2004 version did in spades: the whiney minor chords, the characterless voices, the momentum-killing halt in the middle and the overlong wigout at the end (I’ll give a free pass to the rap bit, which I thought actually worked.)

    As for the lyrics, again people have criticised it (more so in 2004 than in 1984 I noticed) for triteness and a broad-brush approach to Africa (“there’s snow on Kilimanjaro, ner-ner-ner!”) But it’s a pop song FFS, and not a treatise on African geopolitics. Its job is to draw people’s attention to that world outside their window and to highlight the contrast between our Christmas and what’s happening a few hours’ flying time away. Which is why it’s virtually irrelevant whether they’re Christian or not – the message is to us, it’s inviting us to have the same reaction Geldof did looking into Peaches’ bedroom after seeing the Michael Buerk report. As others upthread have said, it did actually contribute to saving lives, and maybe it goes beyond record sales and cash raised: I wonder how many of those doing valuable work in international development now were first made aware of the issues by Bob and Midge’s efforts?

    And, again as others have said, this was a full stop to an era. In terms of chart success, Duran, Spandau, Culture Club and Sting had peaked, and the Rats were barely a going concern anyway. George Michael was at the commercial peak of his “first” career and Bono was the up-and-coming star who would be confirmed by Live Aid. Just as we said in the “Merry Xmas Everybody” thread, pop royalty seemed stable but was in flux as always, and here ends this particular Golden Age – with a record that would still be the biggest selling single ever in the UK if the paparazzi hadn’t set off in pursuit of that car in Paris.

  67. 68
    pink champale on 7 Sep 2009 #

    swanstep #52 that’s a great point. i’d always just thought about The Line from my godless point of view, that ‘thank god’ just means ‘thank yr lucky stars’ and from that perspective it’s great as a confrontation to the listener – “it could be YOU, you know” – sort of like the “..he hands you a bone” bit of ‘ballad of a thin man’. but if you actually believe in god, as bono certainly does (i dunno about bob g), then, as you say, The Line is actually just plain badness.

    also, sorry to see rosie go, glad to see marcello back, suitably baffled by waldo’s “luke, i am your father” revelations and most of all sorry we won’t get to talk about ‘everything she wants’, which i sometimes think is the best single of the 80’s.

  68. 69
    Rory on 7 Sep 2009 #

    Erithian #67 – thanks for reassuring me (indirectly) that I wasn’t totally out on a limb in rating this so highly. I considered backing off to 9 or 8 because 10 seemed so over-the-top for a less-than-perfect song, but this is such a landmark single that giving it less would have felt like saying that Everest is only two miles high. Criticisms of Geldof for careerist opportunism always seem to me to assume remarkable prescience, because how could he have known that it was going to be that big? And if this was to bolster his career, which career are we talking about? His post-Rats musical career sure hasn’t been the envy of millions.

    Your point about the song inspiring who knows how many people working in international development is an important one, too. NASA is full of scientists and engineers who grew up reading science fiction, and TV shows and movies set in unusual places often lead to increased tourism, so it’s hardly a stretch to imagine a huge single like this having a conscious or unconscious impact on people’s work and study choices. I don’t know if it affected my own choice to study the politics of developing countries for the best part of a decade, but who knows – the debates that it prompted were recent enough to potentially have been a factor.

  69. 70
    Erithian on 8 Sep 2009 #

    Certainly Geldof’s post-Rats musical career was no great shakes, but his media career certainly blossomed thanks to his production company Planet 24, set up with Waheed Alli, which made The Word and The Big Breakfast before selling out to Carlton in 1999 for a figure somewhere between £15m and £30m. He certainly always knew how to network.

    One highlight of his musical career you might have seen, Rory – there was a documentary called “Geldof Goes Goondiwindi” showing him and his band playing a Bachelors and Spinsters Ball in the Aussie outback, which was almost literally riotous fun.

  70. 71
    Rory on 8 Sep 2009 #

    Haven’t seen it, but it sounds like it could be good – some of those B&S balls are insane.

  71. 72
    Martin Skidmore on 8 Sep 2009 #

    I have my doubts about whether the charity aspect of this was a good thing. As I remember it, when the TV news highlighted the famine so well, the immediate pressure was on the government. There was a UN-agreed level of unconditional aid (as opposed to money given to give straight back in contracting) to the third world from first world governments, as a proportion of GDP, and as I recall the UK was giving something like 40% of what it was supposed to. I don’t recall the numbers, but I think I remember hearing at the time, after this and Band Aid, that the charity amount raised that year still fell short of the government’s shortfall, and that was in that one banner year. In the wake of the huge charity success of these things, the pressure on government seemed to fade away hugely.

