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.



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  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!

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