‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ by Band Aid

For this issue, we revisit the ’80s holiday song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid.  The song was written by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) in 1984 specifically to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Geldof had a scheduled interview on a popular BBC radio station to promote his new album, but instead he selflessly used his airtime to publicize the idea for the charity single. By the time the musicians were recruited to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” there was already intense media interest in the subject.

Geldof put together a group which they called Band Aid, consisting of leading Irish and British musicians who were among the most popular and recognized of that era. What resulted was a literal who’s who of UK ’80s musicians. Highlighting this impressive list were Paul Young, Boy George (Culture Club), George Michael (Wham!), Duran Duran, Sting (The Police), Bono (U2), Phil Collins, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Jody Watley and more. They recorded this iconic song on November 25, 1984.

The only UK stars of that time who were obviously absent recorded messages that were used on the B-side of the album. Those artists include David Bowie, Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), Paul McCartney, Big Country and Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood). Even without these musicians, Geldof had recruited enough star power to make his song special. One thing to keep in mind is that this song preceded “We Are The World” which was a similar charity benefit song becoming the American equivalent released in 1985.

Here is the video for “Do They Know It’s Christmas” which was taped during the studio recording of the song:

Other than Bono’s famous line “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you,” my favorite part of this song is definitely Phil Collins’ drum playing. He did not have any solo lines to sing, but his drumming along with the African rhythm that opens the song (taken from a sample of “The Hurting” by Tears for Fears) really gave this song its soul. Here are the lyrics to the entire song and also specifying who was responsible for singing the solo lines:

(Paul Young)
It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade

 (Boy George)
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

 

(George Michael)

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it’s hard

(Simon LeBon)
But when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window

(Sting) And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is
(Bono joins in)
The bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that are ringing
Are clanging chimes of doom
(Bono only) Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.

(Everyone)
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?

Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time
Feed the world
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

(Paul Young)
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?

Chorus (Everyone)
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
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Repeat

To me the lyrics are a bit pretentious, but I am willing to overlook that since the purpose of the song is well-meaning. The song would not have been nearly as powerful had these fantastic artists not lended their voices and talents to the cause. Still Geldof, Ure and all of Band Aid deserve a lot of credit for their selfless efforts and generosity.

In an interview I had the honor to do with Paul Young, I asked him about getting the first line in a song filled with such superstar talent and here is what he had to say:

“I remember that David Bowie was going to get the first line, but Bob Geldof begs to differ! So who’s right? I’m not sure now. I do know that someone said I was all over it, and next time I listened to it I realized I was mixed pretty high all the way through. Wow… It was an honor and a pleasure though, and I’m chuffed I got the opening line.”

The single was released on December 3, 1984, and went straight to #1 on the UK pop charts, outselling all the other records in the chart put together. It became the fastest selling single of all time in the UK, selling a million in the first week alone. It stayed at #1 for five weeks and ultimately sold more than three million copies. The single was released just before Christmas with the aim of raising money for the relief of the famine. Geldof’s somewhat cautious hope was for £70,000. Ultimately, however, the song raised many millions of pounds and became the biggest-selling single in UK chart history. (It has since been passed by Elton John’s tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, “Candle in the Wind 1997.”)

Do They Know It’s Christmas” still ranks as the second best selling single in the UK with 3.8 million copies sold. It ranks ahead of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2.13 million) and now behind “Candle in the Wind 1997″ (4.8 million). That is quite impressive for an impromptu Christmas song. It sold another 2.5 million copies in the U.S. and 11.7 million copies worldwide by 1989. It certainly inspired 1985’s “We Are the World” which along with Live Aid that same year showed the social power of popular music.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” exemplifies the true meaning of Christmas as it promotes “peace on earth and goodwill to all.” The song not only raised much needed money for those less fortunate and in need, but maybe just as important, raised awareness to the issue which is still continues to be relevant even today. It is not the lighthearted and whimsical Christmas classic that most of us love, but it is an important part of pop culture in the ’80s and still receives airplay each and every holiday season.

 

 

About OldSchool80s 8 Articles
Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.