    Obviously I don’t know that these efforts did allow the government to get away with not paying what it had agreed (and I believe many other governments were in similar positions), but it felt like a significant factor in letting them off the hook. This means that I have never found it easy to regard it in the generous spirit that its intentions warrant. And as a record I dislike it, for the lyrical idiocies mentioned, the jarring changes of voice, the horrid sub-Hey-Jude singalong and so on.

  72. 73
    mike on 8 Sep 2009 #

    Oh dear, there’s almost too much that I want to say at this juncture, and most of it is barely about the actual song under consideration. So firstly, let me echo the “welcome back” to Marcello and the “au revoir” to Rosie – whose contributions I have greatly enjoyed, even though it seems to be our destiny never to agree on anything much! (Strictly in pop musical terms, that is.) But then again, that’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed reading Rosie’s opinions – most usually with a wry “here we go again” smile at their indirect opposition to my own.

    I’ve somehow been expecting Rosie to bow out with Band Aid, as it does mark one of the most sudden and profound sea changes in pop history. As others have said, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” dealt a fatal blow to New Pop – along with the conclusion of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood trilogy, which took its concepts to their ultimate conclusion. Where, indeed, could we go from here?

    To my (probably quite biased) mind, this represented the closing of a generation gap that had first opened up with punk. For any lingering notions of a culture of new breed/old school opposition within British chart pop were sent packing, as Good Old Phil Collins and Good Old Status Quo were called back in from the cold, to jam along with the (comparatively) cool kids.

    And if you were of a weekly-inkie-music-press mindset, then you might have recoiled in horror at the scene, drawing parallels with the closing pages of Animal Farm. Did we fight the punk wars for this? Or as Biba Kopf put it, in his briefly notorious single-sentence dismissal on the NME’s singles review page (paraphrased from memory): “Millions of dead pop stars make rubbish record for the right reasons.”

    For what Band Aid brought back, and Live Aid later confirmed, was the notion that Big Equalled Good. It re-introduced the pecking order, and re-affirmed the primacy of the superstar elite. Good old Queen! Good old Tina Turner! And with that re-alignment of public perceptions (and with the caveat that I’m obviously over-generalising to make a point), there was a sudden and marked swing towards a renewed notion of authenticity (“proper” songs, signalling substance over style), and a hurried distancing from artificiality (plastic poseur cocktail crap with stupid haircuts).

    In chart pop turns, the effect felt immediate. The charts of the first couple of months of 1985 were widely praised for containing a sudden influx of “quality” material – and indeed, a lot of great singles did chart during that period, before (as I saw it) the rot properly set in.

    To begin with, I welcomed this New Authenticity – possibly because it felt like the only logical next step. Playing catch-up during 1984 – and certainly this was influenced by the clubs I was hanging out in – I’d fallen in love with the back catalogues of artists like James Brown and Aretha Franklin, and consequently I had started to prize, and to seek out, new music which espoused overt notions of soulfulness and sincerity, and “classic” song-writing and performance values.

    For me, this was a unprecedented step to take, as the notion that had underpinned all of my fiercest musical passions since childhood had been one of messing with the rule book, and of pushing back the boundaries. From the nonsense bubblegum lyrics and novelty songs of my childhood, through the experimentation of prog, the culture shock of punk, the self-consciously conceptual manoeuvres of New Pop and the modernistic thrills of electro-funk and hip hop, I had always valued the breaking of new ground. So perhaps in this context, the New Authenticity also offered the promise of expanding my horizons? In retrospect, I see it as a major misstep – and so I’m looking forward to putting these assumptions to the test, as we step through the pop-cultural desert of the mid-Eighties.

    Meanwhile, back in December 1984, we have one of the great chapter-closing Christmas charts – just as we did in 1973, with glam rock’s grand finale. And don’t get me wrong here: rather than aligning myself with the Biba Kopfs of this world, I was thrilled at the way that Band Aid seemed, albeit temporarily, to expand the possibilities of what pop music could do.

  73. 74
    enitharmon on 8 Sep 2009 #

    Mike @ 73: Let’s just say we have held complementary views on pop during our journey together. However much our pop tastes may vary, I’ve followed your own background story with interest and a certain amount of fellow-feeling and been moved and inspired by it.

    To Marcello, as we pass through the revolving door together, I say good to see you back, chuck. We’ve had our ‘interesting’ moments and I haven’t always agreed with you but I have learned a great deal from you and we’ve even found the odd spot of common ground.

