Friday, January 20, 2012

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid - January 20th 80's Quest Song/Band of the day

I used to play competitive team trivia, and when it came time for the section devoted to music trivia it used to irk the hell out of me because the trivia host, for some odd reason, held USA for Africa in great esteem and would always ask questions about this group of artists and their song "We are The World" rather than asking questions about Band Aid and their song "Do They Know It's Christmas". As far as I am concerned, Band Aid is the more important project, had the better song, had better artists...and they did it first. USA for Africa copied them and got on the bandwagon afterwards.
Here's how it all went down: In 1984 Bob Geldof, lead singer of the The Boomtown Rats (a band consisting of Irish members who were all living in England), was extremely moved after seeing a BBC news report on the famine in Ethiopia and got the idea to use his music contacts to raise money to aid the people there. Geldof wrote some lyrics, and got help from Midge Ure of the English band Ultravox to create some music, and they persuaded the most popular British and Irish performers of the era to give their time for free to record some tracks so they could make an album which could be sold, and the profits donated to help Ethiopia.

This supergroup of leading artists was given the moniker Band Aid based on the well-known bandage; the fact that the musicians were a band; and knowing that even though what they were doing would be helpful, the problem was so great that it would only be like a band-aid on a very serious wound.
Up until this time, the only other similar effort made by the music community was 1971's Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York City which had been arranged by George Harrison of the Beatles and Ravi Shankar to aid refugees from Bangladesh. It was the first benefit concert of magnitude.  It was in this spirit that Geldof devised the plan for Band Aid 13 years later.

A recording studio, SARM Studios in Notting Hill (London) donated no more than 24 free hours so Band Aid could make the record. On November 25, 1984 between 11 AM and 7pm the music artists rushed to the studio to record their tracks. A video of the recording was also filmed, and a 12-inch version was mixed by famed English producer, Trevor Horn.

The next morning Geldof was on the radio to promote the record. He promised that every penny would go to relief in Ethiopia. This led to some trouble with the British Government who refused to waive taxes for this, so Geldof publicly stood up to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and took the fight to the headlines. The government was compelled to bow to public sentiment for the project and donated the tax to the charity.

The song that Band Aid cut, "Do They Know It's Christmas" was released 4 days later on November 29th in time for Christmas 1984. It went straight to Number 1 on the U.K. charts and became the fastest selling single of all time there.

I was sooooo excited when I learned about this project because some of my favorite bands and singers were participating. I loved the song when it came out, and bought the 12-inch containing various mixes of the single. I am not even joking when I tell you that every time I have heard this song played since 1984 I get physically moved when Bono from U2 delivers the lyric "Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you." If I am singing along, my voice gets audibly choked up. It never fails!

Band/members of Band Aid included:
· Bono, Adam Clayton (from U2)
· Phil Collins (Genesis)
· Bob Geldof, Simon Crowe, Pete Briquette, Johnny Fingers (Boomtown Rats)
· Paul Young
· John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Nick Rhodes & Simon LeBon (Duran Duran)
· Tony Hadley, Steve Norman, Martin Kemp, John Keeble, Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet)
· Midge Ure, Chris Cross (Ultravox)
· Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware (Heaven 17)
· Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill (Simple Minds)
· Marilyn
· Keren Woodward, (Bananarama)
· Nik Kershaw
· Paul Weller (The Style Council and the Jam)
· Pete Burns (Dead or Alive)
· Mark Knopfler, John Illsley, Terry Williams (Dire Straights)
· George Michael (Wham!)
· Gary Howard, Paul Windsor, Nick Haines (The Pathfinders)
· Curt Smith & Roland (Tears for Fears - little known fact, the introduction to the song is a slowed down version of a track of Tears for Fears' song The Hurting)
· Sting (The Police)
· Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)
· Boy George, Jon Moss (Culture Club)
· Noddy Holder, Dave Hill, Jim Lea, Don Powell (Slade)
· David Bowie (participated via a recording that was mailed to Geldof and dubbed onto the single)
· Holly Johnson, Paul Rutherford (Frankie Goes to Hollywood – recorded over the phone)
· Paul McCartney (The Beatles and Wings – contributed via a recording that was mailed to Geldof and dubbed onto the single)
· Stuart Adamson, Bruce Watson, Tony Butler, Mark Brzesicki (Big Country)
· James “J.T.” Taylor, Robert “Kool” Bell (Kool and the Gang) and Jody Watley were the only Americans to perform on the project.
Now here's my rub: After seeing this success, American musicians decided to copy the Band Aid idea from Geldof, get some publicity for themselves and look like they were helping too! So in 1985 Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie copied Band Aid, got a whole bunch of, for the most part, uninteresting and not the most popular/relevant artists of the time, and recorded a lame-o song that really sucked called "We Are the World" and called themselves USA for Africa. The whole thing was a slick production, even the video they recorded. Unlike Band Aid members who showed up at a moment’s noticed looking themselves, the members of USA for Africa showed up all coifed and ready.

Here are some of the yawn-inducing artists who performed in USA for Africa: Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry, Darryl Hall, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles.

Don't get me wrong, there are some quintessential artists on there such as Bob Dylan and Ray Charles; however, in 1984/1985 these were not the artists that the kids were "into". Band Aid's line-up just seemed more young and exciting, and of-the time!

In the end, the huge profits from USA for Africa which were supposed to be used for famine relief in Africa oftentimes went directly to the military governments of the African countries rather than to the people.

In other years, more versions of the Band Aid song were recorded by top bands/singers of the year and in 2004 the BBC reported that the bottom line is at least £2.43 from each £3.99 CD single was going to charity, but was expected to rise to £3.53 per single.

The Band Aid Trust was set up since the original 1984 single was released and as of 2004, the BBC had reported that it had handed out $144m to famine relief projects around Africa between January 1985 and November 2004. The funds are distributed directly to organizations that submit proposals for sustainable projects to relieve poverty and hunger, and then the trustees approve and subsequently monitor the projects.

In my book, "Do They Know It's Christmas is one of my all-time favorite holiday songs, and Band Aid goes down as the better band, better song, more original, and the ones who handled the charity funds better. I always get angry when people look back and give USA for Africa more credit, because it's just not right!


It's Christmas time,
there's no need to be afraid.
At christmas time
we let in light and banish shade
And in our world of plenty
we can spread a smile of Joy
Throw your arms around the world
at Christmas time.

But say a prayer,
To pray for the other ones.
At Christmas time it's hard
but when you're having fun...
There's a world outside your window
and it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is
the bitter sting of tears
Where the Christmas bells that are ringing
are the clanging chimes of Doom
Well, tonight thank God it's them istead of you.

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life.
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Here's to you...
Raise a glass for everyone
Here's to them
Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Feed the world...
Feed the world...

Feed the world,
Let them know it's Christmas time again.
Feed the world,
Let them know it's Christmas time again.
(Repeat several times and fade)

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