Feb 10

FERRY AID – “Let It Be”

FT + Popular62 comments • 7,003 views

#588, 4th April 1987, video

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

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

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

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

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



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  1. 31
    lord darlington on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

  2. 32
    Erithian on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

  3. 33
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

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

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

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

  4. 34
    Mark G on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

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

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

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

  5. 35
    punctum on 26 Feb 2010 #


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

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

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

  6. 36
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

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

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

  7. 37
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

  8. 38
    Tom on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

  9. 39
    punctum on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

  10. 40
    Johnny on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

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

  11. 41
    thefatgit on 26 Feb 2010 #

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

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

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

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

  12. 42
    thefatgit on 27 Feb 2010 #

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

  13. 43
    thefatgit on 27 Feb 2010 #

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

  14. 44
    rosie on 27 Feb 2010 #

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

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

  15. 45
    Tom on 27 Feb 2010 #

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

  16. 46
    Tom on 27 Feb 2010 #

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

  17. 47
    CPB on 27 Feb 2010 #

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

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

  18. 48
    lonepilgrim on 27 Feb 2010 #

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


  19. 49
    Jimmy the Swede on 28 Feb 2010 #

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

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

  20. 50
    swanstep on 28 Feb 2010 #

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

  21. 51
    CarsmileSteve on 28 Feb 2010 #

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

  22. 52
    CarsmileSteve on 28 Feb 2010 #

    oh and bonnie tyler!

  23. 53
    Erithian on 1 Mar 2010 #

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

  24. 54
    Billy Smart on 1 Mar 2010 #

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

  25. 55
    MikeMCSG on 1 Mar 2010 #

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

  26. 56
    Rory on 9 Mar 2010 #

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

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

  27. 57
    taDOW on 4 Dec 2010 #

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

  28. 58
    lonepilgrim on 4 Dec 2010 #

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

  29. 59
    Rory on 6 Feb 2011 #

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

  30. 60
    Erithian on 7 Feb 2011 #

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

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

  31. 61
    benson_79 on 1 Oct 2020 #

    I wholeheartedly love this song, and have always found ‘When the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me/Shine until tomorrow, let it be’ a profoundly moving lyric. Of course this version merrily tramples all over the song, deploying all the naffest hallmarks of late 80s pop.

    The juxtaposition of Kate, Macca’s inane trademark gesture and the obligatory painful mass singalong almost feels like a gag at her expense.

  32. 62
    Gareth Parker on 7 May 2021 #

    Good lord this is ghastly. I know it’s a charity single, but this really is this pits in my opinion. 1/10 here I’m afraid.

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