  74. 75
    MikeMCSG on 8 Sep 2009 #

    I wonder if the phenomenal success of this single temporarily re-introduced some older record-buyers to the singles market. It’s two immediate successors are distinctly Old Pop! As we shall see…

  75. 76
    CarsmileSteve on 9 Sep 2009 #

    oh, this just occured to me, the reason DTKIC was so thrilling to me as a ten year old comic reader was OMG, TEAM-UP!!!! if duran duran and wham! and all the other people were individually great then SURELY all of them together must be ZAWESOME…

  76. 77
    Tom on 9 Sep 2009 #

    Did you ever read HEROES AGAINST HUNGER Steve?

  77. 78
    thefatgit on 8 Oct 2009 #

    I’m not sure if it has been mentioned on threads of xmas #1’s previously, but I thought I might mention that 1984 was the year that The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” topped John Peel’s Festive Fifty chart.

    I only mention it as I feel more inclined to discuss that particular single than DTKIC. Ho hum.

  78. 79
    CarsmileSteve on 14 Oct 2009 #

    The year-end polls of the time tend to get a mention in the poll posts at the end of each year, if you see what i mean, eg: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2009/09/popular-84/ for this one (although it was only about this point that the festive 50 became “the last year only” rather than all music ever, isn’t it?)

  79. 80
    Tom on 14 Oct 2009 #

    It was 82 I think – he did an “all time” one which was the then-cemented pop canon, and a “this year” one which had Shipbuilding at the top IIRC (obviously I wasn’t listening at the time, I was more concerned with Doomlord.)

  80. 81
    Glue Factory on 14 Oct 2009 #

    “Is it worth it?/A new winter coat and energiser ring for the wife”

  81. 82
    mike on 18 Dec 2009 #

    Just popped in to say that a remix of my comment at #73 is in today’s Guardian Film & Music.

  82. 83
    Tom on 18 Dec 2009 #

    The whole of today’s Film and Music is well worth a look for the Popular fan, since there’s also Bob Stanley discussing all the 00s #1s, Jude Rogers on the RATM/X-Factor thing, and comments box reg’lar The Lex reviewing the Electrik Red album. Good times!

  83. 84
    mike on 18 Dec 2009 #

    And according to the Jude Rogers column, you’ll be taking up a more regular residence in Guardian Film & Music in the New Year, Tom? This is good to hear.

  84. 85
    Tom on 18 Dec 2009 #

    Yup, fortnightly column – I’ll hype it more when it starts, worry not.

  85. 86
    Billy Smart on 2 Feb 2010 #

    Re 54: Oh wow, here it is! (sadly copyright restrictions mean that we can see, but can’t hear, parts 2 & 3);


  86. 87
    Brooksie on 5 Mar 2010 #

    @ CarsmileSteve # 76: I was a comic fan too, and I had the same mentality when it came to a team-up; ‘Spiderman and Daredevil’? Twice the value and twice the excitement! That was definitely where my head was at when Band Aid came out… every pop star on earth has combined forces to make a Christmas record?!!! MEGA!!!!

    I forgive the song all its faults because of how fast it was made. When that is taken into account I just think what they produced was something akin to magical.

    I don’t subscribe to the theory that people were trying to boost their careers at all. Nobody knew this would be the biggest single ever, or that it would spawn the Live Aid concert and ‘We Are the World’ or any of that. In fact, people didn’t even know whether it would be a good song. Geldof just tried to rope them in and they either said yes or no. It’s worth pointing out that half the people who walked into that studio were bigger than both Geldof and Ure; Paul Young, Duran, Sting, Phil Collins, Boy George, George Michael – do we really believe any of these people needed (or thought they needed) a career boost? Yes, some of them were reaching a peak that would slide a year or so later, but they didn’t know that. It would be fair to say that the record wouldn’t have been half the hit it was without those big artists, and it would also be fair to say that not one of those artists owes their career or their fame in any way to this record. The record needed them – not the other way round.

  87. 88
    Paytes on 12 Oct 2010 #

    Anyone know if there has ever been a decent book written about New Pop?

  88. 89
    Billy Smart on 12 Oct 2010 #

    ‘Like Punk Never Happened’ by Dave Rimmer, and the second half of Simon Reynolds’ ‘Rip It Up & Start Again’.

  89. 90
    punctum on 12 Oct 2010 #

    Rimmer’s is an invaluable historical document but makes the elementary mistake of confusing New Pop with New Romanticism – two connected but very different movements.

    RIU&SA is so thoroughly wrong-headed it makes one wonder whether the author actually listened to any of the music under alleged examination. This is a common factor in his other books.

    Lena and I intend to put this right and write a proper New Pop book; currently in preparation.

  90. 91
    wichita lineman on 12 Oct 2010 #

    DJP I took your recommendation on Like Punk Never Happened and was quite surprised by how literal the title is. Apart from it being so Culture Club heavy (I shoulda guessed from the cover and full title), there is a thread that New Pop is like Old Rock and rather a lot about making money, buying yachts, accruing mansions. That’s not how I remember ABC, for one. I remember them saying their aim was to soundtrack the eighties. A very enjoyable book, but even writing in 1986 I’d have thought Rimmer could have got a clearer, truer perspective than that. Then again, maybe I’m misremembering/misinterpreting the meaning of New Pop.

    Looking forward to yr book. When’s it due? Are Zero doing it?

    My main problem with RIU&SA is that there is no thread at all, no connection of the chapters which all read like stand-alone essays. And it includes 2 Tone, chronologically post punk but the total opposite of Post Punk – sonically backwards-looking at a time when there were so many new vistas opening up.

  91. 92

    I thoroughly recommend Dave Rimmer’s memoir of his life after he left Smash Hits; in Berlin and Eastern Europe before and after the Wall came down: “Once Upon a Time in the East”. It’s a kind of glamour-detox; very funny and rather moving.

    Isn’t part of the argument of Like Punk Never Happened that his perspective (not to mention that of his subjects) is so very sharply delimited by the process they’re caught up in?

  92. 93
    Billy Smart on 12 Oct 2010 #

    Oh, perhaps the best New Pop book, and certainly the most fun, is ‘The Best of Smash Hits’ edited by one Neil Tennant in 1985.

  93. 94
    Tom on 12 Oct 2010 #

    Morley’s Ask: The Chatter Of Pop would be another necessary volume on the New Pop bookshelf.

  94. 95
    wichita lineman on 12 Oct 2010 #

    Re 92: I think I know what you mean. It’s very well written; I suppose I was disappointed that it didn’t give me an idea of why New Pop happened or what it was supposed to do.

    Previously recommended by Punctum, Ask by Paul Morley has some entertaining and revealing interviews with Boy George, Marilyn and Adam Ant, plus a frank and miserable one with Phil Collins (a good refresher course, just in case you were starting to think, as I was, he might be a little misunderstood).

  95. 96
    flahr on 12 Oct 2010 #

    “My main problem with RIU&SA is that there is no thread at all, no connection of the chapters which all read like stand-alone essays.”

    !!this was exactly my problem with it too – especially since I read it straight after “The Last Party”, which has a proper narrative to it [perhaps too much of a narrative, but we will come to this in time]

  96. 97
    punctum on 12 Oct 2010 #

    I do feel bad about slagging off RIU&SA since I am quoted in the book and thanked in SR’s acknowledgements but my main beef (and it’s been a sufficiently big beef that SR and I haven’t spoken in five years) is SR’s habitual Achilles heel of forming the theory first (and arguably, throughout all his writing from Monitor onwards, I’d say it’s been the one unchanging theory) and fitting the music into it second; if it doesn’t fit, then it’s a craven failure/a sell-out/not valid. Also, as WL says, the various pieces in this book don’t form themselves into a complete picture; all we really get is SR bought lots of new records until 1983 when he got bored and bought lots of old records instead and what happened and why (but where does SR himself come into all this? Apart from the introduction, scarcely at all) and New Pop was all down to Thatcherism but actually Britain was in a bad state the unions had too much power and we needed Thatcher oh dear. Factually it’s misleading and in places downright ill-informed and my concern is due to lack of competition it’s going to end up the set text for this period in music – in my opinion, it deserves far better and Lena and I are going to do our best to make sure it gets far better. First step will be to adopt a considerably lighter approach. Not necessarily thinking of Zero Books (need colour, pictures!) but who knows?

  97. 98
    Paytes on 12 Oct 2010 #

    Thanks all for the suggestions – and look forward to reading the book, Marcello!

  98. 99

    […] So how do you write a good festive protest song? Well, there’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, which isn’t a world away from No Christmas in Kentucky in terms of emotional blackmail and grim melodrama, only with the leavening presence of ramshackle pop-star bonhomie and actual bells, but that’s a fundraising tool before it’s a pop song. (Tom Ewing discusses the song with customary insight here.) […]

  99. 100

    […] Ewing and his followers’ comments on his Popular entry for “Do They Know It’s Christmas” address Live Aid as the last and biggest hurrah […]

  100. 101
    Web Development on 31 Jul 2012 #

    Admire the information published.its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. it was really valuable

  101. 102
    maqbool mirza on 3 May 2013 #

    This site is excellent and so is how the subject matter was explained. I also like some of the comments too. Waiting for the next post.

  102. 103
    enitharmon on 10 Nov 2014 #

    We’re going to get a 30th anniversary version then. Yawn! Can’t somebody come up with something original?

  103. 104
    James BC on 11 Nov 2014 #

    Do They Know It’s 2014

  104. 105
    Erithian on 25 Nov 2014 #

    Kudos to James Masterton for pointing out that Band Aid 30 (and it’s a long way away so never mind the bunny) is the first Christmas song to reach number one in November since Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy Child” in 1957.

  105. 106
    Erithian on 30 Nov 2014 #

    – and now the first Christmas song to be knocked off number one before we even got to December!

  106. 107
    Lazarus on 30 Nov 2014 #

    What ever happened to ‘God Only Knows?’ Been and gone, or release held back? I just had a look at the new chart, can’t say I know many of the titles although I dare say some would be familiar if I heard them. Shocked at the longevity of several hits though. I see Mariah Carey and the Pogues w/ Kirsty McColl have spent 81 and 78 weeks on the chart respectively!

  107. 108
    Lazarus on 30 Nov 2014 #

    ‘God Only Knows’ 20 – 38 – gone by November

  108. 109
    Mark G on 30 Nov 2014 #

    So what became of Punctum & Lena’s book? I’d say that the time was right for it now!

  109. 110
    punctum on 1 Dec 2014 #

    Everybody thinks TPL ought to be published in book form apart from publishers.

  110. 111
    Mark G on 1 Dec 2014 #

    Yes, but I was meaning the “Post-Punk” book mentioned in #90 and #97

  111. 112
    punctum on 1 Dec 2014 #

    Four years is a long time in pop.

  112. 113
    hectorthebat on 20 Dec 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    CMT (USA) – Impact: Songs That Changed the World (2002)
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs from the Past 25 Years (2003) 83
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 10
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  113. 114
    mapman132 on 21 Dec 2014 #

    Looks like the right time of year to comment on this. As noted by previous commenters, this reached #13 in the US. That may not sound very impressive but the structure of the Hot 100 back in those days made it nearly impossible for seasonal songs to gain much traction on the chart, so getting that high was actually quite extraordinary at the time. I’m surprised by the American commenters who say they haven’t heard the song as to me it’s become a regular part of the Christmas song pantheon – I heard just today in the supermarket in fact (and yes, it was the original, not the still bunnied version). I have to say my cynicism over the song has waxed and waned over the years – with three official remakes and counting, I’m waiting for a bunch of African musicians to record an answer song “Yes, We Know It’s Christmas Time (Now Shut The **** Up).” It’s almost a ritual looking for a cause at this point, although perhaps not as blatant as the godawful “We Are The World 25” in 2010. Anyhow because it’s Christmas and because its original intent was (probably) good, I won’t subtract a point for every misguided remake since, and agree with Tom’s original 6/10.

  114. 115
    hardtogethits on 11 Dec 2017 #

    Charities, asking for money at this time of year, honestly! Do they know it’s Christmas?

  115. 116
    Kahless on 18 Aug 2018 #

    I know I’m late to this; but I wanted to add that I was the child of an American Airman living in England when this single debuted. Obviously; then & now, I gathered what it was about. All these years later however, it has become the prime nostalgia generator for my first Christmas in the U.K. What a great time to have been living in England (ducking from the tomatoes sure to be thrown my way by some English natives who don’t look back so fondly on the early 80s!) all the best!

  116. 117

    […] and looked like the sealing of pop’s new establishment, when in fact it was their peak,” Ewing writes. “The bands split, faded, took ill-advised sabbaticals, leaving U2 and George Michael the […]

  117. 118
    Walter Scott on 22 Sep 2019 #

    This maybe isn’t the right place to ask (haha) but seeing as it was mentioned (albeit almost a decade ago!) I was wondering if anyone here has a PDF of Morley’s Ask. It’s out of print and is currently going for about fifty quid on Amazon, which isn’t money I’ve currently got to spend on a book.

    Thanks to any sympathetic readers!

  118. 119
    Kinitawowi on 1 Jan 2021 #

    And the number 2 is now officially bunnied.

    I wonder if, when Popular gets that far, there’ll be a discussion about why certain Christmas songs seem to endure and some don’t…

  119. 120
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    Tom’s mark of 6/10 seems reasonable here.

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